Runner Has Eyes On Two Prizes: Olympics, Ph.D. | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Runner Has Eyes On Two Prizes: Olympics, Ph.D.

Play associated audio

Among the dozens of athletes hoping to leap, throw or run their way to London as part of the U.S. track and field team is 24-year-old runner Shannon Leinert.

Leinert, who will compete in the 800-meter dash, has dreamed of the Olympics since she was 10 and winning races in St. Louis, her hometown. If that weren't enough, she's also working on a doctoral degree in special education.

Leinert now trains at the University of Missouri-Columbia track that revived her college career and allowed her to think seriously about the Olympics. It was also on this campus that she fell in love with special-needs students and decided to try to earn a doctoral degree.

Leinert then chose to tackle training and studying at the same time.

"At the beginning ... it was such an easy decision," Leinert says, "because I felt like school and running is a great complement for each other."

Dan Quigley, Leinert's boyfriend and sometime training partner, wasn't alone in thinking that probably wasn't the best idea.

"I've continually challenged her to lighten her load a little bit in terms of school so she can be more competitive," Quigley says. "I see this as a kind of once or twice in a lifetime opportunity, but she continues to challenge herself both in school and off the track. She never backs down from anything."

Leinert appears to be the ultimate multitasker, but she acknowledges that it took time to adjust to the demands placed on her by the high level of both academics and athletics.

"I think my running suffered a lot," she says. "Then this year, I'd say I've been a little more selfish with my running, and I'll close my laptop around 11:30 and just go to bed."

Fred Binggeli, who coached the 1988 Olympic champion in the men's 800 meters, has worked with Leinert for the past two years. He says once everything clicked for her, the difference was night and day.

"You saw a happy person; you saw a positive person," Binggeli says. "She only had one two-week period during the whole year that she seemed like she wasn't going to be able to handle everything; she was able to fight through that and get better and better and better."

That ability doesn't surprise Leinert's college coach, Rebecca Wilmes, who says for athletes in Leinert's situation, there's a lot of soul-searching.

"She had to go through it and get to the other side, still rolling and loving it," Wilmes says. "Things come together for her. It's a pattern."

Leinert is definitely rolling. When the outdoor track season started in March, she was completing the two laps of an 800-meter race in 2 minutes, 7 seconds. Earlier this month, her time was down to just a hair over 2 minutes.

She'll need to be even faster, though, to get to London: just under 2 minutes. Does she think she can do it?

"Yeah, I do. Especially after my workout the other day, I really would not be surprised this time if I went under 2 [minutes]," she says.

Binggeli is just as confident. He says it's nice to see Leinert end on a high note after struggling.

"If nothing else, she's going to come out with a personal best timewise," he says. "She's still young enough that if she doesn't make this Olympic team, you need to look four more years down the road."

The 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro are already on Leinert's mind. On her agenda before that: defending her dissertation next year.

The U.S. Olympic trials in track and field begin Thursday in Eugene, Ore.

Copyright 2012 KWMU-FM. To see more, visit http://www.stlpublicradio.org.

NPR

Mafia Wife, Getaway Driver, Stunt Woman: From The Underworld To Hollywood

Georgia Durante's career as a stunt driver has led to roles in car commercials and movies. But before the bright lights of Hollywood, the former model was speeding away from a dark past.
NPR

Syrup Induces Pumpkin-Spiced Fever Dreams

Hugh Merwin, an editor at Grub Street, bought a 63-ounce jug of pumpkin spice syrup and put it in just about everything he ate for four days. As he tells NPR's Scott Simon, it did not go well.
NPR

All Eyes On Obama, World Leaders At Climate Change Summit

More than 120 leaders are expected to attend the one-day climate summit sponsored by the United Nations. They've been instructed to arrive with "bold ideas" to slow the rise in global temperatures.
NPR

Drivers, Passengers Say Uber App Doesn't Always Yield Best Routes

People love Uber, but they often complain the Uber app's built-in navigation doesn't give its drivers the best directions. The company says the app helps drivers and passengers travel efficiently.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.