Tools to better one's self

Documentary follows rivalry between Tuba City and Chinle cross-country teams

By Candace Begody
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Oct. 21, 2010

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(File photo - Morgan Bellinger)

The 3A conference state champion Tuba City Warriors and runner-up Chinle Wildcats pose with their trophies Nov. 8, 2009, at the Arizona state cross-country championships. Both teams will be featured in a one-hour documentary called "Racing the Rez," which follows the rivalry between the two teams during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. The film is due out in the spring.

New Jersey native Brian Truglio didn't know what he'd find when he came out to the Navajo Reservation.

"I did have faith that there was something good and powerful going on here," said the independent filmmaker. "And in order to witness it, I knew had to be there."

Truglio packed his equipment to capture long distance running on the reservation, hence his documentary titled "Racing the Rez."

The one-hour documentary follows the rivalry between the Tuba City and Chinle boys' cross-country teams during the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

"I wanted people to see the positive things that are happening on the reservation," said Truglio. "Too often we see something historical, romanticized, or a story of victimization. I don't want to shy away from the truths but I wanted to show how the kids use running successfully to deal with their life situations."

Truglio wasn't completely foreign to the land or its people before deciding to spend 10 months in Tuba City.

As a college student and participant in an assistant teaching program, Truglio taught in the early 1990s at the Shonto Boarding School in Shonto, Ariz., where a love for the Navajo people and culture grew.

As a former cross-country runner, Truglio also shared the same passion for long-distance running as those he filmed.

"I know there can be very powerful experiences," he said. "And there were tools that I learned as a runner that helped me in life."

In his search for the right teams, he found those same "tools" in the philosophies of Chinle coach Shaun Martin and Tuba City's Carl Perry.

"It's not just about running, or winning and losing races, or becoming the best runner in state or country," said Martin. "Through running, you can better yourself and find tools to better yourself as a person."

Skills such as self-discipline, working hard, and bettering one's self have been Martin's foundation to his coaching style.

"There is no way you'll improve if you don't have self-discipline," said Martin. "You can experience the highs, the easy fun stuff, the hard painful stuff and go through a spectrum of emotions, but at the end of day, if you work through the rough spots and the lows in your lives, you know you can get through anything.

"Those are the kinds of tools you can use in real-world situations," said Martin. "The reward you get out of it depends on the work put in."

In the film, Chinle relied much more on their ability to run as a pack, said Truglio. Most of the time their first and fifth runners finished within one minute of each other and on a number of occasions the split was under 30 seconds.

"The boys depended heavily on running together and helping each other out," said Truglio. "I believe this brought them closer together as both teammates, friends and, ultimately, as a family.

Martin "helped them see that as runners they were not only participating in a sport but also in their Navajo tradition," Truglio said. "While Shaun played down the importance of state championships and stressed individual accomplishment, they were still hungry to finally win a state trophy."

Since his arrival in 2003, Martin has taken the boys' cross-country program from a mid-level finisher to a four-time consecutive runner-up team at state.

In line with Truglio's ideal of coaching, Perry and the Tuba City Warriors were also automatic shoo-ins.

The Warriors won state championships two consecutive years. They were a mix of Navajo, Hopi and non-Native runners led by Ryan Yazzie and Billy Orman.

"They worked as hard as Chinle," said Truglio. "Billy and Ryan really set the tone for the team by their example. They had a lot of fun but when it was time to get to work they trained very hard and put in the miles."

Perry saw himself as continuing the tradition of Bud Davis, the legendary coach who won 12 state championships with Tuba City in the 70s and 80s, according to Truglio.

Perry also stressed the importance of being a good person, student and athlete - making that the team motto.

"Though they are rivals when they race each other, they are friends once they step off the course," said Truglio. "One of my most surprising memories was after the first state meet when both teams spontaneously got together for a group victory photo."

Despite having to select one hour out of over 300 hours of footage, Truglio included highs and lows in the runners' lives.

For example, one of the runners suffered the loss of an older brother in the second season.

"I really expected him to quit because I saw that it had a huge impact on him," said Truglio. "He had the guys there supporting him and having them there as brothers was really helpful."

The runner turned around that season and improved his times a full minute from the previous season, according to Truglio.

In another instance, a runner skipped out on Arizona's premiere meet - the Doug Conley Invitational - to attend homecoming festivities, leaving his team to depend on alternates.

"His teammates called him out on it," said Truglio. "He knew at that point that he had made a mistake and realized what he did was wrong."

Tackling the issue head on as a team jolted the runner and forced him to rethink his priorities, Truglio said. He ended up playing a crucial role of the championship team.

"Both teams were very unique and strong," said Truglio. "They worked hard, they were gutsy runners and very hungry teams."

The $300,000 project is partially funded though Native American Public Telecommunications and with private donations. Truglio is still accepting donations to fund the project.

The film, now in its early stages of editing, is due out in late spring. A fan page can be found on Facebook by searching for "Racing the Rez."

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