LAWTON, Okla. – Toqua-Hanai Ticeahkie, or “T”, parks himself on the edge of a weight bench. Waiting for a lift on the other end is a heap of round, shiny, black weights totaling 505 lbs. As soon as he’s focused, he leans back and heaves the barbell into the air with the same determination he powers into the new Strong Warriors’ Weightlifting Club.
Ticeahkie, fitness coordinator and certified personal trainer for the Comanche Nation Diabetes Program, co-founded the club with fellow Comanche Nation tribal member Martin Flores.
“If you look across the landscape of Indian Country today you will see hundreds of diabetes programs and they are also probably struggling to develop exercise/fitness programs that also need assistance with the Native men demographic,” Ticeahkie said. “The weightlifting club was started because we saw a need within our Native community to design and develop an exercise/fitness program that is geared to target men although it is open to women and kids as well.”
Participants have their blood pressure and weight among other things checked once they sign up for the program. They are also taught how to use the equipment properly, how muscles work and keep track of their progress.
Fitness Trainer Asaan Fife said health is a lifestyle, and education and understanding are vital so participants don’t get injured. “It’s a building process,” he said. “We’re trying to set the bar for Native American fitness.”
According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2007, 23.6 million people in the United States had diabetes and American Indians and Alaska Natives were the highest racial and ethnic group in the U.S. with the disease at nearly 17 percent.
In addition, the National Indian Health Board states that, “Between 1990-2009, among American Indians and Alaska Natives there was a 161 percent increase in diabetes in young people aged 25-34 years and a 110 percent increase in diabetes in youth aged 15-19 years ... American Indian and Alaska Natives have the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in the United States.”
Ticeahkie said their program is catching on like fire and people of all ages are joining their program.
“I’m getting stronger. I’m getting dedicated to it,” Jared Wahkinney, 17, said. “I like getting strong, I like the feel of it, I like being part of a team. It’s pretty cool.”
Theo Niedo, 35, also joined the club and likes the workout program “T” put together. He said he used to weight lift in high school, but felt like he wasn’t progressing - just going through the motions. Now that he joined the Strong Warriors, he feels like he’s reaching a new and higher level of fitness. Not to mention, Niedo said he wants to be twice the size of any boyfriend his daughters Mikayla, 6, and Miranda, 11, might bring home one day.
“My baby thinks I’m the strongest daddy in the world and the other one thinks I have a big head,” he said.
Flores is also inspired by the Strong Warriors program he helped establish and is proud of the fact that he is the strongest he’s ever been.
“I’m a firm believer in T’s work out that he created. I’m a walking testament of it,” Flores said. “It’s kind of like a rite of passage … It’s some real warrior stuff. No matter what kind of shape you’re in, you can always come in and get strong.”
The program doesn’t just teach about physical strength, but about emotional, spiritual and mental as well. Which is why the club logo is a medicine wheel, Ticeahkie said.
“All we’re offering is a sense of community and camaraderie,” Ticeahkie said. “My vision is to start Strong Warriors where we have chapters and still do something together.”
Ticeahkie said the door is open for all tribes to join their Strong Warriors community and he is willing to help other tribes start their own program. He said he’s aware that not all tribal programs network with each other, but he wants to help defeat diabetes and other diseases that plague Native Americans.
“Hopefully we can inspire other diabetes programs,” he said.
The weightlifting club is having a Strong Warriors Competition the week of Sept. 27 at the Comanche Nation Fitness Center located at 904 SW F Street in Lawton, Okla. Any Native American enrolled in the Strong Warriors Weightlifting Club is illegible and can compete in several categories within their age, weight and gender category. Winners of the competition will ride on a float during the 19th annual Comanche Nation Fair parade on Oct. 2.