Shearer-Hannah, Birade testaments to Master's track program

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 24, 2013 

Bellingham's Amanda Shearer-Hannah runs a leg in the 4x400 relay at the Hayward Classic in June at Eugene, Ore.

NED HANNAH — Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A devastating shoulder injury prevented Amanda Shearer-Hannah from competing as a triathlete.

She knew the rehabilitation would be long and painful, making a return to the rigorous sport an uncertainty.

What the shoulder injury couldn't rob her of was her appetite for competition. Extinguishing that flame would prove impossible.

"When you are an athlete and you want to compete, and you don't get to do what you thought you wanted to do, you are just out there looking," Shearer-Hannah said in a phone interview. "We don't always get to choose... (just) take it and move forward in some direction and allow ourselves to be surprised about what that new path might yield for us."

She had always been a good runner, a friend made sure of reminding her. So when it came time to venture off, allowing for the prospect of surprise, the Master's track program seemed like a perfect marriage.

And it was.

"Track has been a phenomenal fit for me," she said. "(It) has been the silver lining to that dark cloud."

Shearer-Hannah and Steve Grichel, Cami Grichel, Henry James, Brent Carbajal, Julie Benner and Dena Birade have all found success in competing for Whatcom County's Masters Track and Field team. That success hasn't been in a vacuum in the Pacific Northwest, either.

Shearer-Hannah finished fourth in the 400 and third in the 800 at the USATF Outdoor Master's National Championships in Olathe, Kan., on June 29, while Birade finished first in the 100 and second in the 200.

While not a hard-and-fast training group, the Master's track program is a group of 10 to 20 runners that train together once a week in preparation for local and national track meets.

"Track is not a super popular sport for our ages, so when we gather, we all just understand what we are going through, and what we love about this sport," she said of why Master's track has been so welcoming to her. "That amount of support we can give each other is really phenomenal."

Make no mistake, Shearer-Hannah said, meets like Nationals aren't for those seeking a causal lap around the track. They're rigorous and demanding, racing against people from all around the country with backgrounds varying from collegiate standouts to former Olympians.

"The National meet is just very competitive and very deep," she said. "Compared with all the local meets, this is the one chance a year to bring the best people in our age groups and race."

Amid the humid and windy conditions in Kansas, Shearer-Hannah surprised even herself following her third-place finish in the 800.

Knowing two runners in the field were head-and-shoulders above the rest, a third-place finish would probably be the best she could do, she recalled before entering the race. Slotting in behind the women running third, Hannah-Shearer said she might as well let her lead and do all the work at first.

"At 300 meters, one woman took off, and I said, 'alright, you are going to have to go with her,'" she said.

With 100 meters to go, Shearer-Hannah peeled off, put some distance in between her and fourth place to capture something much more meaningful than a third-place medal.

"I think the sense I had was, 'you did it,'" she said. "'You moved through this. You suffered through a lot. You have dealt with a fair bit of adversity, and you did it.'"

Adversity laid claim to Birade, too, who overcame a nasty injury to her Achilles tendon to finish first in the 100 and second in the 200 at Nationals.

An injury such as hers - one that sidelined her for nearly two months - had her questioning everything about her immediate running future at the time.

"Many days where I was at the track, questioning why I was doing this. I really felt like I wanted to give up," she said in a phone interview.

"Maybe, just mentally, I am being weak," she thought to herself at the time.

She knew she could do the 100, that being her best event. The 200, though, presented an entirely different set of obstacles.

Because of the injury, Birade had only run the 200 once the entire season heading to Nationals. That's what made the second-place finish so rewarding, she said, overcoming the nerves and the fear of re-injury.

"Coming second, with the season how it went, it really motivates me next year to come back and try to get that title," she said.

Another goal entering next year for Birade? To set the Master's world record in the 100 for her age group.

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