By Dan Ninham
Verna Volker is from the Navajo Nation. “My clans are Tódích’íi’nii (Bitterwater) nishlíi, Hashtl’ishnii (Mud People) bashishchiin, Ta’neeszahnii (Tangle) dashicheii, and Tó’ áheedlíinii (Water Flows Together) dashinalí,” said Verna.
“I am 46 years old,” said Verna. “I live in Minneapolis, but grew up in Northern New Mexico. I have been married for 20 years and mother to four children, ranging from the ages eight to 16 years old.”
“Growing up, I played volleyball and basketball,” said Verna. “I played competitively in high school. I led my junior and high school basketball teams to state tournaments. I loved playing sports but hated conditioning and running.”
“I ran on and off in college but never took running seriously,” said Verna. “It wasn’t until later in my life that I found running. Many of my Navajo people grow up running and many run competitively in high school and college. Some even run as elite runners.”
“I started running in 2009, when I moved to Minneapolis,” said Verna. “At the time, I had three little boys so running became a way to de-stress and to lose weight. Several months later, I ran my first half-marathon and felt like it was my biggest accomplishment. As years passed, I lost 50 pounds and found a love for running. I went from running half-marathons and marathons, to running ultra 50ks and my biggest accomplishment was my first 50 miler.”
“As Navajo people, one of our beliefs is that we wake up before the sunrise and run towards the east, pray and greet our Creator,” said Verna. “I always remember hearing that from others, but didn’t understand that until I found running later in life. It finally made sense to me. Today, I rise early to run to the east, pray and greet the Creator.”
Daniel Bocker, an ultra-runner who Verna met on Instagram, offered to coach her from Germany. “His knowledge has been beneficial in my training and running,” said Verna.
“When I started running, I noticed there was a running community on social media,” said Verna. “Runners would post about their running journey through Instagram. One day, when I was scrolling through Instagram, I noticed the lack of visibility of native and indigenous runners. I started doing research on other running-related outlets like running organizations, running industry, running magazines, and so on. I was frustrated with the lack of representation of native and indigenous runners.”
“On January 23, 2018, Native Women Running was created. Native Women Running’s mission is to feature and encourage native and indigenous women in the running community on and off the reservation. Native Women Running also seeks to build a community that encourages and inspires,” added Verna.
“Two years ago, in partnership with Red Earth Running Company, Native Women Running created a virtual run in honor of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW),” said Verna. “A virtual run is a run a person can do on their own terms. A person can run, walk, or hike at any time, any place, any distance, and at any pace. We created the MMIW Virtual Run because we wanted everyone to feel like they could be part of this event wherever they are. We wanted everyone to come together.”
May 5 is the National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. On that day, people from around the world were invited to join Native Women Running on their virtual run. People are encouraged to wear red in honor of that day.
“It was a big success, drawing awareness from all over the world through running,” said Verna.
“Verna has great intentions and a big heart,” said Dustin Martin, Executive Director, Wings of America. “She has also worked in schools for a long while and is a mom that I think I can trust around young kids. These are all very admirable qualities in my eyes. Her social media platform is powerful but it’s also a volatile medium for connecting with folks.”
“I am one of the Red Earth Running Company ambassadors and they have been my biggest support in regards to Native Women Running and my running endeavors,” said Verna.
The website for Native Women Running can be located online at: https://www.nativewomenrunning.com