By Tyler Mayforth, USTFCCCA
St. Michael Indian School is deeply rooted in its own culture, located at altitude in the heart of Navajo Nation, the largest land area retained by an indigenous tribe in the United States.
Stark in contrast to many of their competitors, student-athletes at St. Michael Indian School don’t have access to a track, nor do they have a fancy weight room in which to lift. That’s perfectly fine with the Cardinal, though.
“Kelly thinks the big accomplishment is using their environment – Navajo culture, altitude, dirt roads and a rural-ness – to their advantage,” Mike Elder, the Director of Athletics at Northland Prep Academy, wrote in his nomination for Bia. “She hopes the young ladies understand that hard work, commitment and accountability are the key, not all the materialistic things that they do not have access to. They can make things work, regardless of what they have, because it’s what inside a person that counts and being proud of where they come from and who they are as Navajo young women/people.”
That mentality pushed St. Michael Indian School to success all season long, starting with back-to-back team titles at the Curtis Williams Invitational and the Patason Amesoli Invitational in early-to-mid October and ending with crowns at the AIA Sectionals – Hidden Cove as well as at the AIA Division IV State Championships.
It was at the state meet where Upshaw clocked the ninth fastest performance in meet history and the Cardinal scored just 37 points, which tied for the second lowest score in Division IV history and the 12th lowest score in meet history, regardless of classification.
“Eventually these student-athletes will leave the Reservation and they’ll be in atmospheres where they’ll be tested,” Elder said. “They’ll be treated the same or maybe even have to fight stereotypes, so learning how to race against anyone, train hard, push themselves and be outside of their comfort zone is key. And that’s what their coach is trying to get across.”