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Guest Blog Entry

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Photo:  Nick Isabella – @nickisabella.photography

I admire Shannon as an incredible athlete, but more importantly as a wonderful person. Her ‘down to earth’ nature, loyal and very kind persona have made her a great teammate, training partner, teacher, and friend to many, throughout her career.

On the track, Shannon shows grit, determination, resilience and pride. Her passion for the sport oozes out of her performances and she regularly lands herself in super competitive USA 800m championship finals, slicing down her PR and winning races.

Shannon’s journey in the sport isn’t as obvious as it may seem from her results. She has overcome numerous adversities, whether they’re injury, circumstance, funding cuts or extremely heavy workloads. Most recently, she won the Saint Louis Festival of Miles, Elite 800m. The reality is that Shannon barely ran the three weeks prior, but as a home town favorite, could not turn down the opportunity to compete in her last year racing the event. 

Through these highs and lows, she has always found her way to the start line because her love for the sport is a constant in her life. Through confusion, classwork and chaos,  her gut feeling of intuition has encouraged her to get back out there, to keep going on her dream, a dream that she feels so grateful to pursue. Thank you Shannon, for sharing your wisdom and inspiration!


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Photo: Jen Rosario – @jenrosario13

Some days you knock out a training run before the sun comes up and other days you lay in bed and refuse to put on running shorts… it’s called balance.

For the past few years I have partially maintained a website promoting balance or at least ways in which I attempt to balance my many passions, aptly titled “finding your stride.” Entries often encompass growth in mind, body and spirit. When Belle Lap invited me to guest blog I was honored to share my story as a post-collegiate athlete. Here’s a glimpse into my life as a pro runner balancing school and work. I hope you find my story relatable, inspirational, and most of all, do-able.

Let’s back up for a moment. I was going into my final season of collegiate eligibility with a personal best time of 2:04 in the 800m, when I was suddenly sidelined by my 8th stress fracture. 

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The timing of this injury was especially heartbreaking because I no longer had the support of sponsors, agents, and elite running teams knocking on my door. If I wanted to run post-collegiately I was going to have to get creative. First, I had to answer the question, did I want to keep running? Running has been an intoxicating part of my life since I was 8 years old lacing up my first pair of running shoes. The desire to compete and become the best runner I can be is the closest thing I’ve experienced to an addicting drug. Despite life’s best efforts to break my stride, like a drug I decided I needed more. I needed to know what my body was capable of accomplishing and enduring.
It was 2010 and as my collegiate eligibility was wrapping up, so was my Master’s in Special Education. Enrolling into the Ph.D. program of the same subject seemed like the next logical step. Plus, I had practically spent my entire life as a student-athlete, how much different could this be? Looking back the naivety of this mindset may have been what helped me get to the starting line.

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Photo: Michael Scott

As it turned out, balancing a Ph.D. program with the hopes of becoming a “professional” runner could be a lot different. It wasn’t so much the course load that impacted my time training, but more of the beyond coursework, resume building, extra networking activities that killed me. The further I emerged myself into the academic community, the less time I spent training and the more time I spent studying, researching, reading, volunteering, teaching, guest lecturing, applying for conferences, applying for grants, etc. Eventually, I forgot what the inside of a weight room even looked like, consumed by the light on my computer screen and the quiet buzz of the café. For the first time in my life I became a student before a runner and finally after years of being a college athlete I accurately portrayed the order of “student-athlete.”
I gravitated towards the structure of the classroom. Just like with running, the desire to be the best student I could be was intoxicating, I took on 3 part-time jobs as a research assistant, teacher assistant, and behavior interventionist. I volunteered my time to various projects serving the special education community. I became increasingly fascinated by my kids and their innate ability to give their entire heart to living in the moment without even being conscious of it.

Unfortunately my new life came with a lot of trial and error. The first year (2011) I fell more than I got up. On multiple occasions I’d be lacing up my spikes with tears streaming down my cheeks feeling guilty for taking this time away from my studies. Sometimes I’d move the workout to later that day or sometimes I’d skip the workout, altogether. I no longer had teammates or a coach to hold me accountable. My running dream became just that, a dream. On days in which I wanted to throw this stupid dream off of a cliff, I would reach out to the people who love and support me. They would share encouraging words as well as some much needed tough love. I had to answer some tough questions. Did I want to pursue a professional running career? Did I want to finish my doctorate? Could I do both at the levels I know I am capable of doing one? Ultimately, I came back to that day when I made the decision to continue running without hesitation. When the decision was easy. I’ve always been drawn to running like an addict craves heroin. Just because heroin was becoming harder to attain, doesn’t mean my mind stopped craving it and my body stopped feeling it. So I made the decision to keep running when that decision became tough.

