Jan. 24, 2002
When summer rolls around and it's time to hang up the track cleats for the last time, Husky senior hurdler Kelsey Sheppard hopes to be remembered with respect, and not just for her impressive career marks.
Oh, she did take fourth in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2000 Pac-10 meet as a sophomore, and followed that up with a top-20 finish at the NCAA Championships. Sure, she's the fourth-fastest Husky in history in the 400-meter hurdles, and eighth all-time in the 100-meter hurdles, but Sheppard understands that respect is the product of more than just a fast time or a good finish.
"There are the athletes that people remember for their athletic achievements, but I want people to remember me for my work ethic - coming to practice and doing the workout the best I can every day," she says. "I would rather be remembered for my dedication, instead of how fast I ran."
Hard work and dedication have paid off for Sheppard since her days across the lake at Kirkland's Lake Washington High School. As a junior, she won the 300-meter hurdles state championship, and followed up that performance with a sweep of the 100- and 300-meter hurdles events at the 1998 state meet. Her double-win that season earned Sheppard tournament MVP honors and a nomination for the prestigious Wendy's High School Heisman.
Sheppard was also highly recruited by the likes of Stanford and California, but opted to stay close to home, and join head coach Orin Richburg at Washington. Making the move to college presented some challenges on and off the track, which forced Sheppard to alter her outlook on workouts and practices.
"Freshman year was hard because of moving away from home, and leaving my high school coach," she says. "In college, there are 100 people on the team and everyone is good - everyone's a state champ - and you don't get the individual attention that you did in high school. It's an adjustment."
Besides getting used to a more intense schedule and a higher level of competition, Sheppard also had to get used to a new event - the 400-meter hurdles, an event roughly 110 yards longer than what Sheppard had run in high school.
"Your freshman year in the 400-meter hurdles is hard because there is no 400 meter hurdles in high school. Its like a whole new event," she says. "Everything you've done in high school helps, but it's not the same event. Your freshman year is a wash - if you get some O.K. times, you should be happy. Sophomore year was a lot better."
Sheppard also runs the 4x400-meter relay and the 100-meter hurdles, but her focus remains on the 400-meter hurdles and a return to the NCAA Championships. "When I was running at nationals, I didn't feel the competition was astronomical because the Pac-10 is pretty tough," says Sheppard. " My sophomore year both the men's and women's 400-meter hurdles NCAA champions were from the Pac-10. We have a tough conference."
Although the clear focus for Sheppard has always been to improve in her events, this year she has made another goal - to have fun, and enjoy her last year. "In the past I've tried to set goals like, 'I want to run this time, I want to take this place,'" she says. "This year my goal, since it's the last time for everything, is to just enjoy it the most I can. I want to enjoy my teammates and to travel with them. I think the times will come with that if I'm having fun."
Once the season, and Sheppard's collegiate experience, comes to an end after graduation in June, she is ready to move on to the next phase of her life. "It'll be weird, but I'd like to get a job, and travel," she says. "I want to do things that I haven't been able to do in the past with track. Right now, though, I want to get to June, then think about it."
Graduation is June 15th. The NCAA Championships are May 29-June 1. For Sheppard, they mark one last chance to earn respect, to leave behind a legacy of hard work and dedication.