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Fresno State sophomore Sami Shields

From CROW CREEK to Fresno State - MY LIFE IN STRIDES - Sami Shields
Oct 18, 2017

Guest authored by Sami Shields - A two-time state qualifier on the track and three-time qualifier in cross country in high school, earning all-conference and all-state honors during the 2015 season, Shields competed at Northern State during her freshman season (2016-17). She holds personal bests of 2:25.89 in the 800m, 3:07.80 in the 1K, 5:02.59 in 1500m and 5:25.13 in the indoor mile.

Waking up inside a car that had just rolled nine times was the moment I realized everything I have in this life is not a given, but they are a blessing. From my family, friends, education, to my gift of running. When we lost control of the car, I was not wearing my seatbelt. My sister and aunt were both in the car with me. My aunt was driving and was thrown from the vehicle with several serious injuries. My sister and I both walked away with a few minor physical injuries, but tremendous emotional damage. Although, I had a serious physical injury that I did not know of until later. To this day, I cannot explain how we walked away with small injuries. The accident was a game changer for everyone around me, my life, faith, and running career.

My name is Sami Shields and I am a Cross Country and Track runner at California State University, Fresno. I am twenty years old and I have been running since I was about five years old. I am from Aberdeen, SD and I am enrolled in the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe. I grew up with my sister, Erica Shields, and we were both raised by our mother, Cheryl Sam.


Our mother sacrificed so much for us. Her spirit is one of a kind and she has such a beautiful soul. My mom will always be my biggest fan and number one supporter. I can only count three meets she was not at throughout my whole fifteen years of running. Growing up in a single parent home was a struggle and we faced hard times.


Even though my small family faced hardship, we had so much support from friends and family. The love from family throughout my childhood was extremely evident. Love was and is always abundant. My grandparents, Josie and David Ducheneaux, were always around and extremely supportive. Along with my aunts, Nikki and Cam Ducheneaux, who always did their best to take care of my sister and I. I could go down a whole list of people during my childhood who have given me endless support and love but they know who they are. My running career is filled with an amazing support system and I consider them all my family, regardless if we are related or not. My support system grows continuously.


In elementary school, my favorite times of the year were Thanksgiving, Christmas break, and Track and Field day. I was placed in many sports as a child, but always had a passion for running. When Track and Field day came around I was beyond prepared and overjoyed. Most of the time, I took first in each distance but I was never the sprinting type so I had to settle for second. My gym teacher, Dianne Kost, was a Cross Country coach for Aberdeen Central. She gave me a packet of papers with information about Cross Country. I remember reading it and thinking, “What the heck is Cross Country? Do you really go across the country?” My mom sat me down and explained it was a long distance running program.


Cross country was the only sport sixth graders could go out for and my mom told me I should at least try to see if I like the sport. As the season went on, I was progressing and also winning races against other schools. My first year of Cross Country I placed top five all season. I completely fell in love with the feeling of winning and competing. Although, this is not what kept me in the sport. I loved the feeling of my hard work paying off and seeing myself reach goals I never thought I would. I fell in love with all the ways my faith was reaching others and softening my heart.

A few years passed and I was going through the motions of running and seasons. Having fun and not taking it super serious but still somewhat working hard. I had teammates that had season ending injuries and had to hang up the spikes. Of course, as we all think, “That will never happen to me.” Also, taking the gift given by God for granted. The summer of 2012 came and my car accident happened. Although I did not sustain any serious injuries, I dislocated my hip while the car was rolling. My hip adjusted itself and I felt no pain until Cross Country season was in full swing.


The Conference meet came around and I felt like my hip was being torn off. I finished and collapsed in pain. I had bruising and swelling but no one could figure out what happened or where it came from. I went to see multiple doctors and had multiple tests done. The results, a hip impingement and a labral tear. A hip impingement is when there is excess bone on the ball part of the joint, I had this prior to the accident but never bothered me. A labral tear is a tear in the cartilage that surrounds the joint and holds it together. Dislocating my hip in the accident and having excess bone is what caused the tear. The bones in my hip were rubbing together from the cartilage not being there and the bones were also catching the nerves around it. This caused me excruciating pain and there were days I could barely walk.


