The start of the Marine Corps Marthon in Washington, D.C.

Associated Press

The start of the Marine Corps Marthon in Washington, D.C.

26 Miles of ‘Semper Fi’: Marine Corps Marathon Draws Native Runners

At 7:55 a.m. on Sunday, October 27, Native Americans will be among the more than 10,000 participants in the 38th Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. Among those runners will be team Running Strong, representing Running Strong for American Indian Youth.

Olympic Gold medalist Billy Mills, a national spokesperson for Running Strong, has a strong connection to the race because he served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Billy Mills at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

Billy Mills at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

“The beauty of our team Running Strong is people who are committed to fitness, people who are attempting to pursue fitness, and through their own initiative, they’re seeking out ways in which to better train,” said Mills.

Team Running Strong runs as part of the marathon’s slots reserved for runners raising money for a charitable organization. Currently, the team has 20 members. Each team member is required to raise $722–which was Mills’s competition number when he won the gold in the 10,000-meter run.

Over the past 11 years—from when Running Strong first entered the Marine Corps Marathon—Mills said they have raised more than $200,000 for its wellness programs on reservations throughout the country. 

One of team Running Strong’s members is Melvin Taliman, Jr., 39, of Hunters Point, Arizona. Taliman, who is Navajo Nation, has participated in at least 20 marathons.

At age 10, Taliman first met Mills shortly after the release of Mills’s biopic Running Brave. Years later, in 2004, Taliman ran his first marathon, the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon in San Diego.

Feeling the need to brush up on his training, Taliman searched the Internet for advice on how to prepare for the marathon. That search reintroduced him to Mills’s cause with Running Strong. And since then, Taliman is approaching his 10th Marine Corps Marathon and has even recruited his sister, Roshel Taliman, to run with him.

“It’s a grounding for me,” Taliman said about his marathon training regimen. “It keeps me humble. It is meditation and therapy.”

Also running in the marathon is Choctaw Nation member and former Indigenous Democratic Network director Kalyn Free.

This year, Free is running on team LIVESTRONG and raising money in memory of those in her life who have died or who are currently battling cancer.

This will be Free’s third year running in the marathon, with her previous runs in 1997 and 2003. She started running in memory of her father, a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II, who died battling cancer in 1995.

“I'd lost my dad, and I was really in a grieving process,” Free said. “It gave me time to think. Running was the only time during the week that I could clear my mind and focus on things that I really needed to think about. It was therapeutic for me.”

Although Free said she’s raised millions for political candidates and causes, she started out with a modest goal of $1,000 for her online fundraising. At press time, Free had raised $6,710 toward cancer research. 

The marathon begins at the National Mall and continues across the Potomac River, with the finish line at the Marine Corps War Memorial. For more information visit



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26 Miles of ‘Semper Fi’: Marine Corps Marathon Draws Native Runners