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Cross Country: Shannon Murakami, Gratitude adjustment

Former Saugus star Murakami is hitting her stride at UCLA — and she’s thankful for it

Posted: September 8, 2010 10:52 p.m.
Updated: September 9, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Former Saugus star Shannon Murakami (far right UCLA runner) is a team captain for the Bruins and hopes to earn All-American honors to finish her college cross country career.

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There's a new feature on UCLA's cross country website. It's a web journal with entries written by a male and female runner throughout the season.

Santa Clarita Valley residents probably aren't familiar with the male runner - junior David McDonald from Murrieta.

The female runner, on the other hand, should ring a pretty big bell.

"I'm really excited," says former Saugus star Shannon Murakami. "I never know what to write. It's kind of difficult because I'm not really sure what people expect."

Shannon almost single-handedly raised expectations for the Centurions during her high school career. Now, she's trying to raise them at UCLA, where she's more than just the team blogger.

She's a captain. A leader. The No. 1 runner.

She was all those things when she left Saugus, too. But now, she's something else.

More appreciative.

"I think that looking back now on my freshman year, I just can't believe the changes I've made as a person. Just my attitude toward running in general," she says. "I love the sport a little bit more. I feel blessed to be able to do this in the first place."

The change has been noticeable.

"She's come a long way from high school," says younger sister Amber, a freshman at UCLA this season.

***

To say that Shannon didn't like running when she was at Saugus would be incorrect. To say that she had a bad attitude is just plain wrong.

If that was the case, she would have never won the CIF State Division I individual championship in 2005, or captained the Centurions to the CIF State Division I team championship in 2006.

But now, Shannon is more appreciative of the talent she's been given, not to mention the people who helped hone it.

"She understands that you don't have an unlimited amount of time to fulfill your potential," says Saugus head coach Rene Paragas, who maintains frequent contact with Shannon. "She's really taken it to heart that each day is important, each practice is important. Are you lifting weights? Are you getting rest? What do you eat? A lot of kids don't see the big picture and understand that, ‘What I do each day is how I'm going to affect races.'"

Shannon ran the biggest race of her career last November at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Ind. She finished 114th overall with a time of 21 minutes, 24.5 seconds, and she also earned All-West Region and All-Pac-10 honors after finishing 13th at both events.

At Saugus, Shannon usually finished first. By that rationale, it would be easy to peg her as an underachiever in college.

It would also be a big mistake.

"Why hasn't she won? A lot of people haven't won," Paragas says. "You can't really judge cross country that way. It's definitely a team sport. Success needs to be counted in different ways."

That fact is not lost on Shannon.

"You have to realize there are all these other girls in the country who were state champions in their division, too," Shannon says. "You have to prepare because you're running against the best, plus there's athletes from (other countries). You're not just stepping up a level, you're leaping."

***

Perhaps she didn't realize the leap she'd take when she left Saugus. Her freshman year at UCLA offered a swift reminder.

In addition to the better competition, the races were longer at the NCAA Division I level, and Shannon suffered a stress fracture in her foot, which hindered some of her competitions.

After the injury, Shannon never took good health for granted again.

"She always reminds me that if I'm in pain, not everyone is that lucky to be healthy like I am and running strong like I am," Amber says. "She reminds me to appreciate the moment, just because of what she went through."

There was also a question of training during Shannon's first two years at UCLA.

"People always ask me, ‘How's the training compared to high school?'" Shannon says. "Most alumni would agree with me. At Saugus you're put through hell and back, but it's some of the best training you could ask for."

But her first two years at UCLA, Shannon ran shorter and slower workouts, which led to middling results in races. A coaching change before her junior year led to a new direction and better workouts, which have paid off. Shannon was UCLA's top finisher at every race in 2009, leading to her first trip to the NCAA championships.

"It's funny because my freshman year, I came in and thought I'm going to make it to NCAAs," Shannon says. "When that didn't happen, it was really discouraging."
It was also one of the lessons that taught her to make the most of her talent.

She's used all those lessons to build herself into UCLA's top runner, a rising star whose best races are still ahead of her and a personable leader worthy of being named captain.

But don't think her little sister gets any breaks.

"My parents have always taught us we never play favorites," Amber says. "I'm another teammate when we're at practices and races. She really takes that into perspective."

***

Shannon is keeping things in perspective for her senior season. While the NCAA championship is everyone's goal, Shannon is mainly focused on earning All-American honors by finishing in the top 40 at the national meet.

She took the first step in that direction last Saturday by winning the Fullerton Invitational. It's a good start, but there's a lot more work ahead if she wants her to achieve her goals.

And she's just fine with that.

"I think that for a long time, when I was at Saugus, I was known as just a runner," Shannon says. "There was a sense that I was content with that, but I always wanted to be a little bit more than that. I was trying really hard to be a lot of other things, trying to be a good friend, trying to be a good girlfriend, sister, trying to juggle all these things. One thing that's changed is, I'm content with just being a runner. I've put other things to the side. My social life isn't thriving every day and every night, but I'm OK with that."

Anyone who wants to follow UCLA's season can read about it in Shannon's journal entries. Paragas isn't surprised she agreed to write them, given her affable personality.

The latest entry is a recap of the Fullerton Invitational, 711 words of behind-the-scenes access to the Bruins, right up until Shannon's sign-off at the end.

"Gotta run," it says.

Yes. Yes she does.

 

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