Entered among the host of local runners looking for bids to Rio at next week’s Olympic Trials will be a Flagstaff native living his childhood dream.
Sinagua High School graduate and former Lumberjack Brian Shrader will run the 5000-meter event at the 2016 United States Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon. A 13-time state champion for Sinagua, two-time All-American in cross country and Big Sky medalist on the track for Northern Arizona University, Shrader’s pursuit of a trials bid has been a long time coming.
After earning his third consecutive Arizona Daily Sun Boys Track Athlete of the Year award in 2010, Shrader said, “If I was in another city, I think running would be the girlie sport. I've always been an outdoors man and there's all these trails in Flagstaff to go on and I've never been very good at biking, and hiking kind of took too long. So, I said to myself, 'Well, if I want to see everything, I guess I'll just start running.'
"In middle school, I'd go out pretty far. It wasn't training or anything, I wasn't meaning to go far, I would just go far just because I was having fun looking around,” Shrader said at the time. “I guess it worked out for me without me realizing it."
Now he’s achieving what he sought out to do all those years ago: running around town.
“It is just an absolute dream come true for me,” Shrader said from Oregon, where he ran a meet in Portland this week ahead of the trials. “I know a lot of people have huge ambitions to go to the Olympics -- which obviously is a dream as well -- but for me this is just as big. It is something I have always dreamed of, going to the trials.”
Since he chose to forgo his college eligibility following the 2013-14 season, ending with a silver medal as Northern Arizona swept the podium in the 5000m at the Big Sky Conference Outdoor Championships in Flagstaff, Shrader’s pursuit of a professional running career has led him to be on the verge of achieving his dream.
Sponsored by Saucony, Shrader said he was lucky to have a sponsorship as steady as he does while now having to treat running as a job. Joking that he isn’t living on an outrageous salary, Shrader said the feeling of entering road races solely to make money was at times a stressful experience.
“It definitely wasn’t the smoothest of transitions; getting into the professional running lifestyle was actually pretty tough,” Shrader said. “There have been some learning experiences and growing up, that’s for sure. In terms of the training and racing, everything is starting to click and I am in a good spot right now.”
Sitting with the 20th-best time among those entered in the 5000m, 13:29.13, Shrader might run along with former Lumberjacks teammate and training partner Diego Estrada. A former Olympian, having run the 10,000m in London four years ago, Estrada provides Shrader with a helpful resource during the high-pressure race coming up.
“We have a reputation now on the U.S. road running team because we are always traveling to meets together and have these strategies together,” Shrader said. “I think we are more of a package deal now. It’ll be nice having him up there at the trials; he is definitely someone who has all the experience. He has been to the Olympics, he is someone that I can easily talk to and can calm me down.”
Running alongside Olympians and world-class runners on the circuit (and while training in his hometown), Shrader said he still doesn't see himself as part of that group. Shrader added that other runners are surprised to hear he is a Flagstaff native, with the city’s reputation as a training ground outweighing the thought of a born-and-raised runner reaching his level.
Having attended the Olympic Trials as a kid, Shrader said he looks back to that moment as the beginning of his running career. Surrounded by the excitement as a spectator, he now looks forward to the chance to be on the track rather than in the crowd.
“The fact that I am able to kind of represent Flagstaff, being born there and raised there, it is nothing short of an absolute dream come true for me,” Shrader said. “I really do feel like it has come full circle at this point. Getting into the sport, this is what made me kind of fall in love with it and kind of show me this is what I want to do.”
PART OF THE CREW
Shrader will be on the track on Monday, July 4, for the first round of the men’s 5000m before potentially running in the finals on July 9. NBC and NBC Sports Network will air selected event finals during the trials, including the finals of the 3000m steeplechase, 5000m and 10000m runs.
He will be joined by many in Flagstaff’s running community, as a contingent of runners will compete from HOKA ONE ONE NAZ Elite, Team Run Flagstaff Pro and Northern Arizona University. The majority of athletes heading to the trials will run in the three long-distance races while a pair of Lumberjacks will compete on the field. The men’s 10,000m final will open the trials on July 1. The first round of the men’s 3000m steeplechase will be on July 4, with the final on July 8.
Along with Shrader, a mix of current and former Lumberjacks will run at the trials. Futsum Zienasellassie, Brooke Andersen and Caleb Hoover will compete from this past season’s track and field, while Lopez Lomong, Deante Kemper and Estrada compete as alumni.
