FARMINGTON — Growing up on his family's ranch on Thoreau, Dustin Abeita's chores included corralling chickens and cattle on foot.

When he was bored, Abeita said he'd run down his family's horses to ride them.

"In summer, I would be chasing horses all day because I had nothing else to do," he said.

Running for sport hadn't crossed his mind until the cross country coach at Thoreau High School heard Abeita beat the school's fastest runner in a footrace and the coach asked Abeita to try out for the team as a senior.

Turns out chasing horses is good training. He won a handful of races as a senior last year and was signed with Diné College to run cross country.

On Friday, Abeita, 19, won the United States Collegiate Athletic Association cross country championship. The USCAA is a college conference for small schools.

The race couldn't have been more different than running after a horse on a hot, dusty summer day in Thoreau.

Abeita cleared the five-mile, freezing, hilly and snow-dotted course in Lake Placid, N.Y., at a pace of 5 minutes and 34 seconds per mile. The next closest runner was 10 second behind him and Abeita said he slowed down for the last mile because he knew he had won.

"For someone with no experience, he ran so confidently. It was epic," Gavin Sosa, Diné's cross country coach, said of Abeita's race. "He won it going away. He made a move at three miles and he dictated the race."

"I felt great. Happy," Abeita said of the race. "On the way home I kept thinking about the finish.



Despite not spending much of high school learning how to train and prepare for distance racing, Abeita's quickly caught up to the competition. In addition to winning several small races, he finished in 11th place at the state cross country meet last year.

Sosa said he recruited Abeita based on talent. And he learned the ropes of racing quickly.

The team competed in five meets this season. Abeita started the season as the fourth-fastest runner on the team and gained confidence as he started to beat his teammates in practice. He was passing good runners, such as fellow freshman Herbert Beyale III, who won the state cross country meet for Shiprock High School last year. Beyale finished ninth at the national championship meet for Diné.

Though Abeita may say the secret to his success is chasing animals, Sosa says he's cruised to the front of his first-ever races because he believes in himself.

"When (Abeita's) in shape he believes he's as good as anybody he will ever face in competition," Sosa said. "He has an incredible belief in himself. He believed in our training. And all those beliefs were validated."