Billy Orman will probably never get an Arizona mountain named in his honor, as did Lori Piestewa. But in the tiny town of Tuba City, he has earned the celebrity reserved for very few.
For the past couple of years, Orman has been the face of Tuba City, a small town of fewer than 2,000 families located within the Painted Desert, on the west side of the Navajo Nation, about 50 miles as the crow flies from Grand Canyon National Park. More than 90 percent of the population are American Indian, mostly Navajo.
Tuba City was also the home of Piestewa, a U.S. Army solder killed in Iraq in 2003. Several years later, the Phoenix-area mountain known as Squaw Peak was renamed Piestewa Peak in her honor.
Orman just finished up his senior year at Tuba City High School, where he has earned numerous honors for his achievements as one of Arizona’s premier cross country runners. The 3A school has long been noted for producing some of the state’s best cross country teams; the boys’ team won the state championship in 2007-09 and the girls’ squad was state champ from 1997 through 2000.
The young running sensation made sure those who follow will remember his final year of high school, as he went about setting record after record, before leaving next year to attend Harvard.
He won the 1,600 meters at the prestigious Chandler Rotary earlier this year, and then set a meet record by winning the 3,200 meters in a sizzling time of 9:07.25. At the state meet a week ago, he set the second-fastest 1,600-meter time among all high school runners in the nation, and then set a new state record in the 3,200 meters with a time of 8:48.63.
But Orman saved the best for the very last. And on one of the biggest stages in the sport.
Last year, he won the 3,200 meters at the Meet of Champions, considered the premier post-season competition where runners from all of the state classifications come together and compete head-to-head. He crossed the finish line in a winning time of 9:04.97.
But this year he came back to shatter last year’s time in that event and, in the process, break an Arizona state record that has stood for 27 years. He clocked in at 8:48.63 this time around.
And then he put the cap on an amazing season in the final race of the night, the 1,600 meters. He left behind a dozen other runners and ran to yet another state record – in a time of 4:05.29. The record he replaced was set 28 years ago.
It was a huge exclamation mark to an incredible high school career for the kid from Tuba City.
The town itself covers about nine square miles and its major attractions include the Tuba City Trading Post, housed in a circa 1905 building; the Tuuvi Travel Center, a $6.3 million complex opened just a few years ago; and the home of a fallen American hero.
And now it can lay claim to also being the home of one of Arizona’s best distance runners ever.
(Photo: Margot Kelly/AZTrackXC.com)