Savannah Shaw must run fast because the Upper St. Clair graduate is always globetrotting.
While she travels extensively throughout the South, competing for the North Carolina Wolfpack track and cross country teams in the ACC, she traveled to Europe this spring to compete in the World Cross Country Championships, and now she is off to Colorado to work as a counselor at the Boulder Running Camps.
“It’s so exciting,” Shaw said of the hectic pace, “but I love running, and I enjoy competing. I really enjoy the sport, especially when I am having a good day.”
A lousy day at nationals sparked Shaw to do better. As a result, the 19-year-old sophomore enjoyed her best moment so far in her career. She worked to become one of the top young runners in the nation.
Shaw represented the United States in the World Cross Country Championships held March 30 in Denmark. She is the only USC athlete to ever qualify for this world-class event that featured the top women in the under-20 age group.
“Denmark is so gorgeous, and my experience was so cool because I got to train the whole week and run with some of the best runners in the world,” said Shaw.
Shaw added that Shalane Flanagan was one of her coaches. The American long-distance runner holds the country’s record for the 3,000- and 5,000-meter indoor races and 15K road race. The 2008 Olympic silver medalist in the 10,000 won the 2017 New York City Marathon.
“How cool is that?” said Shaw of having Flanagan as an adviser.
Just as neat was the special delivery that arrived at her door before leaving for Worlds. It contained everything she needed to represent the United States, including her race uniform.
“Opening this huge box of gear was very exciting. You see things like this at the Olympics. It’s then you realize, ‘hey, I’m running for Team USA.’ To me, that had to be the coolest thing.”
The best thing was Shaw improved her ranking. Before she had qualified for Worlds, she had finished a dismal 232nd at nationals at the NCAA cross country championships. At the World Championships, she placed 53rd with a 23.29 time. Additionally, she finished first among her countrymen.
“The race itself though was the hardest course I’ve run on although the distance was the same as in college,” she added of the 6-kilometer event. “It was a mentally challenging race. Straight up. But it also was exciting to line up next to my country and work together as a team.”
Whether running for the USA, North Carolina State or USC, the team has always factored into Shaw’s goals.
At USC, she helped the Panthers to new heights in both cross country and track while achieving personal gains. Shaw was a bronze medalist in the 2017 PIAA cross country championships and a WPIAL champion in the 1,600-meter run. She posted three Top-10 finishes at state championship meets in her scholastic career. She also was a finalist at the Foot Locker Nationals in cross country and a qualifier in the mile for the New Balance Outdoor Nationals.
As a freshman at North Carolina State, she competed in all cross country meets and scored for the Wolfpack during the ACC Championships, crossing the finish line in 21:05.5 for 25th place overall. She was 32nd at the NCAA Southeast Regional with a personal record time of 20:52.4.
After her showing at nationals, Shaw came back and secured a Top-6 finish at the USATF Junior Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee. She finished fifth overall with a 22:28.4 time to qualify for Worlds.
Shaw said Juniors was a reprieve race for her after nationals. “I was very motivated to qualify,” she said. “I wanted to make it.”
This autumn, Shaw wants to make a more significant impact. She wants to lead the Wolfpack to the ACC championship as a team. For herself, she would like to achieve All-ACC, All-Region honors as well as All-America recognition as a result of a strong showing at NCAAs. During the spring track season, Shaw hopes to make regionals and nationals. She also plans on doing a sub 4:20 in the 1,500-meter run.
That is why her trip to Colorado is so important. Not only will she serve as a counselor at the Boulder Running Camp, but she will also train at altitude.
“It is going to be quite helpful,” she said. “Training at that level forces the body to get used to conditions. Plus, there are great trails out there and running with the caliber of people I will be with will be very beneficial, too. This will be huge for me.”
Doug Petrick has been a considerable influence on her. Because of her high school coach, Shaw says she adjusted smoothly to collegiate competition. She also easily adapted to the demands placed on Division I student-athletes.
“Coach Petrick really, really prepared me for college,” she stressed. “ There really wasn’t a transition at all. Although the mileages were different, the intensity harder and the workouts harder, I was ready to handle them.
Shaw added she enjoyed traveling, even to the colder climates of Wisconsin, and she was able to balance academics. Shaw is majoring in marketing with a minor in history.
“It’s definitely a challenge, but I am managing,” she said. “If you stay on top of things and dedicate time to your studies, then it’s not such a challenge.”
Through her travels, mainly to Europe, Shaw gained a glimpse of the challenges ahead should she pursue a professional career. In Denmark, she saw the lifestyle the pros lead and met many of them. She also acknowledged the experience gained in adapting to competition levels as well as adjusting to various time zones.
“You have to be ready to compete,” she said. Noting how the Kenyan and Uganda runners took over at the World Championships, Shaw added, “How they go so fast, I don’t know. But, I would definitely like a shot at trying to be a professional. It will be a challenge, of course.”
While she is a cross country runner and eventually could evolve into a marathoner like Flanagan, Shaw prefers middle-distance events in track, with her specialty being the 1,500. It was that speed that netted her a scholarship to North Carolina State. That speed will also afford more significant opportunities.
After competing for the USA Team, Shaw now dreams of one day representing her country in the Olympics.
“Sign me up,” she said enthusiastically. “Yes, yes, I would love to be in the Olympics, but I’m only going to be a sophomore in college right now. No one knows for sure, but I would gladly do that if the opportunity comes along. It’s the luck of the draw, and it takes time and talent. So that is another big reason I would love to go pro.”
Throughout her career, Shaw has created her own opportunities, and she advises others with lofty aspirations to do the same. She didn’t plan on going to the Foot Locker regional and national competitions, but viewed it as a “great opportunity” when presented with the idea. She also did some of her own legwork getting recruited by sending emails to schools.
“Your dream school may not know you, but they will have an interest if you let them know who you are. The worst thing they can say is no. Be open to your opportunities. It takes time and energy. But don’t get discouraged. Keep trying. Anyone can play sports in college. It’s just a matter of where you end up. If you are passionate about what you are doing, then there is a place for you.”
If there isn’t a spot on a future United States Olympics Team for Shaw, there will always be a place for her in running. If not a professional, she believes she could end up working for Adidas like many of her fellow North Carolina State teammates.
“I enjoy being around running and I think staying close to the sport would be fun,” she said. “I’m just going to stay positive.”
Positivity, Shaw says, is the life lesson she has learned from running.
“Keep your eye on the end goal,” she advised. “There will be setbacks but stay positive and keep focused on what the objective is. For all of us, there are always more gems to come.”