Shauneen Garrahan ’07, a standout runner during her four years at Amherst, took first place in the steeplechase at the Canadian Olympic trials in July. But it was a bittersweet ending for Garrahan. After capping her collegiate career with wins in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter runs at the 2007 Division III National Championships and being named the Outstanding Female Athlete of the competition, she had set her sights on competing at the U.S. Olympic trials and narrowly missed the cut. Though she performed impressively at Windsor, because she is not a Canadian citizen, she could not go on to the Olympics. John D’Angelo ’10 interviewed her shortly after the Beijing Games began.

JD: Congratulations on your victory in the steeplechase at the Canadian trials. But I am a little confused: how did you end up racing there, considering you aren’t Canadian?

SG: I had been training the past year for the U.S. trials, and I had run the provisional time, but they pick the participants from a rankings list. I got injured this spring, which hurt my ranking, and I ended up barely missing the cut for the U.S. trials. I was disappointed, but I soon found out that I had been invited to the Canadian trials. They invite some international athletes to increase the competitiveness of the field.

JD: How does running in an international meet  compare to running in college?

SG: Running at the Canadian trials was an incredible experience. I’ve always enjoyed the “performance” aspect of competing, so I enjoyed feeding off the exciting atmosphere. With the conditions extremely hot, the race started very slowly and tactically. I used this to my advantage and made a surge early in the race. By taking a gamble by trusting in my fitness/preparations, I was able to put distance on my opponents. As each lap went on, I kept expecting the Canadians to catch up to me (especially since the crowd/announcer kept encouraging them!). But I finished strong!

Winning the trials was such a triumph after the months of hard work, preparation, setbacks and the disappointment of just missing the U.S. trials. Besides making the U.S. Olympic team, I couldn’t have asked for a better end to my season.

JD: Would you say this was the most satisfying victory of your career?

SG: Although winning the Canadian trials was probably my “biggest” accomplishment, I’m still the most proud of winning the 10K, steeplechase and 5K at the NCAA Nationals my senior year. That’s because it helped Amherst place fourth  as a team [the first time Amherst has placed as a team in outdoor track] and running for my team/Amherst enabled me to win the “triple” that everyone except my coach had thought was impossible.

Garrahan, Shauneen
Shauneen Garrahan '07 in 2006.

JD: Did you watch the finals of the steeplechase at the Olympics on Sunday?

SG: I was disappointed that NBC didn’t show the women’s steeplechase in prime time. I’m probably biased, but I think that the steeple is the most exciting track event after the drama in the 100m dash. And it was the first time there was the women’s steeplechase in the Olympics. But I was glad to watch the race online—it was incredible watching such a fast race and seeing the world and American records get broken. It’s amazing how the women’s steeplechase has really taken off these past few years. It made me realize how the top athletes in the world are at such a higher level than me, but at the same time inspired me to train hard in hopes of one day reaching their level. 

JD: I think a lot of people are surprised that someone from Division III could compete at such a high level. Were you intimidated at all by the level of competition?

SG: Running against the top steeplers in the country has been both humbling and inspiring. Coming from a Division III background, especially the one at Amherst, has actually helped me a lot. The whole philosophy of being well-rounded and having a balanced life makes running more enjoyable. I’ve always noticed that the more well-rounded I am, the better I am. It helps to have something other than running. I don’t worry as much about injuries or other setbacks because there are other things going on in my life. It gives me a reality check.
JD: Even though you were a very successful runner at Amherst, what made you realize that competing internationally was a possibility?

SG: At the end of last year I was trying to decide what I wanted to do. I talked to Ned [Amherst running coach Erik Nedeau] a lot about it and I realized that my success at the Division III level could translate to the next level. I thought it was a great opportunity and if I didn’t do it now, it would not present itself at any other time in my life.

JD: With such an involved training regimen were you even able to do anything else?

SG: Not all my time was occupied by running. I had a great experience working at Amherst for the Committee for the American Founding during this period. I am the type of person who needs variety in life. Without other activities I over-think running. I think I would have gone crazy if I had been concentrating on running all the time. A lot of running is letting go of the mental or intellectual aspect and running with your pure spirit. It really helped to have a job that required a lot of analysis and thinking because I could do that and then running still felt like fun and pleasure. Combined with the opportunity to work with Professor Hadley Arkes, [the Edward Ney Professor in American Institutions,] everything seemed to fit together perfectly.

JD: Will you continue to compete?

SG: I’m at a crossroads right now, trying to decide what I’m going to do next year. After the Canadian trials, I was intending to have some downtime visiting my sister and some Amherst friends in New York. I did a big 10K road race in Central Park and—this is kind of a crazy story—I ended up winning the  race. The prize was a trip to Italy next year to run in another race in Naples. So I will be running in that, but I’m not sure what else I will be doing.