By Carrie Garcia, Tribal Observer
When something is so compassionate we put our hear and emotions into it. For Dirk Whitebreast, competing in marathons and raising the awareness to the native youth about suicide is his driven force. Marathon athlete, motivaitonal speaker, and the youngest to serve as a former secretary of his Tribe the Sac & Fox Meskwaki Nation, Whitebreast touched the hearts of many in the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal community.
The community with open arms welcomed Whitebreast as he was busily talking to local area schols, visiting with the SCIT afterschool program, speaking to community members at the Ziibiwing and not to mention being a keynote speaker at the SCIT Parks and Recreation Basketball banquet.
Being able to share the story of tragedy, battling addicition and triumphing into a remarkably and passionate young leader for a cause, created a hero and for some an inspiration for change.
His life began with the onset of drug and alcohol addiction and had gotten shaken up when in 2003 his 18 year old sister Darcy Jo Keahna committed suicide. At that moment in his life he wanted to take control by being a stronger and healthier leader not only for his community but being a positive role model for all of the communities in Indian Country.
The path of becoming healthier was a challenge he had to come in terms with. Encouragement from his friends and close family members helped him break the trials and tribulations that blocked him. His journey of having a friend encourage him to run a half marathon turned into running full marathons from all over the United States. Throught his running career, Whitebreast has participated in a total of 40 marathons.
One of his toughest challenges was running 10 marathons in 30 days. The challenge which equlaed to 262 miles was to honor his sister and to promote the Center for Native American Youth’s mission about raising awareness of suicide in the youth. For Whitebreast this is his true calling. He currently serves on the Board of Advisors for the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspin Institute.
Running made a powerful impact not only in the community but also in Washington D.C. “I see that running is aiming towards more demographics,” Whitebreast said. “Once I started telling people that I was a marathon runner this is what I do, people started getting encouraged by it. I am coming to the realization that there are not a lot of Indians who are doing this and there are not a lot of Indian males doing this as well. It wasn’t until I sat on the panel at Washington D.C. that they made it a point what I was doing is extraordinary and I am doing more than what is expected. I was representing Native Americans in a good way.”
The courageous, caring, and soft spoken Mr. Whitebreast sat down to talk about the beginning stages of running, his personal mantra, future marathons he will participate in, and how his story changed the life of one person.
Tribal Observer: How long have you been running for?
Dirk Whitebreast: I have been running since the fall of 2003. The first two years were a little off and on because of circumstances in my life. I had a friend who talked to me about her dad. Her dad was a marathon runner when he was younger. She had convinced me to run a half marathon. I ran the half marathon and at that time I was a little younger and kind of cocky about it. I told her that I was going to run more marathons than her dad. That was one of the initial motivations. As i got better at it I was like, wow this is a really powerful thing. I can only be thankflul on what running has shown me so far. This was early in my running career. When I started running in the beginning I started thinking about what I hwas learning from it. I told myself that I was getting good at running and that the things that I learned from running I can apply to different parts of my life. I attempted to do that. The ethics that I learned from running, the motivation, the ambition, the goal setting and strving I put those into my daily job, my employment and also tried to use that in my relationships with my friends and family to be a stronger companion, to be a stronger relative and to be a stronger member for my family.
TO: Has there been a time you felt like you were not going to finish a race? What was your motivation to finish?
DW: One of my personal runnig mantras that I tell myself when I am out there is that you are only in competition with yourself and that is what gets me through. I will run and I will get passed or pass someone. Say for instance I get passed by a 70-year-old. I t definitely hits the ego, but you have to remember there is a reason why he is outhere running, or he is committed to running beforehand. Do what you can do and don’t worry about anyone else. Just focus on finishing. If you’re set on crossing the finishing line in acertain time, you know exactly what it takes to get there. You know the training beforehand that it takes to get there, the mental preparation, the physical preperation. Everyone is out there running for different reasons.
OTO: Some people call you a hero, have you had any one come up to you and say you have really inspired them?
DW: I have been speaking since last year and this is a new endeavour for me as well. I have been able to share with people things no only in regards to suicide prevention but also in regards to sobriety. I have been sober for nine years and I think it helps. I am thirty-two and I know I still look young and when young people see a young face there is a commonality, a bond and they start to think that I am not different from them. When they hear me talk about the things I have experienced and talking about the alcoholism that I have dealt with not only my own but also my family. I think that brings people closer to me. They know that I have gone through the same exact thing they have gone through. I made choices in my life to be strong and I have run into some amazing stories along the way. A lot of people don’t feel comfortable sharing them until I share my story which is good. My story is beneficial to them because it makes it okay for them to be open with themselves. I was in California recently and I talked for two breakout sessions at one of the universities and afterwards one of the chaperones cae up to me and was about the same age as me. He expressed his support and thanks. He said that we were both alike, and we have a lot of similarities. The only difference between us was that I learned to accept what I have gone through in my lfe and he hasn’t done that yet. It was really empowering for him to see me in front of a hundred people and being open with my personal life.
TO: What is the next marathon you will be participating in?
DW: I will be participating in the Paatuwaqatsi Run, Water is Life Marathong which is a 50K or 30 miles in Polacca, Arizona. The run will be in the first mesa and will take place on an ancient system. The trails that we will be running on are hundreds of years old. There is a lot of power that comes with that and there is a lot of honor and respect. Just going to a community like that and being given an opportunity to ru on land that is sacred to them. I think that is a great gift and I am really looking forward to that run because those are the types of things where you do not worry about medals or fast times, it is about running with a purpose and that is the way I try to carry myself these days.
Chi-miigwetch to Dirk for coming to our community and chi-miigwetch to Nimkee Wellness Center, Behavioral Health, Ziibiwing Cultural Center, At-Large SCAA and SCIT Public Relations and other departments for helping with the involvement of Dirk.
(Story provided to us by the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Observer, read this and other stories @ http://www.sagchip.org/tribalobserver/index.asp)