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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America



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Talented runner elects to stay close to home


by OREE FOSTER - The Navajo Times


credits: photo: Sheldon Benally, Shiprock High School Cross Country runner shows he's number one after winning the District 1-4A meet last fall at the Lions Wilderness Park in Farmington, NM. (Photo special to the Times - Rick Hoskie)


Sheldon Benally, Shiprock High School Cross Country runner shows he's number one after winning the District 1-4A meet last fall at the Lions Wilderness Park in Farmington, NM. (Photo special to the Times - Rick Hoskie)SHIPROCK - Sheldon Benally has been a fixture at Shiprock High where he was an integral part of the Chieftains' success in cross-country and track the past four years.

Coaches from Haskell Indian Nations University, Fort Lewis College, University of New Mexico and Eastern Arizona College made pitches at Benally to attend their school.

After consulting his parents, Benally decided it would be best to stay nearby where his mother and father can watch him run and he could develop at the junior college level.

Benally signed a National Junior College Athletic Association letter of intent with Dine College-Shiprock Branch.

"I wanted to start out with a smaller college because I think I am better off at a smaller college," Benally explained.

Dine College coach Abraham Bitok, a former world class distance runner, was ecstatic about Benally's decision to stay on the Navajo Nation and compete for Dine College.

"I am happy that Sheldon has decided to stay home and be part of our athletic program at Dine College," Bitok, who also serves as athletic director, said. "He will be one of our top runners. I am looking forward to his contributions to our cross-country team."

After a short break at conclusion of the track season, Benally has increased his mileage in preparation for his first collegiate season this fall.

"I have been training on my own since school's been out," he remarked.

"I did a few runs and training for the up coming cross-country season. I plan to continue working out all summer for the cross-country season."

Benally admitted hill running is a not his favorite terrain but will overcome his deficiency with hard work.

"My weaknesses in distance running are hills," Benally noted. "I plan to improve that weakness by doing more hills. The strength is that I have a big heart, strong mind and if I what to win, I go for it."

Benally played a key role in Shiprock's drive to success. He became a household name among prep distance runners throughout the state.

Post season accolades poured in for Benally. After earning cross-country all-state honors, Benally was selected to compete for Team New Mexico at the USA National meet in Indianapolis where they claimed first place.

"It was an honor to be a member of the national championship team from New Mexico," he said. "We had a solid team, from our top runner to our fifth runner. It was great to be part of the team."

Benally earned all state honors three of his four years with the Chieftains. During his freshman season, he helped Shiprock nail down the District 1AAA championship and capture state runners-up honors.

Prior to moving up to a larger classification (Class AAAA), Shiprock won the Class AAA state championship trophy during Benally's sophomore season. Benally earned all-district and all-state honors during the Chieftains state title run.

Competition became stronger during Benally's junior year as the Chieftains entered the Class AAAA circle.

Shiprock claimed district runners-up, qualifying for the state meet where Benally again earned all-district and all-state honors.

"I had four pretty good years in cross-country," Benally said. "It was very tough after we entered Class AAAA. I held my own."

Although Benally never won an individual track championship, he earned all-state honors in the grueling 3,200-meters during his four years as a Chieftain. Benally finished as bridesmaid three times in the 3,200-meters and once in the 1,600-meters.

He helped lead Shiprock to a pair of team District 1AAA championships, before venturing to a tougher District 1AAAA.

Bitok says Benally brings charisma to Dine College squad.

"Sheldon brings a lot of talent and also he is a runner that is dedicated and motivated to do whatever it takes to improve himself and the team," Bitok said. "I am glad he decided to join Dine College."

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