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

Dean Jones, Herbie's Driver In Disney Movies, Dies At Age 84

Actor Dean Jones, who starred in The Love Bug, That Darn Cat! and other classic Walt Disney movies, also played the role of Bobby in the original Broadway cast of Stephen Sondheim's Company.
NPR

From Dock To Dish: A New Model Connects Chefs To Local Fishermen

Prominent chefs are signing up for restaurant-supported fisheries: They commit to buying fresh-caught seafood, whatever the species, from local small fishermen. A pilot program launched in California.
NPR

Fears Of Marijuana 'Monopoly' In Ohio Undercut Support For Legalization

Ohio will vote this fall on whether to legalize marijuana. The measure allows 10 growing sites; 10 groups of big investors already have dibs. Some would-be pot proponents are crying foul.
NPR

Yahoo CEO To Take Limited Leave After Giving Birth To Twins

NPR's Rachel Martin talks with Slate DoubleX Gabfest's Hanna Rosin about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to take just two weeks worth of parental leave after having twins in December.

Leave a Comment

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