May 10, 2001
With 600 meters to go in the 3,000 meter race at the 2001 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship, Boston College's Shannon Smith took the lead, a lead that she refused to relinquish, paving her way to the national championship.
Seemingly the most important moment in Smith's athletic career did not come without flaw. Half way through the championship race on March 10 in Fayetteville, Ark., the fifth year senior from Fairport, N.Y. thought she had broken her foot. Regardless, she went on to win in a personal best and school record time of 9:11.25, the fastest time in the nation all season.
Settling in the pack for the first mile, Smith was comfortably in fifth place and sticking to her strategy. But heading into the second mile, Colorado's Sarah Gorton began to make her move and Smith decided to go with her taking over second place.
"I intended to wait a little bit longer, but I was just feeling good," said Smith. "All of a sudden I was on her (Gorton's) shoulder. I didn't want to hesitate and drop back, so I just went."
With just over three laps to go, Smith took the lead and she knew, as long as she kept kicking, no one could pass her.
"My plan was to just make one decisive move to the lead and not let anyone pass me after that," she said.
With a slight change in her plan, she brought home the first-ever women's national championship to the Heights.
"It's something you hope is going to happen, but you never know," said Smith. "I read somewhere that someone called me an underdog. I think that's kind of cool."
Despite all the excitement she was feeling, Smith was also experiencing a lot of pain. Later confirmed, but known right away to Smith from experience, she had broken her foot during the race, suffering her fourth stress fracture of her five-year career at Boston College.
"It was pretty much a downer," said Smith. "It always seems to happen when I am at my peak."
Ironically, it is because of a stress fracture that Smith had a fifth year of eligibility for track. The New York State champion at 1,500 meters in high school, Smith also won the 1996 U.S. junior cross country championship and earned the right to compete for the United States at the World Cross Country Championship in Turin, Italy. A freshman at BC at the time, Smith was injured with her first stress fracture and could not compete at the championship.
Her sophomore year, Smith took 17th at the NCAA cross country national championship, earning her first All-America honor at Boston College, only to find out that she had been running injured with another stress fracture.
Diagnosed with low bone density as a result of a shortage of estrogen, thus an inability to absorb calcium, Smith began taking vitamin D and calcium supplements and underwent hormone therapy in the form of birth-control pills to provide estrogen. Able to compete again junior year, Smith calls that year "pretty horrible."
Last season, things turned around. She won the indoor mile at the New England Championship, the 3,000 meter at ECACs and finished sixth in the outdoor 3,000-meters at NCAAs, earning All-America honors with the second fastest time in school history.
Smith's third stress fracture came in the fall of 2000. Watching from the sidelines as her teammates had the most successful year in the history of BC cross country, Smith was unable to compete because she used up her eligibility as an undergraduate.
Out for six weeks, Smith was forced to train in the pool to maintain fitness and strength.
"I just did a lot of stuff. I just ran most days, occasionally I would (swim) laps in the morning or something but I just did some sort of pick-ups or workouts everyday in the pool," said Smith.
Lucky for Smith, pool workouts help make quick recoveries. Upon returning for the start of the indoor season, Smith won her first three races of the year - the mile at Harvard, the 3000-meter at the Dartmouth Relays and the mile at the Greater Boston Club Invitational.
Named BIG EAST Most Outstanding Track Performer at the BIG EAST Indoor Championship in 2001, Smith won both the mile and 3,000 meter races at the conference meet. Following the BIG EAST meet, Smith did not compete at ECACs or New Englands, choosing to concentrate solely on nationals.
This outdoor season Smith was planning on focusing on the 5,000-meter but with the injury, she was left no time to prepare. Instead, Smith is going back to what made her a champion in high school, the 1,500. Last weekend at the BIG EAST Championship, Smith ran the 1,500 for the first time this season and took second place with a 4:26.35, less than one second away from setting a new personal best.
With two competitions left, Smith hopes to snap things back together, qualify for NCAAs and bring home another championship to The Heights.