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First-Class Native Athlete Trio Does The Unexpected

Jonathan Kelley

April Knight and Ashland Carlow of Red Cloud Indian School and Taylor Byerly of Lakota Tech possess a fearless, bold, competitive, and proud mentality, which lead them to the 2023 South Dakota Class A State Track and Field Meet finals on Saturday, May 25th.

With achievements that often go unnoticed, on and off the track field, Native athletes are not given the same media coverage as their non-native counterparts.

They may receive a tiny blip on the Newsline but rarely make the feature story.

So the importance of Carlow, Byerly, and Knight sharing the opportunity to represent their culture, families, schools, and community on the highest stage of competition cannot be understated.

Knight, a Junior, talked about one of her state track and field highlights.

“Racing against Berkeley Engelland; It's an honor to be in the same race as her. It's incredible.”

Carlow said not having a track to train on “makes me work harder; it's great to see we don't have everything, and we can still perform. I practiced in Rapid City, which was very helpful.”

Byerly echoed that statement.

“It's more challenging, especially when finding places to do your workouts. Doing an activity on the gravel differs from doing it on the track, so it's more complicated but makes it that much sweeter.”

Byerly, a senior, competed in the Girls Class A 400-meter dash and 800-meter run, placing 6th in the 400-meter dash.

“It's cool, especially here at Howard Wood, and since they switched it to all three classes in one place, it's a great competitive environment,” said Byerly.

Her highly decorated accomplishments include a five-time Lakota Nation Invitational track and field Gold Medalist, a five-time state track & field meet qualifier, and the first state track and field medalist in school history.

What does Byerly love most about track and field?

“Everyones cheering. You can be from opposite sides of the state, but you still have people cheering for you no matter where you are from. That’s the best feeling for me.”

Carlow, an athletic freshman, was a third-team All-State selection in basketball. She helped anchor Red Cloud to another Class A State Basketball Tournament appearance.

She competed in the Girls’ Class A 100-meter hurdles, high jump, and 300-meter hurdles.

With her heart-stopping performance in the 300-meter hurdles final, Carlow edged out several field favorites with quick leaps and long strides over the last 50 meters to win the first hurdles title in Red Cloud history.

On winning her first state title, Carlow said, “It feels fantastic. I’m super proud of myself, and I’m happy. I worked so hard for this, and I'm excited.”

So what does this type of performance at this level mean to Carlow and her family?

“It makes me happy because I love my culture and people. My family is mostly basketball players, and I'm one of the only hurdlers from my family to be a state champion. My mom was in tears. She’s happy. I'm glad I can go home and share this title with them.”

Knight, an exceptional sprinter, competed in the 100-meter and 200-meter dash. She qualified for the 200-meter dash final on Saturday, where she finished 7th. It was her first state track and field experience.

With a handprint painted red over her mouth and leg, a symbol of the ongoing epidemic of violence against Indigenous women in the United States and Canada, Knight ran for her grandmother and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and their voices not heard.

“It's such an honor to represent my community, heritage, family, and all the other girls that look like me. I never thought I'd be in this position. I'm thankful I get to represent us. This is for

everybody that looks like us, everybody that's brown. Everybody that hasn't been allowed to be here or should be here,” said Knight.

I would advise younger athletes; Carlow said, “You can do it too. Work hard, and don't doubt yourself. Just set your dream on something. Set your mind to it and work for it every day.”

Byerly advises, “Training in the off-season, especially during the summer.”

Byerly committed to running cross country and track and field at the University of South Dakota.

“I'd like to thank all my supporters, and I'm excited to compete next year with one of my best friends, Jade (Ecoffey), in Vermillion.”

Carlow will defend her 300-meter hurdles title next season while continuing to show everyone that Native athletes matter. “We're not less than; we can come out here and perform better than anyone else. Don't underestimate us.”

Knight will return next season confident she can qualify for the state meet again.

“It's exhilarating, and I'm looking to return next year. I'm so thankful for the opportunity to run with such integrity. My goal is to return to the podium. Top-five.”

DJ Khaled’s “All I Do is Win” could become the soundtrack to their bright futures.

Whether winning a state title in the last 50 meters, running with a purpose while making a bold statement, or closing the chapter on a highly decorated high school athletic career, a trio of first-class Native athletes did something many didn't expect them to do.

They’ve put us on notice.