Two Grey Hills — When Andy Lapahie noticed a change in his vision five years ago, he visited his doctor.

The last thing Lapahie expected was to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Although the news was a shock, it started his journey to healthy living.

So far, he has lost 50 pounds through exercise -- first walking and now running -- and changing his diet, which he is "still learning" to control.

Lapahie was one of the Sanostee Chapter members to run Thursday in the third annual Running for a Stronger and Healthier Navajo Nation, a nearly 400-mile run and walk across the Navajo Nation.

The event is spearheaded by Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim, in coordination with the Navajo Nation Special Diabetes Project, to promote healthy living and disease prevention.

Council Delegate Jonathan Nez jogs with Terry Goodin on Thursday in Two Grey Hills during the third annual Running for a Stronger and Healthier Navajo
Council Delegate Jonathan Nez jogs with Terry Goodin on Thursday in Two Grey Hills during the third annual Running for a Stronger and Healthier Navajo Nation, a nearly 400-mile walk and run across the reservation. (Jon Austria /The Daily Times)

Jim has been participating in the event since it started Sunday in LeChee Chapter in Arizona, and he will continue until it ends Sunday in Ojo Encino.

Adult American Indian and Alaska Natives are 2.3 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic whites, according to a June 2012 fact sheet created by the Indian Health Service.

The IHS also reported that American Indian and Alaska Natives between 10 and 19 years old are nine times more likely to have Type 2 diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.

After arriving Wednesday evening in Sanostee, the event started again at 6 a.m. Thursday as runners and walkers headed east on Indian Service Route 34 in the morning darkness.

While waiting for the group to arrive at the Toadlena/Two Grey Hills Chapter house, Frank Burnside kept busy cleaning the windshield of the recreational vehicle that houses the vice president and runners.

Burnside works with the Navajo Department of Behavioral Health Services and helps the event every year.

"I've enjoyed every bit of it," he said.

Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim walks with Mya Begay of Toadlena/Two Grey Hills on Thursday in Two Grey Hills during the third annual Running for
Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim walks with Mya Begay of Toadlena/Two Grey Hills on Thursday in Two Grey Hills during the third annual Running for a Stronger and Healthier Navajo Nation, a nearly 400-mile walk and run across the reservation. (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

In its first year, the event was coordinated by Behavioral Health Services. The Special Diabetes Program has taken over it since then, said Marian Shorthair, who works with the Chinle Area office of the Special Diabetes Program.

"So far, each chapter has stepped up to accommodate the runners," Shorthair said.

When Crescentia Yazzie stepped out of her truck, she was clearly dressed to run.

The Little Water resident has been running for more than 10 years and has competed in the Race to Educate half-marathon in Farmington and the Squash Blossom Classic in Gallup.

Since her father and older brother were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, she has watched them change their lifestyles, and that's had an effect on her.

"I don't want to bombard myself with medication and having to watch what I eat. I want to live a long life," Yazzie said.

Inside the chapter house, community members were treated to free health screenings and information about nutrition and exercise.

Cecelia Begay stood with her cross-country team from Tohaali Community School in Toadlena.

Begay is the coach and brought 13 students to participate in the event. It is also good practice for the team since their goal is run as a relay team in the 2014 Shiprock Marathon, she said.

As Begay watched her students prepare to leave the chapter house and head south to the Newcomb Chapter, she said she is proud to know they are starting a healthy lifestyle.

"I tell them this is prevention," she said.

Begay's outlook on health is also connected to the death of her brother, Reevis Begay, in 2012 from colon cancer.

"The message he left to us in Navajo is, 'Take care of your health,'" she said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and nsmith@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.