July 3, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
There is no such thing as an impossible dream.
All it takes to make any dream possible is for the person dreaming it to believe.
Shawn Roberts believes in his dream — to compete for a berth on the U.S. Olympic Team at 800 meters at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Just as the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team dreamed big and made great things happen in Brazil, Roberts believes that Rio, Brazil’s second-largest city, sixth-largest in the Americas and one of the most desirable tourist destinations in the Southern Hemisphere, would be the perfect place for him to make his dream come true.
It’s a dream he wasn’t simply willing to let end just because his college career did last weekend at the 2014 Outdoor USATF Championships at Hornet Stadium on the campus of Sacramento State, where he was one of three Yellow Jackets to compete, joining fellow 800 runner Brandon Lasater, and triple jumper Julienne McKee.
Things didn’t exactly go as planned, as Roberts ran 1:50.23 (the winning time was 1:47.19) and finished finish 25th overall, just behind Lasater.
The result in Sacramento hasn’t dampened his optimism. If anything, it’s further motivated him.
Roberts doesn’t see his time as a competitor running out as much as he sees his times running down.
“I’m still dropping time and I’m running fast enough that people are going to support me to run, so I’m going to do it,” said Roberts, who was not yet at liberty to officially name the group. “I’m going to join a training group then I’m going to just work and keep working out for the next couple of years, at least through the 2016 Olympics and see if I can get a go at it there.”
Roberts knows full well that there are no guarantees. There never are.
There was no guarantee he was even going to qualify for the USATF Outdoors. He just knew that he’d always wanted to get there.
“It was a goal of mine that I had for a while, to make it to this meet. I knew exactly what I had to run to get here,” he said. “I’d been close a couple of times before but I just never quite got in. Then, finally, when I got the official word that I’d be racing, I was ecstatic.”
The 2014 season saw Roberts, a fifth-year senior, set a PR on May 5 in winning the 800 at the Bob Pollock Spring Invitational at Clemson, running 1:48.08. The time would hold up and get him into the USATFs. While he was proud of the time he never felt truly secure he would qualify.
“I kept thinking, ‘I could still have a chance with this time,’ but I was always kind of focused on ‘I really should go after, the A standard, because that gets me in for sure,’” he said. “This time, it was always in but it was like, ‘This is in right now but on any given week somebody could come out and knock me out.’ It was always kind of a scary thing where I was looking up results and seeing if people were running faster than me. I was always trying to run faster so I could get myself in officially.
He admitted that he sweated it out until he was officially in. It was especially hard on his laptop, as the qualification deadline approached.
“I was just sitting in my house and I was refreshing the page every few hours to see when they officially let us in,” he recalled, with a laugh. “I was checking the rankings, I was watching races on line of other guys knowing, ‘Okay, this guy has to run this time to beat me.’ So I was really watching to see who could get me. I was in pretty comfortably when I found out officially that I was in.”
What made him uncomfortable was what he described as “a long rut” that inexplicably hit him and kept him from lowering his time. The rut included what he now sees as a tactical error.
“I would kind of burn myself out too early in the race,” he explained. “I’d make a move really early. About halfway through the race I’d make a move and try and get toward the front of the pack and almost stretch out the race and then, by the time we came to the final stretch I’d have nothing left and wouldn’t be able to kick. What’s better for me is to hang onto the pack, maybe sit in the middle or back of the pack and then have that energy left. Not so much try and control the race as go with the race and then finish hard in the end.”
Roberts, who graduated in the spring, has chosen to put off the “real world” for what would be a surreal one, in pursuing the Olympic team. While past numbers alone don’t necessarily make for a strong case, there is the part of him that can’t be measured, the part that demands redemption and to prove he belongs on the world stage.
That’s what fuels the dream.
“I’m out to prove myself and prove that I can run as fast as I know I can,” he said. “Of late, I haven’t really been performing well. I didn’t qualify for the NCAA Championships, which I made last season. I came in this season expecting to make the NCAA Championships. I didn’t make that. I didn’t even make the ACC Final in the 800.
“I would say redemption is a pretty big part of it because I’ve had a rough go of it,” he said. “This is an opportunity to prove that I’m as good at the 800 as I really think that I am.”
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