Navajo long-distance runner and Nike N7 Ambassador Alvina Begay grew up watching her father train for the Olympics. While her mother worked full-time and pursued her bachelor’s degree, Begay and her five siblings would see him blaze the trails over the hills and mesas of their hometown of Ganado, Arizona.
“His golden dreams were to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials,” says Begay.
Her mother and father inspired her in turn to succeed as an academic and an athlete. But amid her striving was turmoil. “Like most families, we didn’t have a perfect family,” Begay says. “My dad struggled with alcoholism and still does till this day.”
She cleared her mind by running the dusty dirt trails of Northeastern Arizona. “Running was my outlet. Running helped me get away and think about things and do problem-solving. It cleared my head and kept me from possibly following that path.”
Begay realizes just how deeply she was motivated. “Being the oldest, with my mom working full-time, I had a lot of responsibilities. Running was my alone time from baby-sitting my brothers and sisters. It was an outlet to get away, to be by myself and get fired up about things I wanted to do in my life.”
By all indications, Begay has done just fine. In junior high and high school, she excelled both in the classroom and on the track. She pursued collegiate running at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colorado, transferring after her freshman year to Arizona State; in 2003 she graduated with a bachelor of science degree in nutrition. She has nearly completed her master’s degree in health administration at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. But for the moment, she has put that on hold for her own Olympic training.
On January 14, Begay plans to race against long-distance runners from across the United States in the Marathon Olympic Trials in Houston. The 26.2-mile race will determine the three women who will represent the country in the marathon at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
This isn’t the first time Begay has faced such a challenge. “I did the marathon trials in 2004,” she says, “and I feel like I didn’t run to my full potential.” Some injuries, she explains, “limited my full range of motion.”
But this time, Begay plans to approach the starting line in top-notch health. “With the last trials, I learned that anything can happen, and I just have to keep believing and have faith that everything, as far as preparation, is going to come together on that day.”
To prepare, Begay is studying with the best. “I’m training under the legendary runner Alberto Salazar; he’s my coach.” She also uses the Nike facility, campus, therapists and state-of-the-art equipment through the Nike Oregon Project in Portland, Oregon.
To avoid injury this year, she is stretching daily and urges that anyone who is athletically inclined do the same.
“Try to spend at least 10 to 15 minutes stretching a day,” she says. “Stretching warms up the muscles. Also, I think if the muscles are loose and warmer, you get more flexibility out of them. Lots of times people try to stretch before warming up, and there is [an increased] likelihood they could pull something or hurt themselves.” Many believe that people should stretch before running. But Begay recommends that a beginner “probably try running anywhere between two to 10 minutes [before stretching], depending on where they are in their level of physical activity.”
Whether all of this activity will pay off for Begay come January remains to be seen. But one thing is for certain: She intends to resume her master’s studies. “I have one more class,” she says. “My big thesis class.”