Including current NAZ Elite runner Rochelle Kanuho, the 2012-13 Northern Arizona track and field team touted six athletes who are headed to the trials: Shrader, Estrada, Zienasellassie, Kemper and Hoover.
Having competed for Mexico in the 2012 London Olympics, Estrada is set to run the 10,000m, in which he sits with the second-fastest time at 27:30.53, on the opening day of the trials. Also qualified for the 5000m, sitting eighth at 13:17.30, Estrada could potentially run both races.
Estrada ran in the Olympic Marathon Trials in February, but did not record a finish after dropping out following the 19-mile mark. The Big Sky Conference record holder for the 5000m in both indoor and outdoor, Estrada finished 21st in the 10,000m in London.
Up against Estrada in the 10,000m will be Zienasellassie, who ran a 27:52.70 at the Payton Jordan Invite in May, the fastest time in collegiate events this season. He backed it up by finishing second in the event at the NCAA Championships with a 29:10.68.
It was Zienasellassie's third appearance at the NCAA Championship meet, having also run the 10000m in 2015 and the 5000m in 2013. Along with his second-place finish at the NCAAs, Zienasellassie earned gold medals in the mile and 3000m at the Big Sky Indoor Championships and followed up with a silver in the mile and a gold in the 5000m at the Big Sky Outdoor Championships.
Hoover also competed at the NCAA Championships, finishing 12th in the 3000m steeplechase after running a career-best 8:33.77 in the semifinals. Ranking No. 3 in the nation with the time, Hoover finished up his eligibility with a strong final season.
After opening the season with a strong time, Hoover said he and Northern Arizona head coach Eric Heins were conservative in his total number of miles run since starting the outdoor season in March. The routine hasn’t changed much since the NCAAs two weeks ago.
“I am in pretty good shape and there was not a need to change anything,” Hoover said. “I got my PR in the preliminary round and although I didn't do so well in the final, I hit a barrier. I think I am right where I need to be.”
Having finished as an All-American and Big Sky champion twice in the steeplechase, as well as a two-time conference champion in the 5000m, Hoover admitted that his goals changed from earlier in his career.
“I imagine running at the trials will be the highlight of my career thus far,” Hoover said. “Eventually I hope to make it to the finals and give myself the chance to be a contender for making the team, but right now I am happy to make it to the trials. Last year, my only goal in running was to make it to the trials because I wanted to be able to say that I have at least made it there. Now that I am a little faster, my goals are a little bigger.”
Having redshirted the outdoor season, Andersen spent the past few months preparing for the trials rather than competing for the Lumberjacks. The decision came after this past indoor season, where Andersen earned a bronze medal at the Big Sky Championships in weight throw.
“It was decided by Coach Heins and Coach (Nathan) Ott that I would redshirt in order to train for the trials,” Andersen said. “They believed that I had a good shot at going to the Olympic trials, and decided that it would be better to rest me and to focus on the trials, rather than compete this season.”
Backed by both her head coach and position coach, Andersen conceded to skip the outdoor schedule to prep for the trials. With no meets to compete in during the outdoor season, Andersen said her routine changed slightly in preparation for the trials. Looking to peak with her best throws when the hammer event takes place on July 6, Andersen said she worked with Ott on heavier weight training workouts as she looked to boost her strength in addition to perfecting her technique.
Three years into her career, with just two years of eligibility used for indoor and outdoor, Andersen finished as all-conference honoree in the hammer throw during her first two seasons. Andersen also reached the NCAA West Preliminaries in each of those seasons and sits second in school history in the hammer throw.
While the awards thus far in her career have been notable, Andersen said the trials will only increase the confidence she has built early in her career.
“Being able to compete with some of the best women hammer throwers in the country will help me further realize that I am good enough to compete with the women at this high of a level,” Andersen said. "This is an amazing experience the coaches at Northern Arizona have helped me reach and I'm really looking forward to representing Northern Arizona University and myself.”
Andersen will be joined by her position coach, Ott, at the trials.
Two other former Lumberjacks are set for the trials.
Lomong, who also ran in London in 2012, will be looking for another berth in the 5000m after finishing 10th in the Olympic race four years ago. He also ran the 1500m in Beijing in 2008 and a berth in Rio would be Lomong’s third Summer Olympics.
Lastly, Kemper will compete in the high jump. Holding the school record in indoor at 7-04.25 and outdoor at 7-03.75, Kemper won five Big Sky Conference championships between indoor and outdoor high jump during his career. The first round of the high jump will be held on July 8 and the finals on July 10.