Sep. 28—(*This story has been corrected to show that Ali Upshaw is from Fort Defiance, Arizona)
Ali Upshaw, a redshirt sophomore on the University of New Mexico women's cross country team, spoke in Navajo as she introduced herself to media Tuesday at the Tow Diehm building.
The room on the third floor is usually reserved for press conferences for coaches to talk about upcoming games. Upshaw instead talked about a day of remembrance very important to her.
She reminded everyone that Friday is Orange Shirt Day, which promotes awareness about the Indian residential school system that continues to impact Native American communities in the United States and Canada. It's a day of reconciliation that honors children who were forced into Indian boarding schools, and the day remembers those who never returned home.
"I am Ali Upshaw," the UNM cross country runner said in Navajo. "I'm from Fort Defiance, Arizona. ... Thank you for allowing me to talk and giving me the opportunity to advocate for my own community."
In response to Upshaw's efforts for awareness, the UNM women's cross country team, ranked No. 3 in the nation, will wear orange ribbons and orange shirts during warmups before they run at the Joe Piane Invitational at Notre Dame on Friday, UNM coach Joe Franklin said.
Over 300 schools across the U.S. and Canada have unearthed over 6,000 indigenous children from mass burial graves, Upshaw said.
"This isn't information that I've just come up with on my own," she said. "Native people have been speaking about this. ... I've only known the personal connections. My grandparents went to boarding school."
The Lobos, as they do for their bigger/prestigious meets, will wear turquoise during the race to honor the state of New Mexico, Franklin said.
He said wearing orange shirts before the race is very important to the team.
New Mexico's women will be in their first race of the season. The Lobos start a bit later than most teams by design, Franklin said, and typically improve in each meet after the opener.
Training for the season has been going "exceptionally well," Franklin said, but he acknowledged the competition will be challenging as the race includes No. 1-ranked North Carolina State, the NCAA defending champion, as well as No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 10 Alabama.
"It should be a very good and intense race," Franklin said. "We're led by a lot of people. I just can't pick one woman on the team. They are all doing great."
The UNM men's team is better than most squads from the past, he said. The Lobos started the season with a win, finishing ahead of Oklahoma and host Texas Tech at its open meet on Sept. 17.
Senior Abdirizak Ibrahim, a two-time National Junior College All-American at South Plains College in Lubbock, Texas (2019-20), will make his season debut at Notre Dame.
Cross Country: UNM men and women at Notre Dame, 8:30 a.m.