Written by Rasheed Shabazz
Running is fascinating, even the word itself is versatile in the ways it’s used. Sometimes we go on grocery runs, or we run away from our problems, or we run for living. If you’re Shaniece Gregory, an Oswego State senior track and field star, running is your art form. However, with the current COVID-19 pandemic, reality has shifted upside down. We have each lost something during this surreal time, for Gregory it was her final track season.
It was the final day of the SUNYAC Women’s Indoor Track and Field championship, and Gregory was in her zone. Coming into the prelims she was ranked 7th, and she was determined to change that.
“When I got up to the blocks and the gun started, the only thing I was thinking about was just, ‘Go!’”
The gun fired and she became an artist and the track was her canvas.
“At the finish line it was between me and the girl, she came so close to me. Oh my god, I just beat her by a millisecond and that was the only thing I was happy about.”
As she caught her breath and relaxed her muscles, she glanced up at the electronic board, her time read 26.08 seconds. An exhale escaped her as she saw her new rank, 2nd.
“I went over, I was gathering myself and Coach Merrick came up next to me and was like, ‘You know you got the school record right?’ I was like, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t even realize that!’”
The Oswego State indoor track record for the 200 meters event now belonged to her. The euphoria still hadn’t fully set in yet, mainly because her accomplishment came so easily. Her extreme work ethic and devotion is what made her fly on the track. Just as she was getting into a groove, her season ended just as quickly. While rumors were circulating and the buzz about a potentially lost season were in the air before the announcement. There was simply no way that anyone could prepare for themselves for the disappointment that would follow. Kayla Guerre, an Oswego State sophomore and teammate of Gregor spoke about how she remembers their final practice.
“During the warmup we were talking about how coronavirus might take her last season away. We were just lightheartedly joking about it, and she was like, ‘Hey, this might be your last practice with me.’ It turns out it was, which is sad,” recalled Guerre.
Gregory has come so far, and worked so hard to get to where she is. Her path to track and field is an unorthodox one. Her first love was actually cross country. It wasn’t until her junior year of high school that she transitioned fully to track and field. While she loved the way track fed her competitive side, she often felt discouraged by her numbers. This lead to her stepping away from track during her freshman year of college.
The urge to compete returned during her sophomore year, so she joined the team. This time she was set on breaking her personal best of 61 seconds. If she couldn’t, she’d choose to officially hang it up for good. She shifted her focus to getting back into shape, which took more than half of her indoor track season.
“It was the second to last meet before our SUNYAC championships, I finally broke it, I ran a 60 and I was like. ‘Oh wow, this is it.”
She had reached a new plateau and there was no way she was looking back. Her confidence would grow over the years as she pushed herself harder. Once again she found herself having fun, and with that enjoyment came more drive. She worked on improving her front side mechanics and mastered the art of running while staying relaxed.
“She goes off and just gets in her zone, that’s how she mentally preps for her races. At practice she’s very machine like. She just goes and goes, she doesn’t look tired. She’s working hard, but she doesn’t show it,” said Guerre.
During that year’s outdoor season she bested her personal best, running a 58. Most people who know her deem her as shy, which is partially true. However, Guerre thinks her personality blossoms on the track.
“She’s actually very vocal, she knows what she’s talking about. She knows how to calm people down and diffuse a situation if she needs to. She always steps in if she has to. Once you get to know her she’s really sweet. She’s also like very motherly sometimes. Like if the team starts goofing off, she’d be the one to be like, ‘Hey we’ve gotta get back to work.'”
Now a senior with her final season of indoor track under her belt, she looked forward to her last outdoor season. Gregory’s sprinting coach Curtis Merrick spoke about the moment he knew she was posed for a big spring.
“It happened happened so easy, she didn’t tighten up at all. She didn’t look like she struggled at all. It was just an easy race, I think that’s what got her excited too. I think she knew she could go faster because the school record came so easily. That’s why I was like wow, she’s gonna do something big. As long as she stays healthy and doesn’t have any injuries and stays on the path that she’s on, she’s gonna do some big things outdoors. Then it just came to an end.”
Devastation is the only way to describe the feeling that blindsided the entire track team. Thursday March 20, was the day that the NCAA announced the cancelation of all spring tournaments. At the time, Gregory’s teammates Sarah Yensan and Catarina Burke were in North Carolina for the tournament.
“They qualified for NCAA and while they were there in their hotel room, they cancelled it and I know that was devastating for them. They canceled it, then they canceled outdoor and they’re both seniors. I was just like, ‘Wow.’ All three of us did amazing at the same time, they actually had higher goals than me. It felt like they had been robbed,” said Gregory.
Gregory says she’s saddened about how the season ended, but tries to look on the bright side of her track experience.
“I’m still saddened that I wasn’t able to run outdoor and see the potential that I still had. But as a senior I’m done now, I’m officially done with track. I’m still happy even though I wasn’t able to do my last season. I’m happy my indoor season was so great.”
Gregory says being a track and field athlete for so long taught her how to work towards what she wants, no matter what. The discipline and hunger that she learned from the sport is something that she’ll cary with her forever. She says she may have to go biking and hiking during the quarantine to stay active and fit. While her life of collegiate track is over, her life of competing isn’t.
“I still want to work out, but I want to put that effort to use in some sort of competition. I’ve been thinking about doing CrossFit or agility courses or running a half marathon.'”