Going the distance

Senior cross country runner takes lead

Feet pounding the dirt. Rows of corn rolling by. Panting breaths. Early morning practices. Senior Andrew Shields experiences all of these as a part of the cross country team. He is an all-district runner and a leader on the team. Shields started his journey running as a fifth grader at Johnson Elementary.

“In fifth grade, we had Johnson Joggers, which is where we did laps every Friday and the person with the most laps got a gold medal at the end of the year,” Andrew said. “We also had the Turkey Trot, which is where we ran about a mile and first place got a ribbon.” 

Andrew became interested in running because he thought it was a cool thing to do and wanted to win the prize. Now his motivations have changed.

“Running is now more about bettering myself,” Andrew said. “I know that’s what a lot of people say, but running has helped me move forward in life.”

Cross country coach Justin Havens has seen Andrew’s improvement with each passing year.

“At first, Andrew struggled with self-confidence and understanding how good he is,” Havens said. “Once he realized how good he can be, he really excelled and became one of the top runners.” 

With Havens’ guidance and a lot of hard work, Andrew has been able to excel in his running.

“Andrew’s an all-district runner now,” Havens said. “He’s grown in his ability to commit to and stick to difficult tasks no matter the circumstances.” 

Andrew’s mother, Samantha Shields, also notices the positive impact running has on Andrew.

“Running has taught Andrew how to set and pursue a goal, self-discipline, and how to prioritize competing demands,” Shields said. “It has also given him a community to be a part of, not to mention the health benefits of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”

Andrew recognizes how the sport has changed him over the last few years and appreciates what he has been able to learn.

“When I’m running, I have to be disciplined and keep with it daily, which comes with sacrifices like not going out with friends as much and getting up early,” Andrew said. “Then I can take those skills of discipline and sacrifice and put them in other areas of my life, and they can really help me fine tune and learn more at school.”

Andrew has used discipline and sacrifice to improve himself and help other runners start their own journey.

“Running throughout high school provides Andrew an opportunity to develop as a leader,” Shields said. “He encourages others, mentors younger teammates, and has earned a team captain position.”

With Andrew’s experience and growth in cross country, he is able to lead the rest of his teammates.

“As a senior, Andrew’s one of the athletes I count on to be a leader,” Havens said. “The seniors run the warmups and organize the rest of the team to get them ready for workouts or when we get to a meet. That’s his job as a leader, making sure everyone is where they need to be.”

Andrew’s job of leading and organizing the group is important since it helps each runner become an effective part of the team.

“Cross country is definitely a team sport because even though you run individual times, the entire team gets scored,” Andrew said. “Also, each morning at practice, we’re running to help better the team, not just better yourself.”

The bond the cross country team has formed leads them to socialize together in and out of school.

“This is a small team, and we work as a family,” Havens said. “We work together, and we occasionally get together on weekends and go for what we call a fun run, and then we go eat breakfast afterwards.”

Junior Bryan Ibarra recognizes that Andrew is a really good runner and has guided him and the team as a whole.

“Andrew helps motivate me in practice,” Bryan said. “Today we were trying to figure out where to run and he found a new route and it helped us follow a safer path. I really like how he’s contributed to the team because a lot of seniors don’t really show up, but this year he’s participated and impacted the team.”

Andrew understands the importance of the team motivating each other especially when he gets tired.

“Teammates definitely help and motivate me to keep going forward even when I might not want to,” Andrew said. “They kind of give me a reminder that I’m not alone while I’m running.”

With a strong team supporting each other, Havens believes his runners will be successful this year in competitions.

“I’m hoping to see Andrew and several of his teammates make it to the regional championships this season,” Havens said. “Since Bryan became a 6A school, we’ve only had one runner qualify for regional championships. We’re hoping to get two to four runners there this year.”

Andrew enjoys running and believes it will be a part of his life for years to come.

“I would like to try and run in college whether that be at a D1 school or a D3 school, it doesn’t really matter,” Andrew said. “Running is something that I’d like to do until I can’t run anymore.”