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'Warrior Dance’ weighs heavy on Montana Special Olympian Keith King

Keith King Warrior Dance
Posted at 2:00 PM, May 03, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-03 16:18:28-04

BILLINGS — On any given morning, afternoon or evening — even if it’s a little chilly — you might find Keith King staying in shape near the track and field pits. But that’s just the beginning of his story.

Keith is happy to give out pointers on how to win the long jump. It’s just one of the events in which he's collected medals during various Special Olympics Games, both locally and nationally.

But King says his favorite, and most dominant event, is the mile.

“They go up against me and I’m like the tallest one in there. They’re like, 'Oh great, we’ve got to go up against you,"” he told MTN Sports with a smile.

King says his 6-foot-5 frame has propelled him to wide-margin wins.

“They were like, 'Can you give us a 10-second start?' I was like, nah," he said with another chuckle.

King even compares himself in distance running to one of Montana’s rodeo greats, a seven-time world champion.

“I’m the Dan Mortensen of the mile because I grew up watching him down at the Metra and he’d never give up," King said.

Spending his early years on the Fort Belknap Reservation, King is now approaching 25 years as a Special Olympics athlete. That includes basketball and tribal dancing at opening ceremonies that signifies great tradition.

“It’s a warrior dance — I love it," he said in a more serious tone describing the meaning behind this particular dance. "We sneak up on enemies, plus we sneak up when we hunt, take it back to our families and then we serve it to them.”

The performance is something that King says weighs heavy on him.

“Plus, we dance for our families and our friends; if they’re sick or going through something we dance and pray for them,” he said.

King describes his head-to-toe gear as including a bustle with 18 eagle feathers, and on top a roach made with porcupine and two more eagle feathers. He hasn’t danced in a few years but plans to bring it back next year.

Those with Special Olympics Montana say they’re noticing an uptick in Native American participation. Keith recalls his presence being notable — and somewhat lighthearted — just a few years ago when his basketball team placed third at the national games in New Jersey.

“People from the East Coast were like, 'We thought you were going to have your war paint on.' I was like, nah," he said.

"I had this one player who was like, 'Look, Mom, there’s a real, live Indian. So, I was getting all this traction, and it was pretty cool. (I also) got to see the ocean for the first time.”

Maybe King gets back to the ocean some day. In the meantime, this proudly tall athlete is all about taking care of business as his Summer Games approach.

“Just kicking butt and taking names,” he said with another grin.