Drink Chia Friend, Susan Shepherd Paul Chats About The Cherokee Harvest Half Marathon and Health Initiatives among Eastern Cherokee Tribe

portrait_Susan_Paul_blankSo many of you have been asking about my trip back into the Smoky Mountains for the Cherokee Harvest Half Marathon.  If you don’t already know what happened on my last Appalachian adventure, click here.  This time around was much better.  I finished fifth in my age division!  Yes, there were more than five people.

To talk more about our trip, and some of the great health initiatives happening with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, I’ve invited my friend Susan Shepherd Paul.  She is an exercise physiologist and contributing writer to Runner’s World.  Susan is the Program Director at Track Shack in Orlando. Enjoy!

Can you believe it??  Chia Doc actually returned to the mountains of southwestern North Carolina with me after his near death experience last spring during the Smoky Mountain Relay.  Thank goodness he survived that adventure only a little worse for the wear.  Chia Doc really does have the heart and mind of an endurance athlete though, as evidenced by his willingness to take on the mountains with me again!

Dr. Gideon Lewis at the Smokey Mountain RelayThe Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians hosted the 2nd Annual Harvest Half Marathon on Saturday, October 19th. I ran the inaugural event last year and vowed to return for the second year and to recruit other runners.  Thirty-some adventure hungry MarathonFest runners joined me for this unique event and experienced the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains in the fall.  Unlike the relay race, this race is all on the road, no trails for Chia Doc to take a wrong turn on this time!

The Harvest Half is unique because it showcases the Cherokee culture. First, the course is all on the reservation; there are only one or two other races in the country that take place on Indian-owned lands. Next, the race opens with the Cherokee Morning Prayer Song and drumming. At mile six, runners are greeted at the top of a significant climb with an aid station and more Native American drumming and singing. It is hauntingly beautiful and inspiring. You can feel the vibration of the drums reverberate through your whole body as you climb the hill.

Dr. Lewis at the Cherokee Harvest Half MarathonRunners wind through town and around Harrah’s Casino and then return to the finish line. The finish line is on a track and runners are greeted by the Miss Cherokee Princesses, dressed in traditional garb, handing out finisher medals and congratulations. Last,by not least,

Harrah Casino chefs are busy serving up a savory white bean soup, veggie wraps, and sweet potato brownies!  Need I say more??

The Harvest Half Marathon speaks to the importance the Cherokee have placed on improving the health and fitness of the tribe. Serious health issues are all too common to the Native Americans. Statistics show that certain diseases and conditions affect the Native American population with more frequency than other population. Heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are rampant. Cherokee men and women are twice as likely to suffer from obesity than any other racial or ethnic group in North Carolina. Type 2 Diabetes affects almost one quarter of the tribe; which is more than three times that of other North Carolinian.

A portion of the money derived from the casino is directed toward health education programs, like Cherokee Choices. Education is empowerment. They believe it is imperative for the Cherokee people to be informed and educated on these serious health issues so they may better understand the impact of these diseases, and how they can take a pro-active approach toward their health.

Along with these health initiatives, the Cherokee also formed the Cherokee Runners Club. This club is open to all runners, of all abilities, who live in or near Cherokee, NC. The group trains together and travels to races together much like Track Shack’s running program, MarathonFest. The Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Michell Hicks, is also a runner and a member of the Cherokee Running Club and is dedicated to making the Harvest Half a premier running event.

So…we got to experience a very unique event; as well as, a jam-packed, adventure filled weekend in the mountains! For those that have not traveled with me, let me just say, that on my “runcations” there is no rest for the weary.

And the best part is, we did not lose Chia Doc…lesson learned…the Buddy System worked well, he had a Handler at all times.  I’m so happy he is up for the Smoky Mountain Relay again this year!  I can’t wait to tell you all about it in April!

– Susan Shepherd Paul