Pueblo remembers legendary long distance runner Dennis Trujillo
By Josué Perez
The Pueblo Chieftain
March 5, 2023
Leonard Trujillo has four words that come to mind when he thinks about the legacy his brother, Dennis, left behind: heart of a champion.
Dennis, considered by some to be one of, if not the most, decorated cross-country runner in Pueblo’s history, died Nov. 28, 2022, at his home in North Carolina. He was 68 years old.
“He had the heart of a champion,” Trujillo said. “The endurance he had, the kind of person he was — he had all those qualities of being humble and considerate. He was just good with people and a good, wonderful person. I think that’s why he brought so much attention (to himself) in Pueblo.”
Dennis was in his own league as a runner during the latter portion of his high school career in the 1970s at Centennial on Pueblo’s north side. He won two state titles as a cross-country runner and captured back-to-back state track titles in the mile in his junior and senior seasons, according to a 2007 Chieftain article, which also stated that during those final two track and field seasons, he lost just one race.
The Greater Pueblo Sports Association Hall of Fame in 2007 labeled Trujillo’s back-to-back state track titles as one of the greatest moments in Pueblo sports history, according to the article. He was inducted into the GSPA Hall that same year.
Leonard, who was also a two-time cross-country champion, witnessed Dennis’ ascent as a runner as the pair sometimes trained together in the evenings during their teenage years on a dike by their house in Pueblo that stretched across the Arkansas River. They would run at least five miles and at times stretched that distance to 10.
Leonard, 71, said that type of training — independent of scheduled practices and done in their free time — made a “big difference” in their careers. Dennis trained “very hard,” he said.
“He was a real warrior,” Leonard said. “His endurance was tough. He would go so quick that he would break (other runners mentally). He was just mentally tough.”
Dennis later replicated his high school success at U.S. Military Academy, or West Point, where he earned 10 varsity letters between cross-country and track. He was a two-time NCAA Division I All-American, and his cross-country teammates at West Point named him team captain in 1975, according to his obituary.
Dennis won an Ivy League outdoor track title that year in the men’s 5,000-meter event and followed that with another title the year after, in the 10,000 meter.
"When you watched Denny run competitively at West Point, against world class runners, everyone knew they were watching someone special," wrote Keith Sims under Dennis' obituary online. "His running style was fast, smooth, relaxed, fluid and without any wasted motion. His work ethic was off the scale. He was a great teammate."
Dennis left West Point with several other accolades and accomplishments on his resume. He capped his competitive career as a runner in 1980 with one last significant feat as his finish at the Dallas White Rock Marathon qualified him for the Olympic Marathon trials. But he couldn’t compete in them because of his deployment to Korea during his stint with the U.S. Army, according to the Chieftain article.
After a pair of extensive stints as an infantry line officer and area expert and numerous awards while serving with the Army, Dennis became a math teacher and took his first job in that field in Puyallup, Washington. He later taught at an international school, Indianhead School, in South Korea.
Around that time, Dennis continued to participate in long-distance competitions, including 5K and 3K races. When he would visit Leonard and other family members, Dennis continued to wake up early in the morning and run.
“There was never a day he didn’t run,” Leonard said. “His whole life, he never stopped running.”
Dennis’ passion for running continued until doctors, eager to protect his health, advised him to stop, Leonard said. But even then, Dennis felt he could still run.
Leonard said he wants others to remember Dennis for his “humble” nature and the respect he showed other people. He said the family wants to invite people who ran alongside Dennis to a ceremony they plan to hold this summer that will celebrate Dennis’ life and his accomplishments as a runner and military member.
“He wasn’t just my brother, “Leonard said. “He was everybody’s brother.”
Chieftain reporter Josué Perez can be reached at JHPerez@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @josuepwrites.