NATRO attracts runners to the Soboba Indian Reservation

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The Native American Trail Running Organization’s inaugural trail race at Soboba attracted about 75 runners willing to tackle the terrain in a 5K or 25K run on Feb. 24. NATRO founder and Race Director Sheldon Subith was pleased with the turnout and the participation by Native and non-Native athletes.

Soboba’s Kelli Hurtado gave a short blessing followed by a rabbit song before all runners took off from the starting line at The Oaks football stadium. She said the song is meant to provide inner peace.

The top Native finishers in the 5K are congratulated after the race. From left, Soboba Tribal Council Vice Chairwoman Geneva Mojado, sponsor/supporter and 5K race participant Brett Jones, NATRO founder and Race Director Sheldon Subith and 5K Native male first finisher Kevin Estanislao and third place finisher Abel Vallejo, both of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians.

Runners encountered some hills, sand, rock, single track, stream crossings and fire roads during the run that started at about 7:30 a.m. The first person to cross the 5K finish line was Katelyn Subith after just 28 minutes. She said she likes to switch it up as her last race was a 10K at Diamond Valley Lake, which will be the site of the Bedrock Valley Gravel Ride and Trail Runs on April 6 and 7.

“This was a good challenge for me, and it was a lot of fun,” said the mother of three.

Ben Sproule of San Jacinto is the first male overall across the finish line at the inaugural NATRO 5K race at Soboba on Feb. 24.

The first male to complete the 5K race was Ben Sproule of San Jacinto. “I’ve always been a runner,” he said. “I have a competitive streak; I do it for the race.” He also plays soccer and has competed in races in Beaumont and Riverside as well as the annual San Jacinto Fun Run, which will be held on April 29 this year.

“It was a good course, but it was brutal; there are some really steep hills,” Sproule said. After 40 minutes had passed, many more runners had crossed the finish line. Some had used earphones to listen to inspiring music as they ran while others chose to enjoy the sounds of nature found in the hills above the baseball fields, such as singing birds and the gurgle of flowing streams.

The first Native female to finish was Mekah Pope and Kevin Estanislao was the first Native male to complete the 5K.

Native American Trail Running Organization founder and Race Director Sheldon Subith, at left, congratulates the top three Native female runners after they completed the 25K. First place finisher was Soboba’s Mica Diaz, second was Sharon Moreno and third was Nichole Santa Cruz.

Brett Jones, a chiropractor from Tucson, has been friends with Sheldon Subith since childhood and entered the race to support NATRO. He also was one of the sponsors. A 2004 graduate of West Valley High School in Hemet, Jones said he found the course to be “absolutely amazing.”

John Etchart of Hemet was born and raised in the San Jacinto Valley and said he is very good friends with most residents on the reservation because of his work as a veterinarian. He tended to many of the large animals back when cattle used to be raised there. He also participated in the Soboba Grand Prix motorcycle races that were organized by former Tribal Council Chairman Benny Helms in the early 70s. “I’ve been an athlete most of my life,” Etchart said.

All 5K and 25K runners for the inaugural NATRO race at Soboba start together at the football field at The Oaks, heading to the hilly trails around it.

Soboba’s Joseph Perez found out about the race just a few days prior but has been investing in his health and trying to improve his life. He has lost 90 pounds in the past couple of years and wants to continue eating right and challenging himself to be better. He hopes his efforts can help him serve as a role model for his people. He was inspired to make drastic changes after his unborn child, Gracie Jo, was lost to a miscarriage in July.

“This little girl changed my heart for the best,” Perez said. “I did this race for my daughter; she’s here with me still.”

He carried a heart shaped urn that contains her ashes throughout the race and said she continues to inspire him every day.

Perez, 32, lived on the Soboba reservation for most of his life before moving to San Jacinto. He said the three most important things a person needs to have are accountability, consistency and determination and that this may have been his first race, but it isn’t his last.

 DJ Mike Nevarez, who kept the beats going for those that were waiting for loved ones to return or runners who were hanging out before and after the races, said, “Everybody’s a winner just for participating. Those hills out there are no joke.”

He announced the top three 5K winners in the Open and Native divisions while Subith gave the first-place winners of each a handmade pottery mug that commemorated the inaugural NATRO trail race. They were, Open Female: Katelyn Subith, Keilee Subith and Christine Quintero; Open Male: Ben Sproule, Brett Jones and Wilson Equez; Native Female: Mekah Pope, Nicole Diaz and Marilyn Mendoza; and Native Male: Kevin Estanislao, Ishwut Vega and Abel Vallejo.

The top three 5K Open Female finishers pose with Race Director Sheldon Subith. From left, third place Christine Quintero, second place Keilee Subith (Sheldon’s granddaughter) and first place and first person overall to complete the 5K race Katelyn Subith (Sheldon’s daughter-in-law).

