Youth movement

Ken Thomas poses in this Submitted photo.

Cumberland House athlete hoping to inspire kids to embrace running, the sport that turned his life around

Running helped Ken Thomas turn his life around, and now the professional athlete-turned-coach from Pelican Narrows is hoping he can pass along his love for the sport to the next generation of Saskatchewan youth.

Thomas grew up in Cumberland House and in Prince Albert, and, as he describes it, he wasn’t the best kid.

“I was a troubled youth,” he said. “I want to be that role model that was absent in my upbringing. I want to be that guy for the kids.”

Discovering running taught Thomas a lot about life, and about himself. He said it helped him learn punctuality, discipline and reliability.

“It was something I would do on a weekend. Monday to Friday I would work construction, and then do a triathlon, then head back to work,” he said.

He ran for a well-known Prince Albert business.

Mike and Ron Horn at Fresh Air Experience sponsored Thomas for a lot of his events. Now, he wants to give back.

“I would like to go from pro athlete to helping youth.”

Running, Thomas explained, is one of the most accessible athletic activities out there.

“They can’t always get into football or soccer,” he said. “Running is more cost efficient, and you get that natural high from releasing endorphins. You get that runner’s high.”

Since leaving Prince Albert, Thomas headed down to Regina. He worked with kids in the city’s North Central area. He has since moved to Saskatoon.

“There’s a lot of challenges,” Thomas said. “They can’t dress nice and have athletic gear. They have to wear certain colours and there’s a gang culture. They’re afraid to go out.”

Thomas said he wants to find a way to arrange transportation of the kids so they can be picked up to head out to train. In some rough neighbourhoods, Thomas said, youth are afraid of being jumped at the bus stop.

With the challenges the youth are facing, and his background, Thomas wants to empower youth to find athletic success and seize their destiny.

He’s been taking coaching seminars, and serves as a coach for the Saskatoon Tribal Council for girls’ broomball. He’s also able to coach badminton and table tennis, as well as running. While Thomas has been getting into those other sports, running is where his heart lies. He is starting a running club for youth in Saskatoon, and hopes to expand it to Regina, Prince Albert, and eventually, the north.

For now, he’s starting small, but Thomas is dreaming big. He’s been in touch with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and is exploring the possibility of holding runs for youth, including one in Little Red.

“I want to get something going, especially with all this negativity. Aboriginal people feel a sense of things being unjust. I want to give them something else to focus on, like sports, instead of having this negative perspective.”

Thomas wants to head up north and speak about his experience, spreading his message of running for hope.

“I want to give them something to look forward to, in regards to athleticism, with summer games, hockey, soccer, lacrosse – whatever they want to do, it’s all for the kids. I want to tap into grants and attend training and take that knowledge, experience and training to teach the kids, to give them that runner’s high, free of cost.”

The first step in that vision is the running club in Saskatoon.

“Eventually, if I set up a strong foundation, I could have runners in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert, and we can spearhead running clubs and get kids moving,” he said.

“It’s a youth movement so to speak. It takes somebody to go out of their way and make time for them and show them that they’re worth it. I believe that’s a very strong message, and that’s what I’m trying to send to the kids.”