Diné College freshman wins national meet
By Sunnie Clahchischiligi
Special To The Navajo Times
WINDOW ROCK, November 21, 2012
(Photo Courtesy of Gavin Sosa)
M ost competitive runners work their whole lives trying to win a national title, but in the case of Diné College cross-country runner Dustin Abeita – he isn't like most runners.
He ran cross-country for the first time as a senior in high school. And it didn't take him long to win a national title as he took up the sport about 17 months ago.
Abeita, 19, won the United States Collegiate Athletic Association cross-country national championship title on Nov. 9, in Lake Placid, N.Y., with a time of 27:36.61.
As a freshman, Abeita said it was by no surprise that he won the title, considering he entered the five-mile race ranked No. 1 in the conference. Still winning the meet was just as exciting.
"I already knew I was the fastest runner there," Abeita said. "It felt good. I just felt relieved I won, I'm just felt so happy. I just wanted to get the word out that I came in first back home, tell my parents, friends and family that I won a national title."
He entered the final race with the best time of 26:26 in an 8K race among the field of runners. By comparison the second best runner trailed him by a few seconds, but for Abeita that was significant.
Diné College cross-country coach Gavin Sosa said he had hoped Abeita would do well in his first national race, but he didn't imagine that he'd win it all. With about a quarter of a mile left in the race he saw Abeita and knew he could have the race if he wanted it.
"There was a bit of surprise. He executed the exact race we talked about…" Sosa said. "I just told him this is the point, this is your race to dictate. This is your race."
It was indeed Abeita's race, perhaps even from the beginning.
Sosa said Abeita started showing vast improvement toward the end of the season, just in time for the national meet.
He said in a 16-mile workout, Abeita was able to keep up with one of the top runners on the team and eventually he pushed the pace.
It was then that Sosa realized Abeita was strong, and ready for the next level.
"Suddenly he was hanging with the top two guys, suddenly he was pushing the pace," Sosa said. "Suddenly I realized this guy's no joke, he's going to do some damage."
But Abeita didn't show up at Diné College as quite the threat he developed into.
Abeita grew up in Smith Lake, N.M., a small town between Crownpoint and Thoreau.
He graduated from Thoreau High this past May. He loved playing basketball and football, but his senior year his mother didn't want him to play football, so he looked for something different and tried out for cross-country.
He won his first race and from there he was hooked.
"After the first race I wanted to start winning more races, I knew I was faster and really good at cross-country, I decided to push myself at cross-country," Abeita said. "I was more motivated."
On the basketball court, he said running on the cross-country team made him light on his feet on defense and he was able to get up and down the court a lot quicker.
Once basketball was over he got lazy and running was the last thing on his mind. But then he started thinking about college and how he could afford it.
He was approached by a recruiter from Diné College, but wasn't sure if that's where he wanted to go.
"At first I didn't want to go," Abeita said. "(But) after awhile I thought about it more and I decided to go."
Sosa said at first he didn't know who Abeita was.
Once he researched some local race results and met with his high school cross-country coach David Cain, Sosa realized that he hadn't heard of Abeita because this was his first year running on the cross-country team.
At the district meet, Abeita took third and finished 11th at state, which Sosa found impressive for a first-time runner.
But what caught Sosa's attention was something he heard from one of Abeita's chief rivals in high school.
According to Herbert Beyale III, the 2012 Thoreau graduate would start walking after reaching the top of the hill. And when some of his rivals would catch up with him, he would take off again.
"That was kind of where it started at," Sosa said of his attempts to recruit Abeita. "He was raw talent, but I thought he'd be a developmental athlete."
Abeita eventually turned into an athlete who developed more than many expected him to be.
He started out as Diné College's No. 4 runner and evolved into the No. 2 runner going into the national meet.
Abeita said he felt himself growing in just about every race since he started. "The second or third race I knew I was getting faster and stronger," Abeita said. "I felt my body getting stronger, healthier, I just felt more tough as a runner."
Abeita is eldest of three children. His mother is Lucille Ramone and his father is Marvin Abeita.
He is studying elementary education and hopes to coach basketball or cross-country after he graduates. He said he might also be the first Native American or Navajo to win the national title for Diné College.
Abeita said he's proud to represent his people, but in addition he is also glad to be a part of a sport that, he believes, can take him places.
"I feel proud to be the fist Native American to win the national title, it feel like I'm putting the Native Americans out there," he said. "I love running now. I think to myself that I can become faster. The kids that have been running their whole lives they got faster since they started running, I think to myself that I can become faster."
With the right training and tools Sosa believes Abeita can do just about anything he wants, just as he thought when he first met him.
"He carries himself so well, when I visited the school he was dressed in a nice vest and he didn't even know I was coming to visit, (I thought) this is just the way the young man carries himself, very respectful, obviously comes from a great family," Sosa said. "His work ethic is incredible."
As a team the Diné College women's cross-country team placed fourth out of 17 teams and the men placed second out of 29 teams.
Sosa said he is thankful for the support from the runners' families, their communities and the college throughout the season.
Diné College results from the race:
2. Tatiyanah Johnson – 24:45.99
15. Telaina Henry – 25:52.78
19. Tizanna Henry – 26:19.51
30. RaeShelle Largo – 26:51.60
44. Annette Brown – 27:31.94
1. Dustin Abeita – 27:36.61
4. Ronald Hicks – 28:15.83
9. Herbert Beyale, III – 28:28.69
23. Justin Yazzie – 29:53.75
24.Kevin Gia – 29:54.97
27. Darrick Joey – 30:07.66
29. Adrian Herder – 30:08.39