Cooka Cops Gold At Piestewa Games

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Rim country senior track and field stalwart Tom Cooka ran and threw his way to three gold medals and a silver at the Lori Piestewa National Native American Games July 17 to 20 at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

The 73-year-old National Senior Olympic Champion sped to first-place finishes in the master's division 400-meters (1:24.79), 1,500-meter race walk (10:23.12). He won the shot put with a heave of 22 feet, 2 inches.

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Rim country senior long-distance runner Tom Cooka won his age division championship at last year's Monsoon 5K Run. Cooka will be defending his championship again this year.

In the 1,500 meter run, Cooka finished second in 6:43.00.

Cooka's participation in the shot put represented only the second time he has entered the event. After building a reputation as one of the country's finest senior long distance runners, Cooka opted to enter the shot put at last year's inaugural Native American Games. Cooka won the gold medal.

Although the shot put is usually not the forte of runners, Cooka has done well both times he attempted it.

His true athletic strengths, however, remain the longer distance runs.

At the National Senior Olympics last month in Virginia Beach, Cooka won the bronze medal in the 10K and was fifth in both the 1,500 and 5K. In the 800 meters, he was seventh.

Two years ago at the National Senior Olympics held in Baton Rouge, La., he won the 10K gold medal.

A member of the Hopi tribe, Cooka grew up near Winslow and retired from the Santa Fe Railroad after almost 40 years. He moved to Payson after his retirement.

Next up for the veteran runner is the town of Payson-sponsored Monsoon 5K Aug. 2.

"That will wrap up the summer of competition for me," he said.

Also representing the Rim country in the Lori Piestewa games were several Tonto Apache Tribe Track and Field team members.

Jordan Hinton captured gold medals in the shot put and discus of the boys' midget division. In the girls' intermediate class, Kindall Begay won both the shot put and discus. Mike Waterman was first in the young men's shot put and discus.

Second-place honors were garnered by Valentino Doka (boys' midget discus and shot put) and Paul Burdette (young men's discus and shot put).

Taking third places was Junior Burdette (young men's discus, open discus and open shot put).

Santana Curtis was fifth in the boys' midget shot put.

With the Piestewa games at an end, the Tonto Apache athletes will turn their attention to the Junior Olympic National Championships July 29 to Aug. 3 in Miami, Fla.

"The nationals are the biggest track meet in the world," Tonto Apache coach Billy Joe Winchester said. "There will be over 6,000 athletes from all over the United States."

The second annual Native American games were co-sponsored by the Grand Canyon State games and open to any athlete who could prove at least one-quarter Native American heritage. All the track and field events were contested at NAU. Basketball competition was held in Tuba City and softball was played in Page.

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