BRIGHTON — Red is usually the only color present on runners’ faces during races as they burn through their miles, but at this year’s Rez Rally Color Run on Jan. 20, the colors ranged a little further.
More than 300 Tribal members and employees represented their reservations and departments on the 3-mile course. Runners and walkers alike had some color added to their cheeks throughout the course, as the mile one and two markers also included volunteers throwing colored powder at participants.
While the run was clearly colored in fun, Tribal leaders and the event organizers made sure the attendees knew the real reason they all gathered for the 18th annual run.
Paul Isaacs, executive director for Health and Human Services, explained that diabetes is a prominent issue for the United States, especially for Native Americans. His department focuses on integrative health to combat the issue with exercise, nutrition and counseling.
“Anything we can do to bring the Tribal community together to talk about this epidemic that disproportionately affects Native Americans is a win,” he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control in 2015, approximately 30.3 million people – 9.4 percent of the U.S. population – has diabetes. American Indians and Alaska Natives make up the majority of that number, Native men making up 14.9 percent and Native women 15.3 percent of the diabetic population. Even more troubling for many health care professionals is that the majority of Native Americans suffering have type 2 diabetes, which can be brought on by excess weight, fat distribution and inactivity, though those are not always the root causes.
Isaacs added that educating Tribal members is the most important thing people can do to prevent diabetes from spreading.
“Diabetes is really prevalent, not only with Native Americans, but within the United States.”
Along with sharing information about diabetes before and after the race, there were also dozens of signs along the run route. They suggested healthy initiatives, such as to get health checkups, exercise regularly and hydrate as much as possible.
While the overall message of the rally was strong and serious, it did not diminish the fun that was planned. Aside from incorporating a color run theme, the event also featured trampoline bungee jumping for participating children and blowup attractions, not to mention T-shirts, sunglasses, sun masks and medals for all the participants.
Lorraine Posada, who came in second place for her category of female runners in the 37 to 55 year-old age range, said she attends Rez Rally every year. Even though she didn’t come in first place, she said this year’s color run component was extra fun for her and there were a lot of great runners that participated.
“I love Rez Rally and I think it takes a lot to make it happen. They did a pretty good job and I hope it continues,” she said. “I just enjoyed being out here in a friendly competition. It’s just to get us moving, not just myself, but our people. We don’t get to come together as one and be together all the time, so it’s fun.”
Winners in the running category included Curtis Motlow, 8, for the 6 to 11-year-old male division, Candice Melton, 10, for the 6 to 11-year-old female division, Aden James Cypress, 16, for the 12 to 17-year-old male division, Angelie Melton, 13, for the 12 to 17-year-old female division, Clinton Billie for the 18 to 36-year-old male division, Joelli Frank for the 18 to 36-year-old female division, Jose Osceola for the 37 to 54-year-old male division, and Cathy Cypress for the 37 to 54-year-old female division. Winners for seniors and walking divisions were awarded as well.
While the runners made their laps, volunteers had their own fun.
Okeechobee High School 10th-grader Kamani Smith, 16, volunteered at the second- mile marker to get volunteer hours so he can apply for the Bright Futures Scholarship, which requires 100 hours of community service. While he’s volunteered at past Rez Rallies, he said this year was particularly fun.
“Throwing the color at people was very fun. My group even tasted it and it tastes like orange Kool-Aid,” he said, laughingly assuring that the packaging was non-toxic. “After everything was done, the other boy who was there and I picked up the buckets and dumped it on the girls.”
At the end of the day, Brighton took home the most prized award – a large gold cup – as they had the most Tribal participants based on resident percentage. They also won the traditional woven basket for overall team participation.
Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr. said he never doubted Brighton would win and getting the trophies was a ‘great accomplishment.’ He also came in first place in his age category.
While this was an exciting accomplishment for his team and he couldn’t be prouder, he said his individual accomplishment was more of an obligation to demonstrate leadership to the Tribe.
“I don’t do it to try to win something; it’s more to set an example,” he said, adding that it was great to see everyone gathered and having fun while sharing the message of diabetes education. “It’s incumbent on all of us to learn about these diseases we’re trying to fight.”