Kirtland Central freshmen earned sponsorships to compete in cross-country nationals in February
FARMINGTON — Kirtland Central freshmen Kashon Harrison and LaKyla Yazzie will run in the 2016 USA Track & Field Cross-Country National Championships on Feb. 6. in Bend, Ore.
Runners of all age divisions are welcome to compete at nationals on their own dime, but Harrison and Yazzie earned sponsorships for their standout 5k times at the Nike Cross Regionals in November, which were held in Casa Grande, Ariz.
Harrison finished first in the boys large school race at regionals with a time of 15 minutes and 50 seconds, while Yazzie crossed the finish line in 19:13. Both times were personal records for the talented young KC athletes.
Their times qualified them for a Wings of America sponsorship, which covers food, travel, lodging and training expenses.
Wings of America, a not-for-profit organization based in Santa Fe, has promoted running for Native American young people since 1987. The group selected the seven fastest Native American finishers at regionals — along with one alternate — to sponsor at the USATF Nationals. Both Bronco runners were among the top seven, and they'll compete in the junior division, reserved for athletes who are 19 and younger.
"We're lucky to have Kashon and LaKyla travel with us," Wings program director Dustin Martin said. "It's exciting in their cases because they have so much talent at such a young age. It looks like we'll have a couple years to watch them grow."
Harrison and Yazzie, who both finished in the top 10 for KC at the 2015 cross-country state meet, are currently in week three of an eight-week training regimen designed by Wings. Every Sunday, Harrison and Yazzie receive a new training schedule to help prepare them for what will be a difficult race, likely in cold weather.
They are being coached by Ganado (Ariz.) High School cross-country coach Lynette Lookingback and former Wings national team member Clay Hayes.
"Right now, the training is shifting so that they're running long intervals to bump up their lactate threshold," Martin said. "They're going to need to be able to run longer in a more uncomfortable state, and they'll want to be able to test their lactate threshold as much as possible, because this will be longer than the traditional high school 5k."
The boys race at nationals is an 8k, and the girls race is a 6k. KC cross-country coach Lenny Esson said Harrison has run "a handful" of 10k races, but Yazzie may be in for the most trying run of her young career. The Kirtland coach said he's working a couple hours a week with Yazzie to "get her speed up" and help prepare her the best he can.
"Their biggest obstacle is going to be doing these workouts under the current conditions," Esson said. "Usually, the hurdle for these kids is, 'Man, it's cold, do I really want to go out there and run?'"
Esson, who was a Wings runner himself in the 1980s, said the participation of Yazzie and Harrison at nationals should serve as a motivator for current and future KC runners.
"For those two to make the team as freshmen, it kind of lets our other athletes know that the hard work will give you all these other kind of opportunities," he said. "I'm always stressing that to them."
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.