The Next Rep is the Hardest: A Runner’s Life

by Shantelle Slaughter

Participating in conditioning workouts was a choice I volunteered to make, in a way. I come from a highly sports-related background. My dad is a retired professional football player, but he also played nearly every other sport in the book in his younger years. He trained both of my older sisters in track for as long as I could remember. I would tag along to their training sessions and watch them run lap after lap, hunching over in exhaustion after each rep. This started when I was only five years old, my older sister was ten, and my oldest sister was fifteen. My dad thought I was way too young to join them and at most would only allow me to announce, “ready, set, go!” to begin their reps at practice. At the age of five, though, that was satisfying enough, but after a while I wanted to be more included. I volunteered to run alongside my sisters, anxious to see if my dad would even let me.

One day, surprisingly, he told me to get on the line. He let me run a 400 with my sisters, but his tone did not seem confident in my abilities. It seemed as though he was only letting me run with them to avoid any controversy with me or just as a way of entertainment, not because he actually thought I would be skillful. Even still, if I knew one thing about how my father thought, it was that if you’re going to do something at all, do it well. That was the first unspoken expectation ever set for me in my athletic career, to get on that line with my sisters and give my best effort; even though he never presented it verbally, I knew the bar was set. That really made me want to show him I was more than capable of being an athlete just like my sisters. After he said “go” I took off running with a focused face and smooth form. As I came upon the 200, I was still neck-and-neck with my sisters. The speed came almost effortlessly to me. Closing in on the 300 I began to fall behind, not because I was tired, but because my little legs could only turnover so fast. My chest became tighter and it was more challenging to breathe; meanwhile my sisters pushed ahead. During the last 100 I found a way to accelerate even still, shocking myself that I had any energy left. I crossed the finish line and made sure I remained strong enough to just walk off the track instead of bending over to catch my breath, a facade to show my dad that it was a breeze for me. I didn’t beat my sisters, of course, but I wasn’t far behind them at all. That was surprising for my age. I was a natural.

That was my first athletic test and I passed. From then on I was running every day as if my life depended on it. I was no longer just the five year old who only said “go!” From then the standards kept getting higher. Middle school is when sports in school began. Everything coaches had me run in practice came easy to me, so in meets they entered me in many events. At the time, my endurance was extremely developed (thanks to my father) and I ran long distances such as the 1500 meter, the 4×800 meter, and the 4×400 meter. In high school, I was a pretty decent distance runner, but I thrived at shorter distances. In my junior year of high school, I asked to run an open 200m and 400m in a meet. My coach decided it would be good to give my body a break from what I usually ran and entered me in those two events. Even without the proper sprint training, I ran incredibly well in both. From then on I remained a sprinter and left my long distance days behind me. That is when I began training for sprints, which earned me a generous scholarship to Houston Baptist University, where I am now finishing my junior year out strong. It was such a relief to reap rewards from all of the hard work I was sowing, I felt so blessed.

Shantelle Slaughter

Winning versus losing. This is what makes up a track runner’s purpose; it is what she is defined by. This is what clouds my mind throughout the day. Little does everyone know, thinking about my races is another form of practicing them. I often find myself in a class completely unrelated to track, like Philosophy or Writing, thinking about what exactly to do with my body, or how my pacing should be at different parts of my races. I should be learning and getting deeper into my Mass Media career, yet I cannot resist letting my thoughts be consumed by my career now, track. Track and field is a mental sport. What do other sports do for a punishment? Run. Track runners run as their sport which is why it is so tough. I need physical/emotional/mental strength to tackle it.

Believe it or not, I have various other interests besides track, but nobody really pays mind to those, most likely because those interests are not what keep my scholarship. I am defined by performance. Ever since I began my collegiate career, I am no longer “Shantelle Slaughter.” I am now “the 56 second 400 meter sprinter,“ “the last leg of the 4×400 meter relay,” and “the junior with one more year left.” What will I do with my last year of track representing my college? Will I compete as well as what is expected of me? I am nearing the end of my collegiate student-athlete journey and expectations are still rolling in at full speed.

Apart from the pressure, the expectations have helped to structure the athlete I am today. Knowing I am a female running to maintain my scholarship or to stay on a relay team or to keep different coaches satisfied gives me an even greater drive to succeed. Knowing that I do this for people beyond myself—for my family and the friends supporting me—really frames the competitor I am today. I appreciate the struggles, the many things anticipated of me, and even the challenges I face as a woman in this field.

The real challenge is to not be defined by this sport, but to give it a definition. What is my definition of track? It is not hard work or team or even just running itself. The definition of track, to me, is strength. Having the strength to get around the mental road blocks, having the strength to work hard rain or shine under any circumstances, having the strength to keep the faith in yourself and our Lord even when it is all taking a toll on you, and, of course, when it isn’t. These are also the things that form my identity.

Shantelle Slaughter is Houston native and student-athlete. She majors in Mass Media Arts at HBU.

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