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Basketball standout Schimmel helps open Piestewa Games

Jude Schimmel helped open the Fiesta Bowl Lori Piestewa National Native American Games. (Photo courtesy WNBA)

SCOTTSDALE – Jude Schimmel has started in a Final Four game, interviewed President Barack Obama, written a book, Dreamcatcher, and starred in Nike commercials narrated by LeBron James. Now, as a 24-year-old Native American woman, she is using her platform to encourage Native Americans to go out and live healthier lifestyles.

Friday, Schimmel appeared alongside Jessica Lynch, the former prisoner of war, at the opening ceremonies of the Fiesta Bowl Lori Piestewa National Native American Games. This weekend, the games are expected to draw nearly 4,000 athletes from over 50 Native American tribes from around the country, competing in basketball, volleyball, youth baseball, softball, cross country and track and field.

“Going to school kind of started everything for me, but it’s so much more than that. I got my education which is the most important, and I was able to play basketball, which was really cool,” Schimmel said. “Now, my biggest goal is to encourage younger kids to go out and do healthy, good things with themselves, whether that’s sports or going to school or helping other people.”

Schimmel grew up in Oregon and is a member of the Umatilla tribe, a tribe of around 3,000 members located in northeast Oregon. She attended college on a basketball scholarship at the University of Louisville, where she won the 2013 NCAA Elite 89 award – given to the Final Four athlete with the highest GPA, before playing professional basketball in Europe.

While Schimmel has had some remarkable life experiences for a 24-year-old, where her heart really lies is with her mission of bringing health to the Native communities, particularly with children.

“It’s good because role models like that are more what these kids need. We need a lot of good role models,” said Percy Piestewa, whose daughter’s name is attached to the event. “It’s awesome that they can get somebody like that to come in and speak and make them see that life is going to have its ups, life is going to have its downs, but your job is just to keep moving forward.”

Lori Piestewa was killed in action in Iraq. A member of the Hopi tribe from Tuba City, she was the first Native American woman to die in military combat. The games began in her honor in 2003, and have grown to be the largest competition of its kind.

“This is a huge event and it’s in a very good place. A lot of traffic, a lot of people,” Schimmel said. “It’s just an exciting event.”

In addition to promoting health in native communities, Schimmel has used the platform given to her from basketball, and now with Nike, as a means of educating people on Native American culture.

“When I was at school, my teammates knew nothing of me and my culture, my sister, they knew nothing of that,” Schimmel said. “It’s kind of crazy to meet people who have no idea about Native Americans, reservations, our history, or anything like that. So it’s kind of cool to be able to educate them and also show them who and what we are, and what we stand for.”

Schimmel will have an even bigger stage than usual this weekend. Event organizers expecting a turnout of around 17,000 spectators – most from outside of Maricopa County, with events taking place from Friday to Sunday.  

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