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Photo: Phil Bond -@007trackfan

For the next two years, I took a page from my kid’s book, I focused on living in the moment. I settled into the daily grind of training at the bookends of school and work. I soon found the best running routes to do in the dark and coaches and teammates to hold me accountable. I had faith that the passion I threw into running or school each day would ultimately lead to my bigger dreams. I realized I could only control what I gave and not what I got. Most importantly, I built an indestructible support network through my faith, coaches, teammates, family and friends. I continue to value these relationships and put energy into each and every person who has touched my life in a positive way. It is through these relationships that I find resiliency and strength. I was well on my way to “finding my stride.”

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Photo: Nick Isabella

The second year (2012), I continued to fall but less often and with more grace. It was the Olympic year, I remember it well because I had gotten sick 7 times from the stress of training, work, and school. My immune system couldn’t keep up. So my dad, a biochemist, and his team of scientists created an immune support supplement for me, called ZAMboost. With the support of my new company, I was now chasing my dreams healthy. That year, I qualified for the Olympic trials with a PR of 2:01.6 in the 800m.

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Photo: Sam Murphy – @sam.smurphy

In 2013, I had just defended my dissertation 2 days before competing in my 4th USATF national championships where I ran a SB of 2:02.1. I was already looking forward to seeing how fast I could propel my body over 800 meters without the stress of school. First, I asked the Oregon Track Club if they would train me as one of their developmental athletes. Then, I applied at the University of Oregon (a top 3 school in special education) to be a research assistant. Both said “yes!” All signs were pointing to Eugene, Oregon.

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Photo: Marcus Mayes

The first year out of my Ph.D. program, my brain started to feel like mush. The only thing I can compare it to, is when you train your body with so much discipline and passion that you mold it into its peak physical shape, and then one day you stop running. A week goes by, then a month and you wonder if your legs can even run anymore. That is how my mind felt. The idea that less than a year ago I was working on my doctorate seemed foreign. To keep my brain active and myself financially afloat, I worked part-time as a research assistant and part-time as an online instructor, while running for the Oregon Track Club.

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I continued to find success on the track. I had my best finish at the 2014 USATF championships (9th) and ran a season best of 2:02.0. Unfortunately, my time on the Oregon Track Club was only one year. With 2 years left in the Olympic cycle, the search for a new coach-athlete partnership began.

This landed me in San Diego, under the guidance of Joaquim Cruz. Training in the sunshine with Coach Cruz, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist and coach of 2-time Olympian Alice Schmidt (who also happened to be my running idol), was an easy sell. I continued to not have support from sponsors so I had to get creative, again. With a little money saved up from working the last year combined with a part-time job teaching kids with autism, I was able to support myself for the most part. Brooks Running supplied me with some running gear and Rich Anderson signed me on with Speed Factory Athletics, which took care of my travel to competitions.

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Photo:

This brings us to present day – another Olympic year. The Olympics brings with it a honed experience of passion and an intense focus on a single moment. The subconscious forces and emotion underlying an Olympic year are far greater than any other year. I am thankful to have felt this once before in 2012. To be able to throw nearly all of your heart, energy, and soul into a single dream is a blessing. It’s seldom we get the chance to follow a dream without hesitation, without rationalization, and without practicality, and to do it twice! I am truly grateful.

Many people who know me, know that I’m at my best when I’m balancing my many passions, even if they fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. Navigating the post-collegiate professional running world without a contract has been challenging, but has also given me the chance to grow in mind, body and spirit.

On days running has taken a turn for the worse, I have my kids and professional goals to focus on. Likewise, on days in which my personal or professional life takes a detour, I can throw myself into my running. Each and every one of us travel down our own path, with setbacks and triumph, whether it’s an injury, loss of a loved one, financial hardship, or a new home or job.

“We are always going to be balancing something. During an Olympic year when these upsets and wins seem only to be intensified, I encourage you to focus more on what you can give and less on the outcomes.”

With love, Shannon

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Photo: St Louis Post Dispatch

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