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Caitlin Baker's leadership goes beyond pool

St. Mary junior, who is a member of the Muscogee Creek Tribe, is a major influence in the American Indian community
BY ROBERT PRZYBYLO, Staff Writer, Modified: January 20, 2011 at 8:32 pm •  Published: January 20, 2011

Caitlin Baker admits that she's not the most coordinated person. Growing up, the Mount St. Mary junior had tried various sports. None seemed to fit just right.

At age 9, almost as a last resort, Baker began swimming. Although she wasn't a natural, Baker enjoyed the sport.

Baker grew into one of the better youth swimmers around the Norman area, and it appeared swimming was her calling, especially in the backstroke.

Swimming remains an important part of Baker's life. For without swimming, Baker wouldn't have found her true passion: being a youth leader for American Indians.

When Baker was 12 years old, she swam at the North American Indigenous Games in Denver and noticed something.

“I was the only swimmer from Oklahoma there, and that got me to start wondering about some things,” Baker said.

One of them was the lack of American Indians participating not only in swimming but all sports. It was an issue Baker, a member of the Muscogee Creek Tribe, had not been aware of until she started to do research.

Baker's American Indian mother was adopted, and her father is white. Baker wasn't raised in an American Indian environment and said she didn't even know what a reservation was.

The research has continued without interruption.

Baker wasn't afraid to try and make a difference despite being age 12. She began right away and found a partnership with the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic.

It was there where she was introduced to Rita Wright-Burkhalter, the director of health services at the clinic.

“She's always had a passion in inspiring other children to be the best they can be,” Wright-Burkhalter said. “She's always been a great mentor and knows how to get through to kids.”

Baker and Wright-Burkhalter began brainstorming what they wanted to accomplish with a nonprofit organization, and they came up with CAITLINB for Competitive American Indians Turning Lifestyles Into New Beginnings.

And for the last five years, Baker has turned a small program into a national venture.

At first, it was just about swimming. Baker has held clinics in Nebraska, Arizona and high schools around Oklahoma. Through her work, she learned programs needed to be more than just swimming.

“That was only just one issue,” Baker said. “It's about creating healthy lifestyles, and there are so many other ways to do that. And there are so many people who need help and need to be told they can do great things.”

Baker has conducted programs for awareness on obesity and diabetes, and she's working on starting a suicide hotline.

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