Verna Volker may not be a name you recognize, but she’s a woman everyone should know. An Indigenous person from the Navajo Nation, Volker has started a movement unlike any other.
For the athlete, representation matters in all areas of life, especially when it comes to female runners. In fact, through her activism on the race course, Volker is lifting up Native women through running.
Volker’s running journey began back in 2009 as a way to lose weight. However, the now 48-year-old quickly realized that there was little representation of herself and her community in the world of running. She soon became determined to carve out a space for Indigenous women runners, and the ultramarathoner has done just that!
As Volker shares on the Native Women Running website, “I started Native Women Running (NWR) out of frustration. One day, I was scrolling through Instagram and noticed a lack of Native women runners. When I realized many runners don’t look like me, I decided to start NWR.”
Now the NWR community is over 30,000 strong thanks to their social media presence. Their Instagram account provides visibility and inspiration to Indigenous women, including this reel of one Native woman running with her sister and grandma through Canyon de Shelly in Arizona on the lands of Navajo Nation.
‘Running Has Long Been Part Of Native Culture’
In a recent interview with Bustle, Volker discussed the importance of creating a space for Indigenous women in the world of running. “Many people don’t realize that running has long been part of Native culture,” reflected the marathoner. “A lot of that has been lost over time because of erasure.”
Volker is doing something about that. She wants people to know that running is for “every body type and every group of people, specifically Native women representing their tribes and sharing their journeys, no matter what level they’re at.”
The runner went on to share a story she heard growing up “that was passed down from one generation to the next: When you wake up in the morning before the sun rises, you run to the east to greet Creator and say your prayers, which helps you stay in balance in life. Now that I run, that makes so much sense to me.”
For Volker, running is more than just a way to stay healthy. In fact, running helps her connect with her culture and her family. As she shared, “Running is medicine. Running is healing. Running is our prayers. I think that’s pretty powerful.”
Beyond being a runner, Volker is also a leader in the running community. She ensures that her sponsors—HOKA, Suunto, and Lily Trotter—are held accountable for their diversity policies. Plus, companies need to do a better job of giving a voice to Indigenous people.
As Volker remarked, “Companies need to offer a safe, welcoming space for Native runners that recognizes the trauma we carry. These conversations can be hard, but we need to be heard.”