“I think coming back here to Hopi is my way of saying thank you’

This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Dec. 19, 2003

Former NAU runner gives back to Hopis

By Ed Odeven

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give,” British statesman Sir Winston Churchill once said.

Others have made similar statements, including: It is better to give than receive. These viewpoints shape the career path of many individuals. For instance, Juwan Nuvayokva knows the joy of giving begins at home.

It is there, on the Hopi Reservation, where the former NAU All-American runner has returned to earn a living. Nuvayokva is in his first year teaching physical education and coaching cross country at Hopi Junior High School and Hopi High School in Keams Canyon.

As he discussed the challenges he’s faced making the transition from student to teacher, Nuvayokva revealed that he’s satisfied to be able to give back something that lasts a lifetime — the ideals and life lessons a coach or teacher can pass along to their students.

“The biggest challenge is coming home and working with your own people,” Nuvayokva told me in a phone conversation Friday. “I’m excited about just coming back and being involved with my community and the high school I graduated from.”

It’s been an exciting year for Nuvayokva. He guided the Hopi Junior High boys team to a state cross country title in the fall. That was the obvious reward for months of hard work.

“It’s a (great) feeling that I did something with these kids. It’s something that never sunk in yet,” said Nuvayokva, who earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from NAU in March. “I’m going to use that and build upon it.”

Another reward was just as special for the 24-year-old coach. One of the Hopi harriers, the Bruins’ No. 7 runner for most of the autumn, was the team’s top finisher at the state meet.

“He just told me, ‘Because of you I was ready and I just felt great this day and thank you for being there.’ That kind of touched me inside, and I was thankful for that also,” said Nuvayokva, who is from a tiny village of Oraivi, which is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the United States (since 1150).

Nuvayokva, who graduated from Hopi High School in 1997, helped the school win four straight boys cross country titles. Then he took his running talents to Flagstaff, becoming the first Lumberjack to be a part of four successive Big Sky Conference cross country champion outfits.

Hopi High coach Rick Baker, who has led the Bruin boys to 14 straight state titles, first at the Class 2A level and now at the 3A level, said Nuvayokva is a positive influence for the kids. He added: “The kids know that he’s an All-American and has a college degree. To come back and put that experience (to work) for us is a big plus for the school and the Hopi Tribe.”

Longtime NAU coach Ron Mann will be the first to tell you that Nuvayokva has always thought about his future with one goal in mind:

“From day one that he came to Northern Arizona, his goal was to go back to Hopi High School and give back to his community,” Mann said.

That goal never wavered during Nuvayokva’s college days.

“Going to NAU, what I noticed when I came home on weekends or on an occasion, people would come up to me, recognizing me and give me good compliments, saying that I’m modeling what kids should be doing today, or I’m taking advantage of the opportunities I come upon. The Hopi people have recognized me (a lot), where I’ve appreciated it and I never had time to say thank you.”

He now does.

“I think coming back here to Hopi is my way of saying thank you,” he continued. “I’m back home. I want to teach some of these kids. If I can save at least one kid out of all these, that would be my goal. … Being an adult now, I think it’s part of my responsibility to model that.”

Remarkably, Nuvayokva’s college career went exactly how he hoped it would. Not surprisingly, Mann is thrilled to talk about it.

“What’s so neat about his experience here at Northern is, he wanted to be an All-American, which he became; he wanted to be on a championship team, which he was; and he wanted to be on a team that got one of the national trophies, which he did. So his career here at Northern, from the day he came on to NAU to this very day, has been one of dreams come true,” Mann said.

“I’m sure he’ll continue to make more and more dreams come true for other young Hopi men and women.”

Folks, there aren’t better gifts than that.