Payson Senior First At Havasu Event

Tom Cooka

Tom Cooka Photo by Dennis Fendler. |

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While 82-year-old Tom Cooka mulls over participating in the upcoming Lori Piestewa Games, he looks back with a great deal of pride on his participation in the Lake Havasu Half-Marathon.

On April 14, Cooka took first place in the 80-99-years age group running the half-marathon in 2:24.20.

Runners were also timed at a 5K distance and the Payson senior was clocked in a very respectable 29.33.

About 700 runners turned out for the half-marathon that was run on an out-and-back course that took entrants along the shoreline of the lake with views of the world-famous London Bridge.

Cooka is unsure whether he will enter the Piestewa competition, mostly because he has been caring for his ill wife and has not been able to train extensively.

“I have to stay pretty close to home,” he said.

In 2007 at the Piestewa Games near Fountain Hills, Cooka was awarded the prestigious APS Power Player Award.

Piestewa Game officials said they those chose him because he met the criteria of an “individual who demonstrates exceptional character and sportsmanship” and who “displays extraordinary character as defined by the six pillars of character — trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.”

In the Native American Games, Cooka ran his way to a third-place finish in the 5K race, while competing against some runners 25 years younger.

Cooka, who grew up on a northern Arizona reservation, is a member of the Hopi tribe.

The retired Santa Fe Railroad employee is no stranger on local or national racing scenes.

He competes in about every town-sponsored 5K race, has been a highly successful competitor on the Senior Olympics racing circuit and as a 58-year-old, was a member of the Northland Pioneer College track team, along with his son.

In January, Cooka continued his dominance of the senior circuit by running his way to a first place age group finish at the P.F. Chang’s Rock ’n’ Roll Half-Marathon in Tempe, Scottsdale and Phoenix.

Although he was a first-place finisher, Cooka expressed his dissatisfaction with his time of 2:18.09. “I started out a little too fast and it threw me off,” he said. “I was hoping for a better time.”

Last year, Cooka was also a first-place Rock ’n’ Roll finisher, but in a time of 2:13.11.

Next up, Cooka plans to compete in the town-sponsored Monsoon 5K.

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