Carlin Thompson

Portraits in Chickasaw Strength and Resilience

His Chickasaw roots grounded him. The spirit of his ancestors propelled him across the finish line to become a four-time high school track and field state champion. "When I ran through Kullihoma, I would feel the connection of my ancestors," says Carlin Thompson. "Even in high school when I ran long distance to practice, I always felt like they were with me at my side." As a freshman at Ada High School, his athletic talent stood out, even among older varsity athletes. "Carlin caught my attention real quick because he was at the lead of the pack and there were a lot of juniors and that were in that group," says Dorsey Reirdon, Carlin's track and field coach. "Athletes compete with their hearts. It's amazing how much the brain can overcome. But it has to have the heart, because without the heart, it can't overcome. Carlin Thompson's whole body's a heart."

Carlin set a state record in the 440-yard dash, was the first high school runner in the state of Oklahoma to break 48 seconds and led the team to win four state championships from 1969 to 1972. "It was something more than I had dreamed for," he says. "It's a great feeling to feel like you've been awarded something with all the hard work, all the sweat and pain, and things that you go through to get there." But he has never taken anything for granted, staying positive and humble. "In the Indian ways, we walk in balance, mentally, physically and spiritually. Try to live a good life, treat everybody right, treat yourself right. I've always encouraged athletes to have a balance, have a good, sound mind. To pursue their dream to be a winner, you've got to stay in there. Don't give up. Don't give up the fight."