Shapard hurdles to nationals
Chelsea Shapard’s running has carried her a long way. From the track on Dozier Field to the stadium at Drake University in Iowa, to be exact.
There have been plenty of stops in between for the athlete who has called Park City home since she was four. Now a junior at the University of Utah, she has made stops at Weber State University and, after transferring to Utah, made it to the quarterfinals at the NCAA Championships last season.
But this season, Shapard has come the farthest. mid-season, the 400-meter hurdler and 400-meter runner was more than just a good athlete. She was running so fast in the 400-meter hurdles that she hurdled into a top-ten ranking in the country, with a legitimate shot at winning the conference, and placing well in both the regional and national meets.
She had no problem claiming victory at the Mountain West Championships and took third place at the regional championships. Now, just days away from the national championships, Shapard feels that, finally, she may have a legitimate shot at making it into the semifinals and even the finals at the meet. Last year, she was hampered by a stress fracture that impeded her advance past the first round.
Shapard said that anything can happen next week. The hurdlers in the East and Midwest regions performed better than those in the Western region, but she said that everyone is too close in times to really predict the outcome. Right now UCLA’s Nichole Leah is the No. 1 runner in the country, but the rest of the pool could do anything.
Shapard will travel to the national championships with her coach, Burke Bockman, and Utah hammer thrower Josefin Berg and her throwing coach. Shapard said that Bockman has been careful to not put too much pressure on Shapard, but instead tells her to "just run her race."
Easier said than done, Shapard said. She had trouble "running her race" at regional after starting out too fast and wound up in third. Shapard said that running the 400-meter hurdles will be mean not trying to start out at the same pace as Leah, but rather just keeping her in her sights until the end where Shapard is famous for putting on the jets.
"I’m a good closer," Shapard said, grinning.
Bockman lends Shapard a lot of expertise in his coaching. A star collegiate runner himself, he still competes at the Masters level and has coached numerous All-Americans and even an Olympian in his past coaching stints.
"It helps that he still hurdles," Shapard said. "He’s motivated me pretty hard to get here."
This year, Shapard will have more experience on her side. Last year, she got a taste of what the NCAA championships were like and this year she wants to go home with a strong finish. She said she was motivated to make it all year long. And not only for herself. Utah is still a growing program, so Shapard hopes that top finishes by her and Berg will help attract more girls to the track and field program. Their teammates are excited to have the two women representing the team and having been helping to keep them pumped up. Shapard has also received plenty of love in the form of leg massages from the Utah training staff, who only have the two girls to focus on at this point in the season.
Shapard leaves for Iowa early next week and will compete in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. If she places high enough there, she will move on to the semifinals on Thursday and, hopefully, the finals on Friday. That’s three races in three days, but Shapard said that she’s up for it. In fact, the hardest part for her is the waiting game.
"I’m a head case," she admits. "I can’t think too much or I psych myself out."
Instead she has her own self-motivational practice of getting mad. She said if she feels as if someone or something is against her or doesn’t believe in her ability, she’ll run mad, which means she runs faster.
She’ll also receive plenty of support from home. Her parents and brother Chris, a soon-to-be senior at Park City High School, have been flying to meets all season long and are more than excited about the national championships.
She has also received accolades from Park City locals. She walked into Wasatch Bagels a little while ago and the owner recognized her from newspaper articles and asked if he could have a signed picture of her hurdling for his café walls. Friends and teachers from high school have also called to send their encouragement. Perhaps her biggest fans are her prep track coaches, Jeff Wyant and Bill Kahn, who offer both advice and support as often as they can. David Yocum, who coached her throughout much of her growing-up years, also makes weekly phone calls to Shapard.
"They’re still a huge part of my life," she said.
In fact, this time around, Shapard said she has everything she needs to complete her journey to the national championships. This time, though, she is hoping to go the distance.
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