The Ultimate Warrior began with the women and youth teams kicking the competition off together.
“I was really impressed,” said Dustin White, the drinking water coordinator at Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation and organizer of the event. “Hats off to the women and children and men for toughing it out.”
At 1 p.m. Tuesday, the women and youth teams started off from the parking lot of the new Stone Child College. These categories competed in teams and the men competed alone.
The teams ran the course relay-style, beginning with the 2.5-mile run, then the 4.4-mile bareback horse ride, the archery event and the .5-mile swim.
“They’re like bobbers out there in the water,” Theron Oates of Rocky Boy said while watching the teams brave the waters of Bonneau Reservoir.
The water was 65 degrees Fahrenheit last week, when the competition was originally scheduled. After the rains for which it was postponed and the run-off of snow from the mountains, the water was 52 degrees Tuesday.
In addition to the cold water, there were also 30 mph winds that created one to two-feet waves, which the teams had to swim against in order to get to the finish line. Many were taken a good distance off-course due to the wind, and one team was unable to finish the competition because of this.
After the contestants of the women’s and youth’s categories made it to the finish line on Bonneau Dam, officials decided to alter the course. The men would now dismount their horses, run across Bonneau Dam, then begin swimming from where the previous contestants got out of the water and finish with the archery event.
This was done so the men would not have to swim against the wind and waves.
“The running and the riding were good, but my horse was pretty out of shape” Aaron Henry, the second-place winner of the men’s category, said. “When you hit the water while you’re all warmed up like that, it just takes your breath away.”
Henry said this was the first year swimming was included in the course. Last year, they canoed across the reservoir.
The decision made it difficult for the men at the archery event, as their hands were cold from the water. The winner of the competition, Donald LaMere, was unable to hit the target, but got an arrow within a few inches of it.
Competitors were required to hit the target or expend five arrows before they were finished with the competition. LaMere was able to take his time for much of the competition due to a great lead, but still hustled through the course.
LaMere finished the course before any of the other competitors were out of the water. This year’s Ultimate Warrior Challenge marked LaMere’s fifth victory, according to a document from the Chippewa Cree website. This year’s competition was the seventh one.
“I would like to see more competitors,” White said. “We are thinking of moving (the competition) closer to the Rocky Boy powwow instead of Native American week. We want to draw more people in. This is a great, feel-good community event.”