Toward the Rising Sun - Page 3
Each morning, Navajos run east toward the rising sun, a tradition passed down from the oldest generations, says Shaun. Running at dawn, represents new birth. Though few Navajos still have permanent homes in them, traditionally, families lived in a "female hogan," a circular living structure made of wood and packed mud, (male hogans are built with a vestibule and used only for ceremonies), and the door, which always faces east, was left open during the morning run to bless their home for the new day.
Spirits and deities are out in the morning, celebrating the birth of a new day, and so to be out running at this time, says Shaun, "shows Mother Earth and Father Sky what kind of a person you are, that shows you are working to be a stronger person, so when you reach times of struggle, they will be there to help you."
Beyond prayer, running is a teacher. "It teaches you to endure, to deal with pain and struggle," he says. "It is a celebration of life and a healing process." In fact, running is central to both female and male coming-of-age ceremonies. The Puberty Ceremony (girls) and the Voice Changing Ceremony (boys) involve running farther each day of the ceremony as a way to grow and develop as a young adult.
"I think about these teachings a lot when I'm running," says Shaun. "And I have taught my high school team you don't run to win a race—you run to improve yourself."
Using these building blocks, Shaun has created one of the most successful high-school, distance-running programs in the country. He started coaching the boys' team in 2004 and the girls' in 2006. He took a group of young men, who could hardly run three miles—let alone race that distance—and, in 2010, turned them into state champions. Even outside of their high school's division, the Chinle High School boys' cross-country team was ranked higher than any other school in the state. The girls were runners up for the state title in their division.
Says Rolanda Jumbo, 17, a junior who, this year, has been ranked fourth in the country in the mile and second in the two-mile says, "Shaun is my hero. He not only made me a good athlete; he made me a better individual. Running is my most precious possession and Shaun made me believe anything is possible."
In 2010, Shaun was named the National Federation of High School Sports Cross Country Western Coach of the Year. But to Shaun, the award itself held little meaning compared to the joy he experienced watching his team succeed and grow.
Word of his accomplishment trickled down through his current and past team members who planned a surprise banquet in his honor at the high school cafeteria. "Every one of them got up on stage, and explained how running had affected their lives and made them better people," says Shaun, who comes to tears recounting the event. "To me, state titles and state champions are great, but the kids' appreciation of a deeper significance meant much more."