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Under Armour Diversity Series: Winnipeg’s Samantha Powderhorn

Sammi Powderhorn has overcome many obstacles, and she credits running with helping her achieve a healthier life

Samantha Powderhorn Photo by: Ian McCausland

Under Armour has teamed up with Canadian Running to produce the Under Armour Diversity Series — an exclusive feature content series designed to highlight and promote individuals and organizations who have demonstrated a commitment to grow the sport of running, support those who are underrepresented and help others. The series will feature stories and podcasts highlighting these extraordinary Canadians who are making a difference in their communities and on the national running scene.

In just a few short years, Samantha Powderhorn’s life transformed from one of struggle and hardship to one filled with accomplishment and resilience. Less than 10 years ago, she was struggling with obesity, battling cancer and addiction, reeling from the loss of her brother and going through a divorce and homelessness. Powderhorn’s journey has been arduous, but in 2021, everything changed when she started running.

Time for a change

Powderhorn is originally from the Sayisi Dene First Nation, a small reserve at Tadoule Lake, a fly-in community located half an hour (by plane) from Churchill, Man. She experienced addiction, neglect and trauma while growing up, and in 2015, she was diagnosed with cancer. Two weeks later, she lost her brother.

Samantha Powderhorn
Samantha Powderhorn. Photo: Ian McCausland

Later that year, motivated by a desire for a better life for her and her kids, she left her abusive marriage and moved to Winnipeg. “I was homeless with four kids, pregnant, with four suitcases,” she says. “I overcame a lot that would break a lot of people, but I often think about how I grew up, and how I don’t want that for my children. I’ll work hard to make sure they don’t have that.”

During the pandemic lockdown, like many people, Powderhorn took the opportunity to be more active. She sought solace through physical activity, and in April 2021, she started running.

The first time she went out, she could only run for one minute, but she was determined and willing to challenge herself, so she pushed herself out the door again the next day. Each day, she ran a little farther than the day before. Over time, she was able to run farther, and began to believe that change was possible. Finally, one day in mid-April, she was able to run two full kilometres without stopping. When she finally paused, a song by her brother’s favourite band began playing through her earbuds. “I started crying, because I felt that spiritual connection with my late brother,” she says. “He was always telling me to get healthy and live a healthier lifestyle, and that’s when I began to love running.”

Samantha Powderhorn
Photo: Ian McCausland

Before long, two kilometres became four, then five. “When I run, I really feel that it’s my time to just think, feel, cry, scream and talk to myself,” she says. 

A huge achievement

Powderhorn ran her first 10K race in November 2022, at the Polar Bear Marathon in Churchill. That’s where she met Jim Scott, who became her coach, helping her learn how to train effectively for longer distances, and how to avoid injury. “Sammi has adopted the culture of running, and has amazing discipline, challenging goals and determination,” says Scott. “She is an inspiration.”  

A year later, Powderhorn returned to Churchill, intending to run the half-marathon. As part of her training, she participated in the 2023 Reconciliation Run from the former residential school in Birtle, Man., back to the reserve at Birdtail Sioux First Nation, organized by Trechelle Bunn. Then she became injured and had to reduce her training, but she still went to Churchill to run as far as she could.

Samantha Powderhorn
Photo: Ian McCausland

“I started running, thinking I was only doing the half, because that’s what I was training for,” she says, “but I ended up running the full Polar Bear Marathon. I am the first woman of Sayisi Dene First Nation to complete the full marathon!”

The 2023 race had 20 participants line up to battle -26 C temperatures, running mostly on a gravel trail. Each participant has a driver accompany them with snacks and water and for protection from polar bears, which are routinely seen on the course. “Nobody got in the car, but I did see a polar bear,” she says. “I would say, about 15 km into the race, not too far away… far enough that I wasn’t nervous.”

Powderhorn was the first female to cross the finish line, in second place overall. “I’m still absorbing it right now,” she says. “Two years ago I couldn’t even picture myself doing that–I was sitting on the couch eating chips and drinking slurpees and watching TV. It’s amazing how you can change your life.”

Running Toward Reconciliation

Running to inspire

Powderhorn sees herself as an inspiration and motivation to others, particularly youth. And she’s proud that her kids are able to participate in sports. “I look at my home, and I think, this is pretty awesome!” she says. “I went from being homeless to driving my very own vehicle. I have a nice home and my kids are healthy.” 

Powderhorn is also deeply proud of her Indigenous heritage, and says that, not only has running helped her become fit and healthy, but it has also sparked a desire to reconnect with her Indigenous heritage. She wants to instil a sense of self-love and cultural pride within her people as she, herself, learns about her cultural traditions and embraces her identity as a member of the Sayisi Dene First Nation.

She is proud that her achievements in running are helping shatter barriers within her community. By becoming the first female from her community to complete a marathon, she is challenging limitations and encouraging others to embrace their potential. “I’ve changed a lot in the past two years,” she says, “and running has really helped me. I never thought I would call myself an athlete.”

Samantha Powderhorn
Photo: Ian McCausland

A symbol of hope

Powderhorn’s journey from adversity to triumph is a testament to the transformative power of running. Overcoming obesity, cancer, addiction, abuse and countless other obstacles, she found solace, strength and a sense of purpose through running.

“There’s so much linked into my running,” she says. “I come from a small reserve community of 350 people, and I was always so in the corner—you can only do this and that’s it, you’re set there. When I moved to the city I knew there were more doors to be opened, and for myself to be able to come from not being able to run one minute to running a full marathon, I’m still absorbing it right now.”

Through her remarkable achievements as a runner and her dedication to inspiring others, Powderhorn has become a symbol of hope and resilience. Her story serves as a reminder that our past does not define our future, and that with determination and self-belief, we can overcome even the most daunting challenges. 

As part of the Under Armour Diversity Series, Under Armour Canada will be make a $5,000 product donation for Samantha Powderhorn to continue her mission and help others get into running.


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