Track Star Murakami Creating a Legacy All her Own
June, 2006 - Issue #20
Saugus High runner Shannon Murakami doesn't believe in following in anyone else's footsteps. That's obvious just by watching her run.

The junior rarely trails when she races, at least not unless it's part of her strategy. Even then, it's not for very long. Last spring, she outran the competition twice at the CIF-Southern Section Division I Championship, capturing gold medals in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters.

In November, she paced the field at the California State Cross Country Division I Finals, becoming just the second SCV girl to wear the state crown - the first since Canyon High's Lauren Fleshman did it in 1998.

Fleshman went on to capture the state 3,200-meter title that spring, then enrolled at Stanford University, where she became a 15-time All-American and won five NCAA championships. She signed a professional contract with Nike in 2003 and is now one of the top female distance runners in the country.

Similar success has already been predicted for Murakami. But while collegiate titles and the chance to run for a living sit high atop the junior's wish list, she's not interested in becoming the next Lauren Fleshman.

She's not interested in becoming the next anyone.

"A lot of people have asked me if I want to go to Stanford because [Fleshman] went there, or if I want to go to Oregon State because [Steve] Prefontaine went there," she says. "Personally I believe in building my own legacy. You don't have to follow in somebody else's footsteps. You make your own."

At the rate she's going, Murakami may be indirectly encouraging others to blaze their own trails as well - not because she'd necessarily mind being followed - but because the standard she sets makes it almost impossible for anyone else to keep up.

After conquering the Southern Section in the 1,600 and 3,200 as a sophomore, Murakami set some new goals for herself this track season. Last year, she dropped the 1,600 to focus on the 3,200 at the Southern California Masters Meet, which she won, and at the California state meet, where she took fourth.

This year, she's shifted her focus to the mile.

"I'm definitely going to do the 1,600 [in the post season]," she says. "Then it's between the 800 and the 3,200. So far, the 800 is looking like my best bet."

"I believe in building my own legacy. You don't have to follow in somebody else's footsteps. You make your own," Saugus High School's Shannon Murakami
How good a bet?

In this, her first year of serious competition in the 800, Murakami set the school record and is making waves on the national scene. At the Mt. SAC Invitational on April 15, she posted a career-best time of 2:10.03, the best outdoor time by a girl in the country so far this year.

"I think she can [win the 800-meter state title]," says Centurion distance coach Rene Paragas, who has supervised her training since she came to Saugus. "But we're not going to run away from the mile. That's the race we train for."

Murakami's career best in the mile is 4:50.06, a time she posted en route to winning last year's Foothill League title and setting a new league record in the process. In the 3,200, she's finished as fast as 10:48.78. Both are school records.

Murakami also owns a fourth school record - this time in the 400 with a time of 59.70.

According to her, it's all part of the plan.

"In the 400 I wanted to break the school record and I did that," she says. "In the 800, my goal is to go sub 2:10 and I went 2:10.03. In the mile, I want to go sub 4:50. In the two-mile, I want to go sub 10:30. I would love to be the state champ in the 1,600 or the 800. It's going to take a lot of work, but I'm willing to do it. I have the determination and the strength. I know I can do it."

The biggest hurdle facing Murakami in the longer events will be a field of national-level competition. Corona Del Mar senior Annie St. Gem and freshman Jordan Hasay of Mission Prep High (San Luis Obispo) are both posting 1,600 times in the 4:40s, and Hasay is even better in the 3,200.

"It's going to be really difficult for her to repeat her CIF titles because of the competition," Paragas says. "She may run much faster than last year and not accomplish the same titles. I wouldn't put it past her and say she couldn't win it. It's just going to be more difficult."

Right now, she's got the best 800-meter time in the country, so she's favored in that event. Assuming she drops the 3,200, she's got some work to do in the mile.

"She's ready for a big breakthrough in the mile," Paragas says. "I think she can go about a 4:44. But I think even that might be third, fourth or fifth this year."

Try telling that to Murakami, who is known as much for her tenacity as for her speed.

"I'm really competitive," she says. "A lot of people have told me I probably have more heart than anyone else out there. I love the sport. It's who I am."

Murakami began running surprisingly late - not until high school. Before that, the sum of her experiencing was "running laps in P.E."

Paragas says she arrived with the tools to be special. She was a good athlete and she was fiercely competitive.

From there, all it took was for Murakami to realize she was fast - and just how far that speed could take her.

"Before I came into high school I thought, 'Oh, I'll be like everybody else.' Now I'm trying to be different," she says. "I never expected to be a state champion. I expected to be like everyone else. Now people come up to me and say, 'Hey, you're the runner.'"

Now, Murakami is dreaming about the Olympics. She claims it's far-fetched, but the times she's hitting at this stage of her career suggest otherwise.

Colleges, meanwhile, have been banging on her door since she was a freshman. She'll have her pick of the litter once they can officially start making offers in July.

Success hasn't come cheap, though. No one ascends to her level without making sacrifices. She's logged thousands of training miles, missed dozens of social events and said no a hundred times to foods her friends eat without a second thought.

"There are times I wish I was normal," she admits. "I give up a lot of social time. I'm usually either getting ready for a race or at practice, or I'm studying. I have to eat a lot better than I probably would if I wasn't running."

It's all worth it, she insists, and that's hard to dispute. Watch her run and you can see for yourself she's doing what she loves.

She shouldn't be hard to find. Just look for the dark-haired girl in the blue uniform. Most likely, she'll be out in front, leading the pack.

It's where she loves to be.
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