You never know what is going to happen in sports. A five point deficit with 28.2 seconds left in a basketball game usually means you will lose the game. But not always. Trailing by three goals with ten minutes left in a hockey game is usually an insurmountable deficit. But not always. Not if you’re tenacious. It’s the unpredictable nature of competition that draws so many of us to sports in the first place.
At the 2013 USA Championships, the women’s 1500 meters was predicted to be a tightly contested race but most experts figured the three runners who would place in the top three and qualify for the World Championships in Moscow were Treniere Moser, Mary Cain, and Shannon Rowbury. But that’s why they run the race. In the USA spots on national teams are earned on the track, not on paper. If this race were run ten times, there might be ten different outcomes. But the only outcome that matters is what happened on the track at Drake Stadium on Saturday, June 22, 2013.
The pace was extremely slow – 85 seconds for the first 400, 2:40 at 800 meters. I have result sheets with splits faster than that from some of our high school meets this season. It was over ninety degrees Fahrenheit. It was windy. The humidity was high. No one wanted to lead the race and that led to a lot of pushing and shoving and a bunched up group of twelve runners. The race would come down to who could run the fastest last 400. For Shannon, this probably wasn’t the ideal scenario, but she had to deal with it. Cain, Moser, and Shannon pulled away from the rest of the field with 200 to go, but over the last 100 Cory McGee, a junior from the University of Florida, kicked by Shannon to get third place. Shannon found herself in unfamiliar territory – fourth place.
The bad news was that this meant Shannon was not guaranteed a spot on the team for the World Championships. She would have to wait to see if McGee achieved the B standard (4:09.00). Having another athlete’s performance determine your fate is not a situation any athlete wants to be in. The good news was that Shannon’s 2013 USA Championships did not have to be over. The next day was the 5000 meter final, in which she was entered. It’s not her primary event. It’s 12.5 laps. Her legs would be tired from two 1500 meter races (the preliminary round and the final) she had already run this week. It would still be hot, windy, and humid. But if Shannon wanted to clinch a spot to Moscow, this was her way to do it.
The situation reminded me of another Sacred Heart Cathedral track & field athlete – Christina Young. Christina was in the class of 2004, two years behind Shannon. They were teammates in the 2002 season. When Christina was senior, her primary event was the long jump. At our WCAL Trials meet, however, she had a bad day, jumping 15-4 (15 feet, 4 inches) well less than her season best of 16-5. She finished thirteenth and failed to qualify for the final. As I said at our awards banquet in 2004, “all Christina had left was the triple jump, which was not her best event…but it was about to be.”
Some background on Christina’s triple jumping. In late April of her senior year Christina would often jump less than 30 feet in the triple jump. As of April 27 her best mark was 30-11. She improved to 31-10.5 at a meet against Valley Christian. That next weekend she missed a meet in Carmel. At that meet in Carmel, Christina’s teammate, just out from the basketball team, jumped 34-7 in the triple jump to become the team leader in that event. At our next dual meet Christina had a one foot PR, improving to 32-10. Then at WCAL Trials, with her back against the wall as she had already failed to qualify for the final in the long jump, she placed fourth with yet another PR of 33-1. Then on May 15, she had the meet of her life. She not only set a new PR of 35-5.75 (that’s a 2 foot, 4 inch PR). She took first to become the WCAL Champion…in her off event! Over the last 18 days of the season she improved 4.5 feet. I’ll never forget Christina. She was versatile and she was tenacious. When the long jump didn’t go well, she didn’t let it bring her down. She set her sights on the triple jump. Not only did she PR in the triple jump, she became the league champion.
When I went to bed Saturday night, I didn’t know if Shannon would be running the 5000 or not. From the interviews I’ve seen, she may not have known herself. But Shannon, like Christina, is a fighter. She wanted to be on the team to Moscow so she had to put the disappointment of the 1500 behind her and take her best shot in the 5000.
The early pace of the 5000 was modest, which was good for Shannon. With about a mile to go, Shannon was well positioned. The others in contention were Jenny Simpson, Molly Huddle, Amy Hastings, Kim Conley, Abby D’Agostino, Chelsea Reilly, and Shannon. Hastings, tired from the 10,000 on Thursday, would drop out. Six runners remained. With a lap to go, all six were still in it. Conley led with a lap to go. On the backstretch Huddle would take the lead from Conley and a few meters later Simpson would take the lead from Huddle. Simpson and Huddle would battle to the line for the top two places. Meanwhile with 300 to go Shannon was in sixth place and slowly losing ground on the others. With 200 to go, Shannon started moving up on D’Agostino and it looked like she might have a shot at fourth. Suddenly Reilly started to tie up in the last 100 and Conley surged by her. But Shannon, who later said she was thinking about Moscow and her late grandmother, Nonie, kicked it into another gear in the last half lap and passed Reilly and Conley to get third place!
I’ve been privileged to witness some amazing kicks by Shannon over the last fifteen years. Her kick to get third place by one hundredth of a second at the 2011 USA Championships stands out. And her kick at the 2013 USA Championships, again to get third place but this time in her “off event” showed Shannon’s tenaciousness.
Athletes that are tenacious, don’t make excuses when things don’t go the way they want. They don’t let a disappointing performance get them down. They can comeback from disappointment in their main event. They fight for a spot or a championship no matter how the odds are stacked against them. By being tenacious and not giving up, these athletes sometimes shock everyone with a performance that earns a lot of people’s respect. That’s tenaciousness. That’s Christina Young and Shannon Rowbury.