I saw five different doctors from South Dakota and North Dakota. Three of them were throwing out words a runner does not want to hear like surgery, sitting out, career ending, and no running, period. I missed the rest of my season and missed my freshman year of track. How could something I cherish be taken from me so quickly? Had I done something that I was being punished for? Was God mad at me? Why me? Why not someone who doesn’t run? All questions that I wanted immediate answers for.


Sitting out gave me time to realize what I have is not a talent everyone has. I was chosen. God had chosen me. This was also a time where my relationship with Christ grew tremendously. For a while I talked to the Lord and I asked all the questions. I did all the talking, but was not willing to listen to His word. I laid down my battle before Him and I listened. What I heard was, “You were chosen, do you not see? This is my blessing upon you. You are using this for your own selfish reasons.”


As I continued to grow in my faith I began to think that this was not the end and this was not God’s plan for my life. We went to different doctors and I received a hip injected and a tough several weeks of physical therapy. It was never a quick process but I needed to pursue God’s Will for my life. Even if that means I do not always win or receive outstanding titles, I know I can always reach people through Christ.


Getting back to running after being out for several months was the toughest mental game I have ever gone through. Everyone knew I was out for a while and basically gave up on me. Comments like, “You will never be the same.” “You won’t be as fast.” “You use to be such a good runner.” All these comments were hard to hear, but they were right. I wouldn’t be the same because I would be better. I wouldn’t be as fast because I would be faster. I won’t be a good runner, I’ll be the best. Something I will never forget are the people who gave up on me but also the people who still saw the light in me and the fire that flickered behind my eyes.


Each morning at five my mom would wake me up, drop me off six miles outside of town and I would have to run back home. There were mornings I did not want to wake up and the one word my mom would have to say was, “State.” I wanted to go to the State Cross Country Meet so bad. We did hill work and strength training. People weren’t willing to coach me because I wasn’t the star, yet. I came home one day and said, “Mom there are so many people who don’t believe in me. Why should I keep doing this?” I wanted to walk away from the sport because no one was looking at me. She told me to pick my head up and I’ll never forget the words she told me. She said, “You don’t need anyone to believe in you. The only person you need to believe in you, is you.” I made sure at every practice, no one worked harder than me. You can be faster and better than me, but I will always outwork you. I trained like I had never trained before. My comeback, that is what my mom calls it.


I went from the bottom of junior varsity to being the fourth runner on varsity. One goal down, time to set a new one. I’ve always been stubborn and hardheaded when it comes to running. I didn’t take days off, but I always listened to my body. When I wanted something, I was going to do everything to get it. My next goal was to have my picture put up in my school’s hallway. Each day I walked down the hall was motivation to fight that much harder. My junior year I progressed even further and did okay at the State Meet. I was so focused on that picture I didn’t pay attention to colleges who were trying to get in contact with me. My senior year came around and I trained all summer. I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of my picture. I pushed myself to so many limits and tested how much my body could handle. That year I placed tenth in the Eastern South Dakota Conference and twentieth at the State Cross Country Meet. Not only did I get one picture in the hallway, I got four of them.


The training I put into my career came from the heart, pure dedication, and my faith. Although I had good intentions for my career, I was going to do whatever it took to reach my goals. With that being said, I faced another struggle and a whole other mental game. I would see pictures of runners and they were always super skinny. My body type was different. I came up against disordered eating. What I mean by this is I wasn’t eating normally. This was not an eating disorder, but consisted of food restriction and anxiety about the amount I was consuming. I wanted to have the “ideal” body of a runner.


I struggled with eating twelve hundred calories a day. As a female athlete, I needed about twenty-five to twenty-seven hundred calories a day. I was nowhere close to even half of that. I wanted to burn more calories than I was eating to lose weight. I heard coaches talk about being a lighter runner is to be a faster runner. It worked for me for several weeks, but my body was craving nourishment. I weighed lighter but the reverse happened, I was becoming slower. Because my body didn’t get the type of fuel it needed and it was deteriorating. I wanted an edge on my competition and I thought this was the answer. I was so far from being right. I was so far from being a healthy, strong runner.


