Wiikwemkoong runner posts impressive time at Boston Marathon

Shayla Manitowabi-Huebner proudly shows her medal.

UTAH—While she has run competitively since Grade 6 Shayla Manitowabi-Huebner has never run a marathon, much less the very prestigious Boston Marathon. But she can check that off her bucket list now.

“I was shocked that I somehow did it and made it through the race,” stated Ms. Manitowabi-Huebner (who was born and raised in Michigan, and is a member of the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory and has family there).

“It was awesome, everything went really well,” Ms. Manitowabi-Huebner told The Expositor. “No, I have never run a marathon before, this was my longest run ever. All the training I had done the past eight weeks definitely helped.”

Ms. Manitowabi-Huebner crushed the marathon finishing the 26.2 mile marathon in a time of three hours, 25 minutes. “My time is under the Boston Marathon qualifying time.” She used to run in middle- distance events when she was in school and did cross-country. She also ran in college.

She explained previously, “when I started distance running, I would train to run a distance of 10-12 kilometres. “Then on a whim, I applied to the US Native Women’s Running team and I was selected for the team to run (in the Boston Marathon).”

The Native Women’s Running Team is a non-profit organization whose founder, Verna Volker (Navajo), launched her own team of Indigenous runners to increase visibility and for representation, including Indigenous women in running. Along with Verna, the team in Boston included Shayla (Odawa), Samantha Noyse (Navajo), Angel Tadytin (Navajo) and Rocio Villalobos (detribalized Xicana). 

This year’s Boston Marathon included over 30,000 runners. “There certainly were a lot of people,  I remember looking down a hill in to town at one point and the street was just full of runners. It was a really good day, and the weather was perfect, maybe a tiny bit hot,” she explained.

Last May, Ms. Manitowabi-Huebner graduated from university with her Master’s degree in exercise science. She received a $10,000 grant through the Running Strong for American Indian Dreamstarter program, which she is now working on. With a focus on working with Native youth, the results from years of genocide, ethnic cleansing and poverty are addressed in the program. “We need a connection to our land, culture, language, tradition, community members and each other. Not only will these factors be influential in impacting the wellbeing of youth, but all stages of life,” she explained.

Ms. Manitowabi-Huebner’s dream is “Running Into Culture,” a culturally-tailored Native youth running program that incorporates a holistic and community approach to promote healthy behaviour. She will be hosting workshops and running sessions open to all levels of ability including teachings on the history of running, culture, traditional food, physical exercise, nutrition, mental and spiritual health and basic language. Each runner will be provided with running shoes, t-shirts, socks and traditional foods as post-session snacks and the end of the program will include a five-kilometre run/walk.

“Running Into Culture will provide an opportunity for youth to experience personal and cultural growth,” said Ms. Manitowabi-Huebner. Her goal is to reduce Native youth obesity, pre-diabetes and suicide rates as well as increase mental well being, self-identity, and cultural connection.

As for whether another Boston Marathon is in her future, Ms. Manitowabi-Huebner, who is 25, said, “I don’t know, I might want to try running the Boston Marathon again. I started training for this year’s marathon eight weeks before the marathon. I would like to train a little more and see what time I can get. But for the next month, I’m going to rest and find other things to do.”