Ku Stevens took off running in the direction of the rising sun. His boots dug into the gravel road, his legs ached with agony, and he struggled against self-doubt and uncertainty. He continued to run. He was running when a couple of straggling spectators crossed his path, and he swerved to avoid them, almost losing his balance, and he continued running.
The course for the five-kilometer race wound its way up into the foothills. He had no partners, and his opponents had fallen well behind him in the standings. There was no one to drive him toward the time he needed to be at his peak performance level. Stevens, on the other hand, continued.
Ku — short for Kutoven — is a senior at Yerington High School in western Nevada, and he competed in the Nevada state interscholastic championships in early November. While growing up on an impoverished Native American reservation and competing in a sport where few rivals matched his background, he had a long-held ambition to become the state’s top high school distance runner. He achieved that goal in 2012. He wanted to demonstrate to the world that Native Americans could be champions.
It would be a great honour for him if he were to win because it would pay tribute to his tribe and his forefathers, especially his great-grandfather, who suffered horrendous treatment at federal and church-run boarding schools and the often violent efforts to strip Native Americans of their language, religious beliefs, and all other vestiges of their culture.
As a Yerington Paiute Indian who was born in the harsh Nevada desert, Stevens’ paternal great-grandfather, Frank Quinn, faced a destiny that was all too frequent for Native American youngsters in the early twentieth century. After being forcibly removed from his home at the age of 7 or 8, he was forced to attend the Stewart Indian School, which was located three miles outside of Carson City and a world apart from his tribe.
It was one of more than 350 comparable institutions throughout the United States that were established to forcefully assimilate Native Americans. A statement from Stacey Montooth, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission, said that “the aim was wicked.” “It was a genocide,” says the author.
Quinn was able to hold her own against such torture. His narrative has been handed down through the years through word of mouth among the Paiute. How he was just 8 years old when he managed to get away from Stewart and go to the desert. How he ran, relying on his strong recollection of the landscape, and managed to make his way home, a distance of 50 miles, was remarkable.
Stevens ran the same 50 miles this summer as an homage to his great-grandfather and the numerous casualties of boarding schools, which he dubbed the Remembrance Run in honour of the victims. Stevens ran over the parched desert for two days, pausing every five miles to let the group of over 100 other runners to catch up with him. He was thinking about his great-grandfather while he travelled. How did Quinn manage to stay alive? What kind of shelter did he find?
Quinn’s stay at Stewart is only partially documented, but one thing is certain: after his initial escape, federal officials apprehended him and hauled him back to the facility. He attempted to flee again again, only to be apprehended and brought back. He managed to get away again again and return home. Finally, the school gave up the ghost.
In his later years, Quinn would become a rancher, a tribe leader, and a well-respected elder. He was a quiet guy who hesitated to criticise anybody. Sadly, he passed away in the mid-1980s, around a quarter-mile away from Stevens’s current single-story, two-bedroom home.
Stevens discovered his passion for running in the neighbourhood where he grew up. He felt liberated because of the quickness and self-reliance of it. He recalls feeling the rush of adrenaline rush through him when he was four years old and participating in his first race, a half-mile run in which he ran the full distance in sprinting.
Yerington High School is located in Yerington, a mostly white community of around 3,000 people adjacent to the reservation. Stevens was the lone member of the cross-country team by the time he reached his sophomore year.
Stevens gasped for air and forced himself forward with each stride. Faster, faster, faster. He continued on, around a corner, through a straightaway, from dirt to gravel to grass. He was on his way. One more round around the track. Up and down a rocky slope is what you’ll find. Despite the pain that arced through his body, he rushed ahead grimacing and with his head thrown back.
He finally made it over the finish line. His timing was 16 minutes and 28 seconds as he crumpled to the ground and heard the public address announcer give out his time: 16 minutes and 28 seconds. Carlin is one second faster than you.
Ku Stevens was a state champion and the fastest high school cross-country runner in the state of Nevada when he graduated from high school. While receiving his gold medal in front of the audience, he covered himself in the flag of the Yerington Paiute tribe.