This past October, 20-year-old Rilee Many Bears of the Siksika Nation won a gold medal for Canada at the 2015 World Indigenous Games in Palmas, Brazil. Rilee competed in the 8.4 kilometres event which consisted of both a cross country and road race course.
Rilee says that winning the gold medal was a symbol of what determination and goal setting can achieve. “I was extremely happy and proud after I crossed that finish line,” said Rilee. “I trained for six weeks for this race, after I was selected to represent Canada in Brazil.” His next goal is to begin training for the upcoming Olympic Trials to be held in Edmonton early next summer.
Over 2,000 participating Indigenous athletes from 30 countries competed in Brazil for the first World Indigenous Games. Indigenous athletes competed in a variety of sporting events, including football, athletics, canoeing, archery, and many Indigenous traditional games.
Rilee was recently given a Blackfoot name in a special naming ceremony and was gifted with the name Iinomaaka, meaning Running Buffalo. The Siksika Nation also celebrated his gold medal, with members of Chief & Council, family, friends, and supporters gathering at the community’s Deerfoot Sportsplex.
Rilee was raised on the Siksika Nation and attended Bassano School. In high school, he excelled in athletics, representing his school at the provincial level in track and cross country racing. In the summer of 2014, Rilee competed at the North American Indigenous Games held in Regina and won a gold medal in the 3,000 metres race, including bronze medals in 1,500 metres and 6 km cross country events.
The majority of the time, Rilee trains at home, but he also trains with the University of Calgary Track & Field team. Rilee has overcome many challenges, one of which is a health condition called Wolf Parkinson’s White Syndrome, an extra pathway between a patient’s upper heart chambers (atria) and lower chambers (ventricles). The condition causes a rapid heartbeat, which will require surgery to correct. Rilee has also endured personal losses, poverty, and addictions in his life.
His mentor is Billy Mills, the Olympic Gold Medalist in the 10,000 meters of the 1964 Summer Olympics. Billy Mills is a Sioux Indian from South Dakota; his life was portrayed in a biopic called Running Brave.
“I first heard of Billy Mills in 2011, and I was instantly a fan,” said Rilee. “I met him in Portland, Oregon in 2014, and I was excited and nervous to meet him. Since then, I’ve met Billy a couple more times, including when he came up to Siksika for a racing event. He is truly an inspiration, and I am honoured to know him personally.”
Rilee will compete in one more race this year and will use his success in 2015 as a motivator for next year’s Olympic trials.