Running with the ancestors

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

BLOOMFIELD, N.M., March 22, 2012

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(Times photo - Paul Natonabah)

TOP: Zuni's Kevin Gia leads from start to finish in the 1,600-meter run at the Bloomfield Quad on March 17.

BOTTOM: Zuni distance runners run in the front of the pack during the 1,600-meter run at the Bloomfield Quad on March 17. Zuni's Kevin Gia, far right, won the race.

T ypically, before each race there are some runners that seem to have the propensity to just stand out.

Kevin Gia is one of those runners. As a four-year letterman for the Zuni High track team, Gia has received many compliments on how he runs.

"When people see him run, what they like best about him is how smooth he is," longtime T-Bird coach Chris Carroll said. "He makes running look so effortless."

The 18-year-old has wowed a lot of people with his running technique but he's also evoked some curiosity with the yellow-framed sunglasses he likes to wear before each race.

Instead of using them as a fashion statement, he wears those dark glasses as a way to keep his focus.

"I've been wearing them since my freshman year," Gia said. "Some are different and some of them are the same, but I wear them because it blocks everything on the side. It helps me keep focus and all I see is a straightaway path."

That path has earned him a full-ride scholarship to Diné College next season where he'll be running for Gavin Sosa, a former high school coach who guided Navajo Pine to five state team championships.

"He's developed a lot of state champions," Carroll said of Sosa. "Now that he's at Diné College I see him taking that program into the right direction, back into national championship status."

And for Gia, "he'll be close to home so that his family and the community will have a chance to see him run," Carroll said.

It didn't take long for Gia to consider DC since he'll be the first Zuni pueblo member to run for the college. While at DC, he wants to study counseling and maybe go into the childcare field.

"They came to my school and they told me how great it was," he said. "They mainly have Navajo and Hopi runners go there, so I thought, why not a Zuni runner?"

As for his future coach, Gia said he's exciting about training under Sosa.

"My (high school) coach has told me a lot about him," he said. "He says (Sosa) likes to push his runners to the limit and it's just another way to succeed, another way to get going."

Next year Gia will be joined by Dustin Abeita of Thoreau and Herbert Beyale III of Shiprock as both runners also signed with DC. According to the school's website, DC was successful in recruiting two other high prospects - Charles Manymules and Justin Yazzie who both ran for Chinle High School under the tutelage of Shawn Martin.

"I'm excited to team up with all those guys up there," Gia said. "I think it'll be a lot fun, but we'll be there pushing each other."

As for Beyale and Abeita, Gia considers those two runners to be his chief rivals for the district title this spring in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races.

"I've known Herbert for awhile now and I know how he trains," Gia said. "He's succeeded a lot and I just met Dustin last season during cross country and he's an exciting runner to look out for."

And with this being their last year in high school, Gia is pretty sure that they all want to end their high school careers with a state championship in either of those events come May.

"We all want to finish out on top," he said.

In three meets thus far, Gia has worked towards that goal and won five of the six long distance races he's entered. At the Grants meet three weeks ago, he was first in the 3,200 and second in the 1,600, losing to a Grants runner in the final 50 meters.

"It was a close race and he outkicked me in that last stretch," he said of the Grants runner.

Since then he's won all of his long distance races including last Saturday's Bloomfield meet. At press time, official results were not posted, but Gia was close in meeting the Class 3A state qualification marks.

To help achieve the marks, Gia has put in extra work by entering a few short distance races as well as anchoring the teams' medley relay.

"I've been trying to work on my speed work so that's why I do those events," he said.

The beauty is that his efforts have definitely rubbed off on his teammates.

"Kevin has a good attitude and the kids really look up to him," Carroll said. "He's a positive role model and watching him (on Saturday) he almost ran the qualification mark so he has that heart and determination that makes him a Zuni.

"He is what Zuni should be," he added. "He believes in himself and he is setting the standard for all of those who went before him."

Not surprisingly, running is part of his culture. According to Zuni legend, the best athletes once tested their stamina and spirit by running barefoot for 25 miles in a stick-race.

"If you look back in their history everything is based on running," Carroll said. "We just found out that Zuni had an Olympian that ran in the 10,000-meter race back in the 1920 and you know they had the top marathon runner in the world in 1928."

When asked how he perceives all those noteworthy customs, Gia said he's taking them in stride.

"I just want to keep the tradition going," he said. "For me it's like running with my ancestors. I want to finish strong just like they did."

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