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Posted: February 8, 2013  

Athletics: Tom Longboat Lives On - Six Nations Running Project Gets Kids Fit

Ottawa, February 7, 2013 --- A trail-blazing pilot project to get First Nations youth "up and running" has crossed the finish line with flying colours, a fitting tribute to the memory of Canada's greatest long distance runner. The evaluation of the 11-week Six Nations Running Pilot Project, released officially today, honours the running legacy of Tom Longboat. Longboat, who shattered the previous best time of the Boston Marathon by nearly five minutes in 1907, was born on Six Nations reserve near Brantford, Ontario, in 1887.

"The Six Nations Running Project proves that our kids, and all our people, want to be fit and healthy," said Elected Councillor, Ava Hill, of the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve. "It gave us the support and training we needed to believe we can live up to Tom's legacy."

The pilot, which adapted a Running Room learn-to-run module for the aboriginal community, taught 26 Six Nations children and youth, aged 9 to 14, the basics of how to run safely and build strength without injury. Once a week, they attended a workshop delivered by First Nations role models on topics such as the history of Aboriginal athletes; making it to the Boston Marathon and the Olympics; traditional nutrition and games; and Iroquois culture and sports. The program's official launch was on March 18, 2012 and finished on June 4th with the Tom Longboat Run in Six Nations.

"Thanks to a trailblazing 11-month investment made by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, an agency of the Government of Ontario, we were able to go a long way in helping us collaborate on getting more physical activity programs for Six Nations residents," said Dave Levac, MPP for Brant. "This pilot project brings together kids, parents, elders and the Elected Council to make the Six Nations community healthier. Thank you Ontario Trillium Foundation for funding this community project."

Twenty-six youth (nine boys, 17 girls) took part in the evaluation. Not only did their strength improve, but both sexes went from the 50th percentile in their one-mile run/walk time to the 75th percentile by the program's finish.

The project was conceived of by the Sport Matters Group (SMG) and the Running Room, whom in turn contracted the Indigenous Wellness Group headed by Canadian Olympian Waneek Horn-Miller. The goal: to develop a training program for Aboriginals by Aboriginals that could improve overall physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

The Running Room provided the running trainers, Nike's N7 program provided running shoes and dress-forsuccess running apparel. "Everyone involved wanted to give these kids the training to experience the thrill of a race and feel good about themselves and their place in the world," said Chris Jones, former Senior Leader of SMG, which coordinated the project.

"We were happy to take our training program and adapt it to kids who were keen to learn," added John Stanton, Running Room founder. "That's understandable considering this is Tom Longboat's community. Tom put Canada on the world marathon map."

Horn-Miller wishes the program could be rolled out to more communities. "We need to build on the findings of this project," she said. "It's unfortunate there is no designated federal funding for physical activity training for Aboriginal people living on First Nations reserves."

The Six Nations Elected Council is seeking to secure long-term funding to support the Six Nations Running Club. It might not happen overnight especially with the competing fiscal pressures already facing First Nations communities across Canada. But the success of the project is spurring the Council to build relationships with foundations and the corporate community to encourage their support.

According to the First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNIGC), aboriginal children and youth living on reserves have inferior health status and participation rates when compared to non-Aboriginal Canadians. Preliminary results from the FNIGC's 2008/2010 Regional Health Survey indicated 62% of children (3 to 11 years) living on reserve are considered overweight or obese based on self-reported height and weight measurements.

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