Santiago Hardy, The First Member Of Wings’ New Elite Program, Will Compete At USATF Cross Country Championships; Junior Teams Also Set For Virginia
By Mary Albl of DyeStat
Nestled in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, N.M., was Dustin Martin’s vision: A 4,700- square foot “lodge” just a stone’s throw away from a plethora of running trails.
Martin could see the budding potential before him.
“I saw that place and thought, ‘Wow, this could really be a place for runners,” he said.
Martin is the Executive Director of Wings of America – an organization founded in 1988 that provides Native youth a platform to express their identity through running. Once a product of the Wings program, Martin later joined the organization staff in 2011.
He has always shared a collective goal to expand the program’s wings – literally — and provide more opportunities. That goal started to blossom in May of 2021 when Wings bought the group’s new headquarters in Albuquerque – an idyllic location for world-class runners to train.
“In a place like Albuquerque, that is a logical place to train for athletes,” Martin said. “So thankfully with the support of the Board of Directors and also private donors, we’ve just made this jump.”
A little more than a year later, in the fall of 2022, the Wings Elite Program was launched – the first known program exclusively with a mission to foster Native runners in pursuit of their dreams of continuing distance running at the highest-level possible, while giving back to their community.
The announcement included naming a former Wings national team member, Santiago Hardy (Diné), as the first professional runner for the Wings Elite Program. Three-time Boston Marathon runner-up and multiple American and world record-holder Patti Dillon (Mi’kmaq) is the head coach.
On Saturday, Jan. 21 at Pole Green Park in Richmond, Va., Santiago will make his professional debut for Wings Elite in the Open Division race at the USATF Cross Country Championships.
“The goal is creating a community of runners that support each other as they compete in world class events,” Martin said.
A Vision For Native Runners
As a Native runner himself, Martin knows what his community is up against: family pressure, obligations, financial burden. He’s seen a number of individuals start to pursue the dream and experience some success, but then lose…