TSAILE, AZ – Navajo Technical University cross country coach Leonard Lee was eager to see what his runners could do in their first race of the 2018-2019 season, and he saw positive results running against his former team, Diné College. NTU had the top finisher in the women’s race when Shalii White crossed the finish line with a time of 29:55, and the running trio of Joel Yazzie, Benveno Yazzie, and Loren Tsosie placed fourth, fifth, and sixth respectively in the men’s race.
“They really ran strong,” stated Lee, who is Naakai Dine’é born for ‘Áshįįhi. “Even though it was a longer course and was hot out there, that’s what cross country is all about. You have to stay tough. You have to have the strength, and the stamina, and the endurance.”
Lee was encouraged by how the runners were able to perform, considering they’ve only been practicing since the semester began on August 13. The team has focused on strength training by doing drills such as knee lifts, sit ups and pushups, and by practicing at Crownpoint High School’s track to build speed with short sprints. Of the team’s 6 runners, only White and Joel Yazzie have had experience running at the collegiate level, so Lee has placed an emphasis on practice to get his athletes conditioned.
“That’s where you learn running,” stated Lee, who hopes to build his runners up to where they could run 50-60 miles a week. “You train yourself. The more you understand, the more you’ll run with a positive outlook that will change you as a person.”
“Traditionally, I was raised by my grandparents. They used to talk a lot about the aspect of running,” Lee explained. “They would say, ‘that’s your tradition, getting up early, and running to the east for your prayer. Life is hard, life is tough. [Running] teaches you during difficult times.’”
“I tell the runners in the Navajo language the tradition of why we do this,” continued Lee.
The women’s race included five runners and covered a distance of 3.97 miles. NTU freshmen Hunter Livingston, placed fourth with a time of 30:36, and nearly caught Diné College’s Nizhoni Golden at the finish line (30:35). Although the battle for third was intense, the race really came down to DC’s second place finisher Renetta Jackson (30:10) and White.
“When we started off, I thought I could run this girl’s pace,” stated White, who is a second year runner for NTU’s program. “I stayed with her until we went up the incline and she stopped. I thought, ‘let me keep this up, let me keep my momentum.’ I was expecting pain, but I didn’t expect to be first.”
Diné College had the top three finishers in the men’s race with runners Alwyn Redi (32.35), Cauy James (36.32), and Kevin Jenson (40.34) outpacing the field in an extended 4.97-mile course. Joel Yazzie was the first to finish for NTU (41:29), followed by Benveno Yazzie (42:04) and Tsosie (42:34). DC’s Tristan White, Landis Nelson, and Isaac Noble then rounded out the field.
NTU will next run on September 1 at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO for the Tom Strandt Memorial. The team will then travel to Prescott, AZ for the Embry-Riddle Arizona Invite on September 15. For more information about NTU’s cross country program contact coach Leland Lee at email@example.com.