At the 2022 World Track and Field Championships, hammer thrower Janee’ Kassanavoid took home a bronze medal, making history as the first Native American woman to win a medal at Worlds. She followed up that performance in 2023 with a silver medal and is poised to contend for the podium in Paris next summer, which would be her first Olympic appearance. Off of this summer’s medal performance and in celebration of Native American Heritage Month, Kassanavoid shares some of what her heritage and culture’s history mean to her as an athlete and a woman, in her own words.
nʉ nahnia tsa Janee’ Kassanavoid
Hello everyone, my name is Janee’ Kassanavoid, I am Comanche.
When I think back to my childhood, growing up in Lawson, Missouri, I cannot recall an Indigenous woman who was successful in the world of sports, let alone Track & Field. Amongst men, you have the “greatest athlete of all time”, Jim Thorpe from the Sac and Fox Nation tribes. A double Olympic gold medalist in 1912 in the pentathlon and decathlon, a star baseball player, and a trailblazing football player. Unfortunately, he was stripped of both his medals by the IOC after violating rules of amateurism at said time. It took 110 years to get both Olympic medals and his Olympic records reinstated. This moment was a HUGE win for Jim Thorpe’s family and for Indian country. Fifty-two years after Thorpe’s dominant showing, at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, for one of the biggest upsets in history, enters Billy Mills. To this day, Billy Mills from the Oglala Sioux tribe is the only American male to have won the 10,000m Olympic GOLD. Each individual faced hardships and adversity, both before and after their Olympic moments.
Fast forward to the 21st Century. Janee’ Kassanavoid, Comanche, the first Native American woman to medal at the World Track and Field Championships after claiming BRONZE in 2022. A history making moment not only for my career but for all Indigenous youth, women, and communities around the world.
RELATED: Janee’ Kassanavoid makes history for Native American women on the field (and on TikTok)
My ancestors before me survived so that I could thrive.
The sport of track and field originated 2,500 years ago, 776 B.C, at the first ancient Olympic games. Competition was only open to men until the early 1920s, when events were opened to women. In just 100 years women have played a significant role in the HISTORY of Track & Field.
I started my hammer career in 2014 attending Johnson County Community College, where I was recruited for the shot put and the discus. The spring of my freshman year, I was the NJCAA hammer champion, throwing just over 53 meters. I ended my collegiate career at Kansas State University in 2018 as the school record holder in the weight and hammer throw, a three-time Big 12 Champion and four-time All-American with a personal best mark of 68.21 meters. This 2024 season will be my 10th year throwing hammer and I currently stand third on the American all-time list and seventh all-time in the world. I am a two-time world medalist with a personal best of 78.00 meters, nearly 256 feet. In 10 years, I have made a 25-meter (more than 82 feet) progression. For reference, I’m throwing a 4 kilogram (8.82 pounds) ball on a wire over two-thirds the length of a football field. I never imagined myself to be one of the best hammer throwers in the world but because of my upbringing; having a strong work ethic, to be disciplined, and to be a perfectionist, I have the opportunity to create something special. A legacy.
Kassanavoid, Price reach hammer throw podium
U.S. athletes Janee’ Kassanavoid and DeAnna Price reach the podium in Budapest for the women’s hammer throw competition, securing silver and bronze respectively behind meet winner Camryn Rogers of Canada.
As a Native American, as a woman, and as an athlete, my representation means everything. To continue to be a leader and a role model, to inspire the next generation of Native athletes. To continue to create spaces and break barriers for people who look like me. To continue to empower women in sport and in life, to know the beauty in strength.
After my history making moment, it has been an honor to have been recognized by Indian country in various ways. In the fall of 2022, after I took bronze at the first outdoor world championships held in the United States (in Eugene, Oregon), I was invited as a ‘celebrity’ guest to the Comanche Nation Pow Wow to be celebrated in the traditional arena ceremony. I participated in my first Nike N7 marketing campaign that was filmed in Hawaii and launched on Indigenous People’s Day. For Native American Heritage Month, I had the pleasure of attending the first NAHM Celebration at the White House in Washington, D.C. I was a 2022 inductee to the North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame. Following my 2023 season, which finished with a silver medal at Worlds in Budapest, I have started to engage more and give back to native communities. I’ve attended local Native American schools and universities speaking on ‘Leadership’, ‘Mental Health’, and ‘Health and Wellness’. In honor and in celebration of Native American Heritage this year, I am hosting a local meet & greet fundraiser in Kansas City, Missouri on Sunday, November 26th. I am partnering with the Kansas City Indian Center to continue to help encourage social, educational, and economic advancement of the American Indian community by promoting traditional and cultural values.
This journey is a dream come true. Even more powerful has been the backing of a nation. Comanche Nation. That has continued to fuel the fire for my purpose and for my passion in this sport.
The dream our ancestors dreamed.
Our ancestors didn’t go through what they went through for me to fail. Every day I remember the trauma our people endured; what our communities endured. That keeps me going. That keeps me throwing, using my strength and my resiliency to continue to make big strides. To be the standard. Not the exception.
SEE ME. SEE US.
I am truly thankful to have reached the heights I have reached in this sport. I could not have done it without the power of my people and the spirit of my ancestors. My family, friends, and my coach, for always being my biggest fans. To see me grow and evolve into the thrower and woman I am today. I am excited more than ever to pursue the journey to the 2024 Olympic Games. To have a voice, to have a platform, and to have an opportunity to shock the world. To be known, that WE ARE STILL HERE…….
I pay tribute to those who have walked before me. To those who walk with me. And to those who will walk after me. Lululuulu!