Matthew Micheals completed the 15 miles of trail in just over two hours, which was changed from a loop to 7.5 miles out and back due to impassable stream crossings caused by recent rainstorms. The Riverside resident has been a runner for more than 15 years and said trail races tend to be run at a slower pace due to the higher elevations.

“They are a lot more fun and definitely have better views,” Micheals, who is in the Marine Corps, said. “I do it for the sport itself.”

The first place 25K Native runner was Joseph Sahagun who came in just five minutes behind Micheals at 2 hours, 17 minutes and 25 seconds.

Marcus Hunter of Yucaipa said he just started getting into running and likes outdoor races the best. “They are more fun, more diverse and a little more challenging,” he said.

He prepared for the race by eating simple foods and complex carbs. He was hoping to complete the course in three hours or less but said it would depend on the elevation, adding that the only competitor he had was himself.

“We’ll see what that climb does,” Hunter said. “But we couldn’t ask for better weather being overcast like this; 70 degrees or below is perfect.”

Ten members of the Golden Era Running Team came out to support the NATRO program, who is donating a portion of its proceeds to the Noli Indian School Cross-Country and Track programs.

Soboba’s Joseph Lopez is exhausted after completing his very first 5K race with the help of his late daughter, whose ashes are in the heart-shaped urn in his hand.

“We feel it is important for all big organizations to contribute to this event for Soboba,” Golden Era’s Community Events Director Linda Greilich said. “They give so much to the community and supporting groups like this and bringing the whole community together is what makes this valley what it is. We want to thank everyone at Soboba for a beautiful day, magnificent landscape and an incredibly friendly staff who made all of us feel at home. The Golden Era Running Team was proud to be part of the day.”

About 15 members of Renatus Athletics in Hemet came out to participate. Some ran the 5K while others took on the challenging 25K. Josh Pagliaroli is a CrossFitter who said each runner had signed up as part of their own self challenge.

“We are in the middle of a nutrition and performance challenge, and they all get bonus points for being in the race,” he said, adding that it was a way to get more people to support the event.

Although he has run two trail races in the past, this was Pagliaroli’s first 15-mile race which included his teenage son. He said CrossFit is a little bit of everything and racing is just one aspect of it. Renatus Athletics falls under the CrossFit umbrella as an official affiliate. For more information, www.renatusathletics.com.

Soboba’s Mica Diaz was the top Native female finisher of the longer race. She started running 10 years ago to help build her endurance and fitness for racing motocross.

“I run a few times a week but once I heard about the NATRO event, I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could complete a 25k, so I started to increase my mileage every week leading up to the event; it’s the most running I have ever done,” Diaz said. “The NATRO 25K trail was a tough one, especially the uphill section toward the end, but it was nice to see new runners enjoying the run and having fun. The top finishers were fast and motivating. I’m very fortunate to have these trails in my backyard and I look forward to the future NATRO events!”

Members of Renatus Athletics in Hemet prepare to participate in the inaugural NATRO trail races at Soboba on Saturday, Feb. 24.

Top three 25K winners in the open and Native divisions were, Open Female: Rufus Schneider, Stephanie Prevost and Brenda Pagliaroli; Open Male: Matthew Micheals, Simon Cooper and Josh Pagliaroli Jr.; Native Female: Mica Diaz, Sharon Moreno and Nichole Santa Cruz; and Native Male: Joseph Sahagun.

Sheldon Subith, who was the 2020 USATF Trail Marathon Champion in the masters’ age group 65-69 category, has long been a strong advocate and trailblazer in the Southern California running circuit.

He said his primary motivation to create NATRO is to decrease the high rate of diabetes among Native Americans. Although non-Native himself, he knows that trail running and education about diet can help combat the disease. Trail running is an accessible sport that doesn’t take much monetary investment and most reservations have extensive trail systems, so the people there don’t have to travel somewhere else to run.

Subith started the organization in his hometown of Hemet because he already has connections with several tribes in the area. He envisions a championship trail race among reservations across the country that would change venues every year. Subith wants to encourage Native runners to become USA Track & Field (USATF) members so their teams can compete in sectional and national USATF trail running events.

“The grand vision down the road would be to have a north, south, east and west championship that culminates in a national championship,” he said. “This would be my way of repaying the Native American Tribes for all they’ve done for me throughout my life.”

He is also interested in getting more Native youth involved with trail running as he feels it is an activity for them to feel good about themselves in a positive and healthy way.

“Trail running builds discipline and character which they can use throughout their life no matter the endeavor,” Subith said.

For more information and results, please visit www.ultrasignup.com and search for NATRO@Soboba and follow NATRO-Native American Trail Running Organization on Facebook and Strava.

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