Three Generations of Ninham Triathletes in KWESTRONG Triathlon

Three generations of women take part in the Kwestrong Triathlon at Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis. (Photo by Simone Ninham.)

By Dan Ninham

KWESTRONG started in the spring of 2012. Founder Lisa Skjefte talked about the beginning of the indigenous women’s fitness movement with the multi-sports event: “I was on my first long run, and it came to me, gifted like a vision. I could see Native women on the lake all gathered together claiming space together. I said, ‘We should have our own triathlon, run, bike, but not swimming … Canoe!’ Canoeing with each other is what makes KWESTRONG unique and special.”

“Ancestral strength is passed down through our blood,” said Lisa. “I have been told our connection to creation is part of our Original Instructions. When Native women canoe we reconnect to our creation.”

According to their website: “KWESTRONG Triathlon is an annual event held at Bde Maka Ska. American Indian women and girls gather on the beach. Each participant receives access to canoes, bikes, KWESTRONG Triathlon T-shirts, snacks to replenish, and a celebration feast.”

“Seeing inter-generational participants like Susan, Simone and Saniya Ninham is exactly what KWESTRONG is about. It’s about wellness and togetherness and who we are as Native people. We are stronger together,” added Lisa.

The initial idea to sign up for the Kwestrong Triathlon was mutual between mother and daughter, Susan, 61, of Red Lake, MN and Simone Ninham, 30, of Oneida, WI. 11 year old Saniya participated because she wanted to do it with her mom and grandma.

This is the Ninham triathletes third Kwestrong Triathlon in a row. Last year the event wasn’t held due to the pandemic world we’re living in.

“Mom and I had known about the triathlon event for a few years but hadn’t participated initially,” said Simone. “I think I sent her the details for the first one we participated in and we agreed it would be fun. I told Saniya about it and she wanted to join after I told her what it was about.”

Fitness enthusiasts need to be motivated to be physically active. All three generations have diverse interests in their fitness regimens and thinking.

Susan reflected on her early days of running: “I have experience running since I was 10 years old when I was influenced by one of my girlfriends’ father who invited me to go out and run with him and his daughter. I absolutely enjoyed the time running and doing what he called ‘calisthenics’ and I continued running to this day.”

Susan biked with her family members when she was younger during the summer.
Her early experience with canoeing was watching her parents’ gather wild rice. “I imitated the rowing movements as I ran,” she said.

“I always want to be as healthy as possible to live an active lifestyle and enjoy activities with our adult children and young grandchildren,” added Susan.

“I grew up seeing my parents organize countless running and fitness events for their communities,” said Simone. “I was never really into running at that time until I began my fitness journey after grad school in 2019. I started with walking and eventually wanted to challenge myself more so I started a 5k training program.”

“I started attending spin classes through Oneida Family Fitness in 2020 and recently joined the Peloton bandwagon.”

“I decided to start my health and fitness journey over two years ago,” said Simone. “Noticing not only the physical benefits, but more importantly the mental and emotional benefits an active lifestyle has brought me continues to keep me motivated.”

“I lost almost 70 pounds in the first year of my journey and have kept most of it off since then,” said Simone.

“My daughter keeps me motivated in all aspects of life too. Being a single mom of a young Anishinaabekwe, I’m hopeful I can continue to model healthy living and positive choices for her as she grows up, so it was really special to see her earn her finisher’s medals each time.”

Saniya is a sixth grader. She has been physically active in area running events and different sports including volleyball and lacrosse for more than a few years.

“At first, I was nervous,” said Saniya. “Then I got into it and I loved it. I was interested to do all of the activities with my grandma and mom.”

“I’m just an active person and I like to move around. If the pandemic will let us do it again, I will continue to do it and I’m excited for next year.”

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