Shapard off to national championships | ParkRecord.com

Shapard off to national championships

by Tracie Fails, of the Record staff

For an athlete who had no intention of running track after high school, Chelsea Shapard has taken her racing shoes a long way. The former Park City High School athlete, now a sophomore at the University of Utah, favored soccer and ski racing in high school and initially played soccer in college at Weber State University. Only after she transferred for the opportunities the U of U track team offered did she begin to focus seriously on the sport. Her newfound dedication had led to national rankings in the 400-meter hurdles with potential that could carry her all the way to Beijing, the site of the 2008 Olympics.

Shapard has run within a second of the at-large qualifying mark for the Olympic trials, 57.80 seconds. Her 58.47-second effort, run at the Mountain West Conference Championships in San Diego on May 12, earned her the conference title and helped secure her spot at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships taking place June 6-9 at Sacramento State University.

Although Shapard’s accomplishments reflect years of dedication to track, her focus was in other areas throughout high school. As an athlete at Park City, Shapard dreamed of competing on a national soccer team or joining the USSA’s Alpine development program. "Soccer and skiing, those were my passions," Shapard said. "They were my sole focus." She excelled in both sports, helping the Park City soccer team to two state titles and placing well in national races on the Park City Ski Team. And while she regarded running simply as "conditioning", she left an impressive record on the track as well. Her brag sheet includes a state title in the 400-meter dash and all-state honors in the 400-meter hurdles and 4×400-meter relay.

Still, "I had only run track for three years, and I was never really driven to do my best," she admits. She credits her coaches with giving her the confidence in her to later pursue the sport seriously. "They never gave up on me, and they never stopped believing in me even when I doubted myself," she said.

Shapard’s experience this year has changed her mind about the sport. "I love it now," she says. "This is the first time in my life I’ve been excited about track and am driven to see how far I can go."

If she remains healthy, Shapard could continue to the USA Track & Field Championships in Indiana June 22, but an injury may halt her at the NCAA meet. Battling a near-stress fracture in her shin, Shapard finished seventh at the West Region Championships on Sunday with a time of 1:00.17. She narrowly missed the automatic bid to nationals awarded to the top five finishers, instead gaining a spot in Sacramento based on her conference time.

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"I didn’t take Advil at the regional meet, but now I know I need to," she said.

A chance at the USA championships would require a 58.0-second time.

"That’s what I’m hoping for now, if I can stay just healthy for a few more weeks," she said. After this season ends, she will start training again in fall with sights on the 2008 Olympic trials.

"I’ll hit the speed a lot harder next year," she said. "If I can get my 400 times down, I think I can hit that 57 (seconds) for the hurdles."

Shapard is ready for the necessary work, but she admits the thought of training for the Olympic trials still seems incredible.

"I don’t think the reality factor has set in," she said. "I just take it one meet at a time and try to do my best every race."

The multi-talented athlete keeps her life balanced with career goals in broadcast journalism, visiting playgrounds "like a kid," and keeping a wide range of interests in outdoor activities.

"Because Utah is such a beautiful state, it’s hard not to want to get outside and enjoy it. I like just going out, riding my bike trying any sport under the sun," she said.

She still enjoys soccer and skiing as well, drawing her greatest inspiration from disabled skiers at the National Ability Center. "It’s humbling to me," she said. "When I think of their dedication, I have nothing to complain about."

Shapard will run next on June 7 at Sacramento State University. If she finishes among the top eight in the 400-meter hurdle preliminary race, she will race in the finals on June 9.