DURANT – The Choctaw Nation Labor Day Festival is a fast-paced weekend for thousands of visitors and employees of the Choctaw Nation. Many events have patrons running to and fro, and perhaps the one that has them moving the quickest, is the 5K Run. Beginning about a mile south of the historic Choctaw Capitol Building, looping around festival grounds, and ending between the capitol building and Council Chambers, the 5K has been a solid 3.1 miles of excitement and enjoyment for many runners over the years.
Today’s race is much different than in earlier years. In the 1980s it was a simple run that added to the festival’s event lineup for entertainment and not a sanctioned race. In the early 90s, the now Head Start and Johnson-O’Malley Director, Rebecca Hawkins, became the race director put the event on the path to what it is today. “They were just trying to get activities for participants,” stated Rebecca as she described the earliest days of the race. As runners voiced requests for a sanctioned run, it became apparent that it was to be more than just a “fun run.” Under Rebecca’s direction, a Tulsa-based company, Glen’s Road Race, certified the run.
The certification allowed it to be recognized by the USA Track and Field Association and the Oklahoma Track and Field Association, permitting runners to have their times posted nationally and points added to their membership to the association. To promote the newly certified race, Rebecca scheduled Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills to make an appearance. Mills provided the shirts and a speech to motivate runners. “Getting him to come down brought a bigger crowd of people versus us just having the run,” Rebecca stated. That year’s run was a considerable success with Mills encouraging participation. As years have passed, numbers have grown and logistics have improved. Now, under the direction Adult Education Director Neal Hawkins the race sees over 500 runners and utilizes electronic chips attached to runners’ shoes to track time. Starting in the 2011 race, chips were issued by DG Productions, the company which now provides equipment for the race, that a runner can lace into a shoestring. As the chip passes the finish line with the runner, it stops the timer and records the finishing time electronically. Previously, stopwatches were used and times were written down according to bib numbers. The new way “makes it much easier,” exclaimed Neal as he explained how it significantly reduces the chances for error and time involved in finding placement within age category. As Chief Gregory E. Pyle has led the Choctaw Nation to focus on the health of its members, promotion, participation and accommodation for the run has grown. The run has always been open to CDIB and non-CDIB cardholders alike, but before 2010, it cost $10 to enter. In 2010 the $10 fee was waived for CDIB cardholders and in 2011 it was made free to all in an effort to encourage physical activity for Labor Day Festival guests. The Choctaw Nation believes that by offering a free run, they will inspire more people to train and participate, which leads to increased diet and exercise of tribal and non-tribal members. Evidence shows this tactic effective, with numbers increasing from 239 in 2010 to upwards of 550 in 2012’s run. A wide variety of people are also getting involved as well, with this year’s ages ranging from 7 to mid 80s. The finishing times of top runners are consistently under 19 minutes for the 3.1 mile dash with this year’s winner, 17-year-old Tysin Davis, crossing the finish line at 18:31.
A considerable amount of planning and coordination are required for Choctaw Nation to host this event. It is completely hosted by the volunteer efforts of about 20 employees and their families, as well as seven police officers.
The tribal police and EMTs are on site in case of emergency, to manage traffic and keep it from disturbing the run. Choctaw employees are there to help with registration, hand out water, keep track of times and aid runners in any way they can. As well as time and manpower, Choctaw Nation also invests in various supplies such as running chips, T-shirts, food, drink and medals. This service is all in an effort to push healthy activities and add more enjoyment to guests of the Choctaw Nation.
Photo cutline: Men’s 2012 overall 5K winner, 17-year-old Tysin Davis, crosses the finish line with a time of 18:31. (Photo by JUDY ALLEN, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma)