One of the greatest honors an aspiring athlete can attain is a berth in the annual USA Track and Field National Championships.
Earning a top finish among the elite competition is a sterling bonus only a select few ever enjoy.
Such accomplishments are rare, but not impossible, as evidenced by the feats of two members of the Tonto Apache Track and Field Team at the 1999 National Championships held July 26-31 in Omaha, Neb.
Taylor Walden and Derek Hoosava, in the shot-put and discus respectively, etched their names in the team's record book as the only squad members to have ever earned top-five national finishes.
Competing in the Midget Boys (9-10-11-years) age group, Hoosava uncorked a fourth-place discus heave of 101 feet, 6 inches.
Among the Youth Boys (13-14-15-years), Walden's fourth-place shot put effort was measured at just over 48 feet. Walden also qualified for nationals in the discus, and finished 20th with a throw of about 130 feet, Tonto Apache coach Randy Pryor said. With a toss just shy of 30 feet, Hoosava finished 30th in the national shot-put.
In each event, the two Rim country teenagers were battling about 120 national qualifiers from around the United States.
Also for the Tonto Apache track team, Mikey Waterman was 30th in the Youth Boys' discus, launching a throw of 98 feet, Pryor said.
In the Midget Boys' race walk, Matthew Johnson legged out a 13th-place finish, covering the 1,500 meter course in 9:30.
The Tonto Apache track members qualified for the National Championships with top three finishes at the Region 10 finals, held last July in Provo, Utah. Earlier, the team competed in various dual and multi-meets on the state level.
The performance of the youngsters in state, regional and national levels, Pryor said, represent tremendous accomplishments which have stamped the team a national force.
The squad, only two years in the making, is believed to be the only Native American tribe-sponsored team on the USA Track and Field circuit.