When Kyle Sumatzkuku hit a wall around Mile 18 of the 126th Boston Marathon, he was able to draw upon not only the cheers of his family and friends, but also from the support of the entire Hopi Tribe.
The 25-year-old from the Mishongnovi village in the Hopi Reservation of Northeast Arizona took the field by storm last October, placing 48th with a time of 2 hours 26 minutes and 17 seconds. Six months later, Sumatzkuku posted another elite time, finishing Monday in 2:39:17, despite dealing with painful hamstring and quadricep cramps down the stretch.
As he recovered in the Copley Place lobby, surrounded by family and friends and mentor/coach Duane Humeyestewn, a disappointed Sumatzkuku reflected on his effort.
“It’s all about testing the waters and getting your feet wet,” said Sumatzkuku, whose time last year was 2:34 faster than 1938 Boston Marathon winner Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, a member of the Narrangansett tribe who inspired the naming of Heartbreak Hill.
“Boston has been so special to me,” Sumatzkuku said. “It goes to show how unique and monumental that run in October was, all the elements lined up so beautifully. Now I know what happens if I try to hit that standard.
“I faced it head on, and that’s okay,” he added. “I want to reflect and know that I’m going to learn from it, return, and I believe, five to eight years from now, you’ll definitely see something from me.”
Sumatzkuku grew up running in the high desert north of the Grand Canyon. He raced competitively at Bacone College in Muskogee, Okla., where he starred alongside members of the Hopi, Navajo, and Blackfeet Nations, contributing to a second-place finish in the Midstates Classic Meet in 2017. Earlier that year, Sumatzkuku won the Oklahoma Aquarium Run Half Marathon.
In May, 2019, he won the Shiprock Marathon in New Mexico with a time of 2:38:08, qualifying for the 2020 Boston Marathon. After Boston was twice delayed by the pandemic, Sumatzkuku ran an incredible race on Indigenous Peoples’ Day last October 11.
While he plans to rest after another immense effort, Sumatzkuku will still participate in a traditional run from the Hopi Reservation to Phoenix later this month. The young distance runner is driven to inspire others, which helped him derive motivation during the home stretch of his latest marathon.
“It was really mind-boggling,” said Sumatzkuku. “I tried to think about anything but the pain. I thought about home. It was very spiritual and emotional.”
“I’m always learning from trials and errors and it’s good to go back to the drawing board now with training. I want to keep running to inspire indigenous youth, to show that you can always test your body, and that you don’t know how much you can take unless you take on the challenge.”
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