CROW AGENCY - The Indigenous Trail Running Club based out of Crow Agency recently qualified all six of its athletes for the USA Track and Field Junior National meet later this month in Eugene, Oregon.
The club features children living in Crow Agency between ages 10 to 14.
For coach and founder Scott Flatlip, the group was created to provide kids in his community a fun opportunity that he never had.
"When I was growing up, I really didn't have a lot of guidance or direction," Flatlip said. "It made it pretty difficult to enjoy the sport. My philosophy for this was to make the club as fun as possible."
Flatlip grew up in the Pryor area, and while he spent a lot of his time growing up running, the structure provided in his program is unique.
"I saw a need for the community," Flatlip said. "It's a short amount of time, but it keeps them busy and gives them something to do."
And Flatlip said that while the focus on the group is improving their running times, he uses it as an opportunity to be an influential role model.
"I think for me, it's living by example," Flatlip said. "I've been drug and alcohol-free my whole life. I think a lot of times people don't get to see that. So being able to live by example and show them that it's possible to live a healthy lifestyle is my favorite part."
Members of the group, like 12-year-old Aundreya Bends, said that this group has introduced them to a passion.
"I feel like running is just my happy place," Bends said. "The best part is hanging out and talking, then having someone to run with. We never run alone."
Fellow teammate Braxton Realbird echoed his teammates, stating that the camaraderie makes the hard work easier.
"I just like handing out with all of these guys because they're all my cousins too," Realbird said. "We just have a lot of fun."
But it isn't just fun. The group has found plenty of success on the track. Most recently, all six runners qualified for the USA Track and Field Junior Nationals by placing top eight in their races at the regional meet in Pocatello, Idaho.
A few of the team members, like Realbird, were under the impression that they hadn't quite qualified due to a miscommunication of the rules. He said the moment he found out that he was in was one he'll never forget.
"(Coach) texted my parents and he said that we made it, and we got all excited on the drive home," Realbird said. "It was awesome. Just happy."
For Flatlip, the moment was equally rewarding.
"That was a good moment because they've gone through so much to get to that point," Flatlip said.
The national meet is held in Eugene at the end of July. A GoFundMe has been started to help the team handle the expenses of getting there.
For now, they will keep preparing for the event, running on the hills in Crow Agency and learning life skills along the way.
"It gives them that idea that with hard work or dedication, your running, or really anything that you put work into, can take you where you want to go," Flatlip said.