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Real Runners: Being “The Runner” In Rural South Dakota

“Need A Ride?”

People often stopped and asked me if I need a ride. Sometimes it was when I stopped to stretch or was looking tired, but other times I was pounding the pavement, enjoying a routine jog, when I heard the familiar, “Are you okay? Do you need a ride?” On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, 80 percent of residents are unemployed and the per capita income is $4,000, which is accompanied by other issues characteristic of unbreakable poverty. If people are running, they are running from something. If people are walking, it is usually because they ran out of gas money.

When there is no culture of running, or even exercise, the act becomes an oddity. People often said, “You’re too skinny to be out running,” or, “Why do you run if you’re already thin?” When there is no culture of exercise, people search for a logical explanation for it, often associating it with calorie-cutting and anorexia. Running for joy defies logic.

The glaring irony, of course, is that the places that are void of any sort of exercise culture are often the ones that need it the most. Native Americans have the highest rate of diabetes of any race in the United States, with 16 percent of its population having the disease (the national average is 9.4 percent). On Pine Ridge, those statistics are amplified. Some estimate that the diabetes rate is at 37 percent, ballooning to 50 percent in the over-40 age demographic.

Not only was my town, whose residents were some of the highest risk candidates for diabetes in the country, void of a dialysis center, but it lacked any preventative fitness centers or initiatives that were the best defense against the disease. When exercise is the exception, rather than the rule, it is easy to understand why people worried about my need for a ride while I was out running.

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