Aliandrea Upshaw, a biology major, is a young member of the University of New Mexico women’s cross country team, which is ranked the No. 1 college women’s cross country team nationwide. Although she’s academically a sophomore, Upshaw is classified as a freshman athletically due to NCAA COVID-19 sports reclassifications.
Upshaw is one of a number of underclassmen runners who hold the promise to continue UNM women’s cross country’s status as the University’s most decorated athletic program; in Friday’s Mountain West Cross Country Championship race, Upshaw was among the first seven finishers — all of whom were from UNM — and finished fifth.
Upshaw’s freshman season was cut short due to COVID-19, which is the reason her and other athletes reclassified their athletic year status. Still, she was able to participate in two races: the Battle Born Collegiate Cross Country Challenge in February, where she finished 54th with a time of 21 minutes, 10.7 seconds, and the Mountain West Cross Country Conference Championships in March, where she finished 38th with a time of 21:32.8. Her time of 19:46.0 at this year's Mountain West Cross Country Conference Championships was her best yet and a rapid improvement from last year.
As a top finisher in the Mountain West Conference Championships and a member of the recently announced All-Mountain West Conference Cross Country First Team, Upshaw garnered recognition from NDN Sports, an online magazine focused on Native American sports news.
“Shout out and congrats to Ali Upshaw (Navajo), out of the University of New Mexico, who placed 5th at the Mountain West Conference Cross Country Championships,” NDN Sports tweeted. “She earned First Team All-Mountain West honors and the Lobos finished first as a team.”
As a Navajo woman, turquoise holds special meaning for Upshaw, which comes into play with the team’s special uniforms. Upshaw said the “power of the blue” is a tradition the team has when they wear these uniforms — which utilize a turquoise color scheme — at pivotal races.
“In the Navajo culture turquoise or blue is a very sacred color to the native people,” Upshaw said. “There’s four sacred mountains: Tsoodzil, Dibé Ntsaa, Dook’o’oosliid and Sisnaajini. The Tsoodzil mountain is the turquoise mountain. Under that teaching of the sacred color is plan, nahat’á means plan, and I was telling the girls that when you put that jersey on, you plan to make it; you’re ready to perform because that’s what that color means.”
Upshaw grew up in Fort Defiance, Arizona and attended St. Michael Indian School, where she excelled in athletics; she won the individual championship as well as helped her team win the team championships at the 2018 Arizona Interscholastic Association Cross Country State Championships, and she and her team won both championships again in 2019.
Upshaw was a member of two state champion basketball teams in high school and graduated as valedictorian with a 3.9 GPA. Unsurprisingly, Upshaw had a number of colleges to choose from but ultimately decided on UNM.
“I wanted to run for (head) coach (Joe) Franklin and be a part of the championship atmosphere,” Upshaw said.
Upshaw looks forward to gaining more prestigious racing experience and working her way up to the top of UNM’s women’s cross country team. After getting her bachelor’s degree, Upshaw hopes to go to medical school and eventually become a doctor.
Matthew Salcido is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @baggyeyedguy