Kickapoo Tribe member carries running tradition through college | FirstNationsFocus.com

Kickapoo Tribe member carries running tradition through college

By Brent Cahwee

NDNSPORTS

GULF SHORES, Alaska — Mackenzie Wahpepah-Harris (Kickapoo Tribe) has been one of the most successful college distance runners in recent times.

The senior, who hails from Norman, Oklahoma, finished up his collegiate running career this May for Oklahoma City University at the NAIA National Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

A highly touted recruit coming out of high school, Wahpepah-Harris opted to go with the up and coming OCU Stars running program in Oklahoma City despite having NCAA Division I offers from Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.

It would be a decision that turned out to be the right one, as the OKC Stars would win three straight team cross-country National Championships, starting in his freshman season in 2013 when he finished 25th overall. He would earn XC All-American status with top 20 finishes in the next two championships in 2014 and 2015.

On the track side of his career, "Big Mack" — as he is referred to by his team and coaches — ran different distance events, but the 1,500-meter run has been his most successful at.

He is a three-time All-American in that event, including winning the school's first ever 1-Mile National Indoor Championship, and he won three-straight 1,500m runs at the prestigious Kansas University Relays, to name a few of the many accolades in his career.

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As he finishes out his final season, one of his goals this year was to break the sub 4-minute mile.

"I want to try and get as close as I can to the 4-minute mile barrier," Wahpepah-Harris said. "After nationals, I am going to continue training. I'll always be a lifetime runner, but competitively I am going to try and keep it up as long as I can."

When asked about who were some influences on his running career, Big Mack did not hesitate to immediately say Billy Mills.

"I've done quite a few papers over him in college, and it was pretty crazy how he was able have a huge achievement considering all the adversity he faced," Wahpepah-Harris said. "For him to come back and be such as a success … it was really inspiring."

Mills, an Oglala-Lakota from the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, is still the only American to win gold in the 10,000 meter run in the Olympics, a feat that he accomplished in the 1964 Summer Games in Japan.

Another influence Mackenzie mentioned was Jackson Thomas (Navajo), a 5-time NAIA Individual National Champion who finished his college career last season.

"I've raced against him, but he is a really good friend of mine, and honestly Jackson has helped me because it is good to see another Native American who is pursuing his passions," Wahpepah-Harris said.

No matter how he will finish in his final race, you can bet that it won't be the last we hear from Big Mack.

This article was provided to First Nation’s Focus by NDNSPORTS and republished with permission.