Every runner is different and every body is different. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college I changed my eating habits to several small meals and snacks a day and saw significant results. In order for my body to perform the way I wanted it to, I had to fuel it properly. I weighed the most I had ever weighed in my life and I was hitting huge personal bests in the weight room and on the track. I was so much stronger and my body was responding the way I wanted it to. Regardless of a few injuries I had, I accepted the truth that I was not like other runners. There is no ideal body for a runner. I have learned to listen to my body. It was not an easy journey but as always, the Lord showed me I am the best me when I am who He created me to be.


Finally, colleges were starting to send letters to my school to get my attention. I contacted a few and ended up signing with Northern State University. Had a great freshman year there and faced a few bone related injuries due to a vitamin D deficiency. I hit personal records in the mile and the 800. I was also lifting intensely. I was at a new level and I had to step it up.  I looked at schools in California and contacted a few coaches. My current coach was excited to hear from me and opened many doors for me to transfer. I am now a Division I athlete pursing my next goal of being an All-American. I currently struggle with a vitamin D deficiency but I am well taken care of where I’m at and the Sports Medicine team is pushing my vitamin D levels up.


I’ve faced many trials as a runner and I cannot emphasize enough that without my faith and my support system, I would not be where I am at now. I can relate to just about any injury or struggle a runner comes in contact with. I may not have all the answers but I will always do my best to comfort other runners and let them know they are not alone. I know I needed that when I was going through my struggles. Since I didn’t have that support, I make sure other runners do.


Faith has always played a huge role in my life. I grew up in church and my mom always told me how important a relationship with the Lord is. Even though it took a traumatic accident to happen, my faith is something I am proud of. Again, I do not have all the answers and sometimes I do all the talking when I pray but I know through it all, Jesus never leaves me. He feels my pain. He feels my sadness. When my heart breaks, His does too. He feels all the bad in my life but He also feels the joy and the love. When I walk through valleys, He is there beside me. Not only is He there, but He is also there when I get to the tops of my mountains.


As a Christian, I will always need Jesus. Not just in the trials and tribulations, but also in the triumphs and trophies. I will not run to the track to make me the best, but I will run to Christ to make me His best. I have prayed with and over my teammates before every race. But I was also given many opportunities to pray over other teams and competitors before each race. I will continue to do my best to touch the hearts of others with Christ’s love because He loved me first. Moments like those will always hold a special place in my heart. The glory will always be given to God.


My mom will always be my rock and be the person who held up me when I couldn’t. My family who stood by me and supported me endlessly through the worst will always have a place in my heart.


 My boyfriend is new to my running world because his world has always been wrestling. He will always be one of the most dedicated, hardest working, most passionate people I have every encountered in my life. His spirit is one of a kind and truly unique. He teaches me to be better and to become more and more humble. He has been so supportive of me and my crazy dreams. He always goes above and beyond for me. At this point in my life I am truly grateful for him and I do not know where I would be without his support and love.

All of these people have their individual titles and place in my heart, but they are all my coaches. They remind me why I do what I do and they make everyone second worth it. My passion for the sport runs deep within me. There is no feeling that can compare to finishing an impossible workout or winning a race. Lacing up my spikes will always fill my heart.


In closing, if you are an athlete reading this, know that I am on your side. I believe in you. You were not given such a talent by accident. You have a purpose and you are chosen. If you are a part of the native community, know I will always represent our culture to my best ability. I run for my family, for myself, but most importantly for God.


I will leave you with these words. Never give up on what your heart desires most. There is always enough time. You have what it takes. The Lord knows the desires of your heart and He never fails, but it will always be in His timing.  Keep chasing your dreams and put in the work others won’t. When the process gets tough, try it with God and put your whole heart into it. I promise the grind will be worth it. 

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