Big 12 Campus Correspondent
A life of learning, training, and competition is what precedes the college careers of most student-athletes. Dillon Shije's life prior to arriving on campus at the University of Colorado was different than most.
Shije grew up in Zia Pueblo, N. M., an Indian reservation 30 miles northwest of Albuquerque where the majority of his family has resided for as long as he can remember.
"It's one big community, and we all help each other out," said Shije, a member of Colorado's cross country team. "Everybody knows everybody on the reservation because there are only approximately 1,000 people, so it's not too big."
CU's current enrollment is more than 38-times the size of Shije's home town, which made the adjustment to college life harder than expected.
Running is nothing new for Shije, who "started running as soon as he could walk." He went to elementary and middle school on the reservation and started competing in cross country meets at age six.
Shije began running competitively when he started attending Sandia Preparatory High School, competing mainly in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters. After making a smooth transition from the reservation to high school, he knew he could make the transition to a college in another state.
"CU was actually my top choice for school because of the engineering program," Shije said. "I want to become an engineer. Also with running, I looked at it both ways. It was pretty much a half and half decision, but I always knew I wanted to come here.
"I came to a running program called Jay Johnson's Running Camp after my freshman year in high school. I got to stay on campus here and I enjoyed it a lot. From then on, I kind of decided what I was going to do with my running career."
Shije came to CU in the fall of 2009 as a freshman. He redshirted his first year on the cross country team and started competing at the varsity level this fall. He traveled to Oklahoma State to run in the Big 12 Championships where he helped the team to a second place finish. He finished 51st with an 8k time of 25:52.85.
"It was awesome to be a part of the varsity and run with those guys," Shije said. "I want to continue to help out the team as much as possible and do my best."
Colorado's cross country team isn't the only group that Shije takes pride in being a member of. He is still an active member of his reservation.
There are 19 pueblos in New Mexico, and each one has an annual Feast Day every August 15. On this day, Shije and others in his pueblo perform a Corn Dance.
"Everybody is welcome to come to Feast Day, even the outside public, and we dance for the people," Shije said. "We have a saint at church, the Lady of Assumption, and the day is basically to celebrate the Saint and the people as well."
Shije has danced each year since he was 13 years old. According to Shije, this specific dance helps the crops to prosper and grow, and it's used to bring rain.
"We paint ourselves blue representing the clouds, and we have streaks on our bodies that represent the lightning," Shije said. "We wear a dance skirt and a Native American traditional belt. We also have on moccasins."
This dance is very traditional and taken seriously in each pueblo. There are only a few reasons why a male would be excused from dancing at Feast Day. Some men move on to singing during the dances, but they still partake in the celebration each year.
Another celebration that Shije and his reservation take part in is a Buffalo Dance, which celebrates animals and their health, occurs every Christmas day and the day after. There are only a few people on Shije's reservation who are asked to dance, and he has been chosen the past two years.
"Dancing makes you feel stronger and inspired, especially going out in the cold early morning," Shije said. "It's amazing. They paint themselves black like a buffalo. The first time I did it, I enjoyed it the most. We came out and it was kind of foggy and you can see your breath. It's pretty awesome.
"There are rumors that I might dance this year. The war captain decides, and he's the one that runs the pueblo. To be asked to dance is a big honor. My parents like when I dance and it would be cool to dance again."
Shije tries to incorporate some of his traditions from home into his daily life.
"I love running in the nature," Shije said. "That's a part of Native American life, just being around nature. The elders tell the men to grow their hair, so that's why I have long hair. It's a representation that if we do pass on they will recognize us."
Despite his undeniable love for his home and family, Shije says he is really enjoying his time away from home.
"I know I am going to go back to New Mexico, and I know that my pueblo is always going to be there, so I just wanted to get a new perspective of how the outside world was," Shije said.
Shije hopes to follow in his grandmothers' footsteps after graduation and return home to his pueblo and become a teacher.
"There are a lot of things that I learned from my elders back home about tradition and about life in general, most importantly, every day is a learning experience," Shije said.