Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Running Wild opens doors for indigenous athletes, coaches

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Two runners lap the track at a Running Wild practice.
Kendra Farmer is still discovering how much of a positive impact the combination of her indigenous and athletics background can have on indigenous youngsters.

The 21-year-old has been a star for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Women’s Track and Field Team since taking overall female rookie of the year honours for Huskie Athletics back in 2017-18. The graduate of Saskatoon’s Centennial Collegiate is a member of the Central Urban Metis Federation Incorporated and has been a coach with the Running Wild Athletics Club pretty much since it started in 2018.

The Running Wild Athletics Club is an indigenous track and field club that operates provincially.

Farmer, who specializes in sprints with the Huskies, isn’t one of those that draws attention to her lengthy list of accomplishments in track and field. When she is coaching Running Wild, Farmer is focused on helping athletes improve and making sure that they are feeling upbeat.

During a Running Wild practice this past May, Farmer was casually talking to her athletes during a rest period about her nutrition program and some of the extra things she does in her own track and field training. One of the young athletes figured out Farmer was a member of the Huskies.

The young athlete said being a member of the Huskies was a big thing and that Farmer had to focus on her nutrition and the extra things she does in training.

Farmer asked the young athlete if joining the Huskies was something the youngster wanted to do in the future. The youngster responded with a yes.

Farmer was happy to hear that upbeat response and proceeded to offer encouragement to the rest of the athletes who were at practice that night at the Track and Field Track at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

“Huskies are something that you guys should be looking to, because it is not impossible,” said Farmer, who stands 5-foot-5. “It is me and Brett (Lachance) and all of the other awesome indigenous athletes on the team.

“We’re all thriving on the team, and there is quite a few of us.”

Farmer is one of the 25 current or former Huskies who are mentor coaches with Running Wild and also athletes on the club’s performance side in Saskatoon. Running Wild has 40 athletes in Saskatoon that are part of the club’s developmental program.

Kendra Farmer is one of the mentor coaches for Running Wild.
From that talk she had with that young athlete at a Running Wild practice, Farmer realized a little more how much of an impact it is for the young athletes with the club to see people being both indigenous and a high-level athlete.

“I think they do look up to us,” said Farmer, who is an engineering student at the U of S. “It humbles me, and I appreciate being able to be a role model for some of the athletes.

“It is kind of never something I would have expected to be able to be. It is exciting to be able to coach and then see them kind of look into their futures and become part of their goals.”

That type of connection is one of the intangibles long time track and field administrator Derek Rope wanted to see. Rope, who is a member of the Board of Directors for Friends of the Bowl, has always sought out ways to get more indigenous athletes to take part in track and field.

An alum of the Huskies Men’s Track and Field Team, Rope remembers a time where only about four per cent of participants at a mainstream track and field meet in the province identified as indigenous. Rope wanted to grow that four per cent number.

He helped found the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Track and Field Meet 13 years ago.

The Running Wild Athletics Club provides another avenue to get indigenous youth into track and field.

Rope, who is a member of the Pasqua First Nation, said it is important to have those avenues for indigenous youth to get into sport. The 46-year-old said one of those reminders personally came from seeing the 2018 child advocate’s report on youth incarceration rates in Saskatchewan, which said 92 per cent of male incarcerated youth and 98 per cent of female incarcerated youth were indigenous.

“We use sport not only as a way to encourage healthy lifestyles, competition and school, but obviously, as an access to participation or alternatives,” said Rope. “For us, yes, it was important, and yes, there are other clubs.

“We definitely know that when we are doing something that we are doing it also for how we build and support not only indigenous athletes but how we make those connections and bridge communities.”

Rope said Saskatchewan Athletics, which governs track and field in the province, has been a great supporter in helping indigenous sport track and field bodies.

A long jumper takes to the air at a Running Wild practice.
He added it is important for young indigenous athletes to see veteran athletes like Farmer and Lachance, who is a top performer in throwing events from the Big River First Nation, doing well at elite levels.

“It makes it real,” said Rope. “It makes it relevant.

“It makes it attainable. They connect as people for sure and definitely show that there is life in sport after your done high school. You can become a student athlete and continue doing what you love.

“I think it is huge when kids are able to see their fellow indigenous people doing well competing and achieving.”

On top of creating avenues for indigenous athletes, the Running Wild Athletics Club created avenues for indigenous athletes to become coaches.

After finishing her rookie season with the Huskies in the spring of 2018, Farmer hadn’t thought about becoming a coach in the sport. Lachance learned about Farmer’s Metis background and introduced her to helping out with Saskatchewan Aboriginal Track and Field activities.

She proceeded to meet Rope, who suggested Farmer should try coaching and that the Running Wild Athletics Club was looking for coaches. That marked Farmer’s introduction to coaching in the sport.

“It was very exciting honestly the first time getting to coach,” said Farmer. “It was definitely a learning curve off the bat.

“I started off coaching with long jump, because that was one of my main events at the time. I felt pretty confident there. Then, I sort of expanded into some of the other events.”

When Farmer began to coach sprinters, she learned it is important to try not to overload young athletes with information.

“Sprinting is a weird event to coach,” said Farmer. “You think from the outside perspective you are just running.

“When you get down to the nitty-gritty of it, it is actually like a lot of little details, especially coaching younger kids. You don’t want to be giving too much detail, because it could get confusing. You want to make sure they are still running with proper form and everything.

A trio of runners jet to the finish at a Running Wild practice.
“It is different, but it has been getting better I would say. Now, I’m pretty confident in my coaching abilities.”

Farmer has enjoyed seeing the athletes she coaches improve. While she still plans to be a high level track and field athlete for a while yet, Farmer wants to continue being a coach in the sport especially with Running Wild.

“I’m definitely hoping to keep coaching for as long as possible,” said Farmer. “I have one year of school left to go, and then we’ll see where I go from there.

“I might stick around for a couple of more years just to finish out my (U Sports) eligibility. As long as I can, I for sure will be coaching for Running Wild definitely outside. Even if I move provinces or move elsewhere, I’m going to try and keep in touch with this club as much as possible just because I love what they are doing.”