Before the advent of horses and other means of transportation, American Indians ran. They ran for practical purposes such as communication and trade, but they also ran to form a living connection between the earth and the sky. The Navajo have a deep running tradition, lasting well over the past 1,000 years. They believe that the gods rise with the sun in the east and that they must run east to greet their gods. Young girls undergoing their puberty ceremony would take a long run once the rays of the sun hit the door of their traditional Hogan.

While this tradition of running may have died down in recent years, with an upsurge in obesity and diabetes in both Americans as a whole and amongst Native Americans, many Navajo teenagers are returning to their roots. Shaun Martin, a Navajo runner and the director of Wings of America, leads the push that encourages young Native Americans to return to their cultural roots and improve their lives through distance running.

Shaun, a former high-school running coach, has seen first-hand the impact poverty and substance abuse can have on communities. He has also seen the benefits that running can have on Navajo teenagers, from improving their emotional and physical wellbeing to offering them opportunities previously unimagined. During his tenure as coach, Shaun led his teams to state championships or runners-up numerous times, but his crowning achievement was that all of his athletes graduated high school, remarkable considering that the graduation rate overall was 50%. Unfortunately, politics and lack of funding meant that Shaun had to resign from his coaching position and his teams disbanded soon after. Despite this setback, Shaun refused to give up on his dream of helping Native American youth through distance running, which is why he currently acts as director for Wings of America.

Shaun Martin is an incredible distance runner who is proud of his culture and wants to share it with the world. He created the Canyon de Chelly ultramarathon that winds through the Navajo reservation and has attracted worldwide attention. His commitment to running and spiritual development has been featured in the new documentary “3100: Run and Become”, a documentary that explores the true essence of distance running. The documentary is based on the teachings of well-known spiritualist Sri Chinmoy, whose practices culminate in the world’s longest certified footrace, the Self-Transcendence 3,100-mile race. In this race, participants have 52 days to complete the 3,100-mile course, exploring what it means to be a true endurance runner and the reasons for why we run. Sri Chinmoy demonstrated his philosophy of self-transcendence through his own prolific running career.