The track coach at the junior high school she attended in suburban Rochester, NY, told her she couldn't run the mile because she was a girl, and girls, the coach said, weren't "tough enough" to run long distance races.
"He didn't think girls could handle it," she recalled.
Smith competed in other events that season, but revenge came soon enough. She and her family soon moved to a nearby town, where she attended a junior high whose track coach had less discriminating views and a better eye for talent.
Even better, Smith said, her new school competed in track against her old school. When it came time for the meet, Smith took one look at her former coach and had all the motivation she needed.
Shannon Smith (Photo by Mike Mergen)
"I beat all of them at that meet," said Smith.
All of them?
"Yes, all of the boys," said Smith, a vengeful glint in her eyes.
On March 10 of this year, Smith beat "all of them" again, but this time the competition included some of the best women collegiate long distance runners in the country at the NCAA Indoor Track Championships in Fayetteville, Ark. Smith ran a 9:11.25 in the 3,000 meter race, breaking the BC record of 9:20.59 set by All-American Angie Graham in 1997.
"I was thrilled," said Smith, who graduated last year but is completing her athletic eligibility as a student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. "It was all that I hoped for. It was really rewarding after working hard all season. I thought I could win the title and it all came together."
Smith's teammate Katie Ryan, '02, also ran the race and finished 11th.
"Shannon ran a brilliant race," said Head Track Coach Randy Thomas. "With three laps to go, she broke away from the competition. She beat a school record by over nine seconds and won a national championship. I am very happy for her."
As in her junior high days, Smith's victory came in part because her opponents made the mistake of underestimating her. She entered the event seeded seventh and was coming off a fall cross-country season in which she was unable to compete due to injuries. As a result, Smith and her coaches said, other runners in the final probably did not consider her much of a threat.
"Only those from the Big East knew what Shannon was capable of doing," said Assistant Track Coach Kathy Fleming, referring to Smith's performance at the Feb. 18 Big East Championships in Syracuse, NY.
At that event, Smith had a trio of victories that included the 3,000-meter, the mile and the anchor leg of BC's winning distance medley relay. She earned Most Outstanding Track Performer honors for the event.
"I do not know anyone more competitive than Shannon Smith," said Fleming, who has coached the geology major since her freshman year.
Fleming said that competitive long distance running requires significant psychological preparation as well as intense physical training. Smith excels in both those areas, she says, especially the former.
"She has incredible faith in herself and it has really paid off for her," said Fleming. "I knew she had what it took to win the national championship, but more importantly, so did she."
Smith's self-confidence extends beyond the track. An aspiring attorney, she takes the time to talk to grade school students about the opportunities they may find through hard work and belief in their own abilities. One story she likes to tell is about her junior high years and the coach who wouldn't let her compete.
"It shows them what they're up against sometimes," she said, "and it always gets them fired up."
Smith plans to attend law school next year and said she hopes to continue running competitively. At the moment, she is focusing on the upcoming spring track season: Smith and selected members of the women's track team compete at the prestigious Raleigh Relays in Raleigh, NC, tomorrow, while other members take part in the Snowflake Classic at Tufts University on Saturday, March 31.
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