The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

May 1, 2010

Kimi Shank: ‘An internal push to get better’

— When she’s graduated from running her way into the school and conference record books, what will Kimi Shank do with her spare time?

“I may have to find a new hobby,” she said, laughing at the thought. “But I’ll also continue to run. I still enjoy running.”

After the distances Kimi has logged in four years at Missouri Southern, it’s a good thing she likes to run. She has covered more than 11,000 miles — an estimate that may err on the side of caution — the past four years while training for cross country and track events.

That work paid off.

Kimi is a six-time All-American and has a chance to add to that total later this month in the NCAA Division II Outdoor Championships in North Carolina. She’s an automatic qualifier in both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races.

She has won seven MIAA individual titles and helped lead the Lions to seven team championships. It’s her intention to add to both totals in the conference outdoor meet, which starts Saturday at Pittsburg State.

“She is undoubtedly the best distance runner we’ve had at Missouri Southern,” said Patty Vavra, the Lions’ cross country and track coach for women. “That’s a tribute to her hard work and intensity.

“She is so unassuming and she has been so consistent, there are times when you take her for granted. You know that Kimi Shank is going to have a great race ... every race.”

But what about that time, approaching like the finish line in a short sprint, when her college running career is over? Life is going to slow down for Kimi. Right?

Not really, she said. At least, not immediately.

Kimi and her teammates wind up competition in the national track championships on Saturday, May 29, then fly back into Joplin on Sunday.

Two days later, she starts graduate school — and the pursuit of a doctorate in physical therapy — at Rockhurst University in Kansas City.

And the following weekend, Kimi returns to Joplin for her wedding.

Well, what else would you expect from someone whose life seems to be in perpetual motion?

“I look at (running) as kind of a job because I have to dedicate so much time to it,” Kimi said of her college racing career.

“It won’t come with so much pressure (when she continues running, just because she enjoys it, after school obligations are complete). I’ll be doing it for myself then. Right now, I know a whole bunch of other people are counting on me, just like I’m counting on them in return.”

That personal countdown to graduation begins with the MIAA meet at PSU.

“I would like to win conference again,” Kimi said. “But it just gets tougher and tougher each year. ... I’m just hoping to survive the 10K for the 5. I haven’t really run it but once this season.”

She’s the defending conference champion in both races. And the Lions are the two-time defending team champion in the outdoor meet. They have extra incentive after a strong effort wasn’t enough to hold off Nebraska-Omaha at the indoor meet in February.

“The outdoor is just a different meet,” Kimi said. “There are more throws ... and more distance races.”

Team entries have not been finalized, but Kimi would apparently prefer to focus on her two main races at the MIAA meet. However, she is no longer limited to the longest races.

With the strength and experience of four years of college competition, Kimi has added another element to her repertoire: footspeed. She’s no longer a one-pace-fits-any-race runner.

She added the mile — a distance normally not long enough to even consider it a warmup — for the MIAA indoor meet and placed second. Including wins at 3,000 and 5,000 meters, Kimi was third in the high-point race — normally dominated by the hurdlers, sprinters and jumpers — with 28 points.

She will also skip the cautious approach at the D-II nationals, where she has qualified for the two longest races for the third year in a row.

She ran both races as a sophomore, placing fifth in the 10,000 and 10th in the 5,000, then opted to focus on just one race during her junior trip to nationals.

The result was both gratifying — a second-place finish at 10,000 meters, her best ever in national competition —  and disappointing.

“My sophomore year kind of scared me away from (running both races),” she said. “Then last year, I remember sitting in the stands (during the 5K), just wishing I was in the race,” Kimi said. “If I get sore (with two demanding distance races in a short time span), I just get sore.”

OK, so there is one regret in a remarkably consistent career. Are there others?

“Both my sophomore and junior years, I managed to get sick for indoor nationals,” she said. “I was disappointed because I know I can run with those girls.”

During her junior season, Kimi had to miss the MIAA indoor meet. The Lions lost their bid for a second straight Triple Crown by two points while the best distance runner in the conference was so ill she couldn’t compete.

“There are some things that, looking back, I would like to change,” Kimi said. “But I have already surpassed what I thought I might do. When I first came to college, I just wanted to break 18 minutes in the 5K.”

Now, of course, she’s well under the 17-minute barrier both indoors and outdoors.

That willingness to set tough goals and then meet them is a part of the reason for Kimi’s success, according to her coach.

“She doesn’t expect anything less than her best and she’s done all the little things to be able to follow that up,” Vavra said. “She’s very efficient, very technically sound in her running style. The greatest advantage is that she’s a mental giant with a huge heart.

“All the little things that it takes to be good and to compete at that top level for that long — things like eating right, like sleeping right — has to be part of your lifestyle. And, for Kimi, it is.”

Added Vavra: “In the recruiting process, we knew Kimi was an outstanding athlete and would be an excellent college runner. But I don’t think we knew what a great student-athlete she would be. ... She’s just a dream as far as coaching someone.”

Kimi has made certain her senior year was a memorable one with a series of record-setting performances. She helped the Lions to a third-place finish in the Division II cross country championships in November, then broke all her own school records on the track between the indoor and outdoor seasons. Her two victories at the indoor conference championship both erased long-standing MIAA records.

“The difference, for Kimi, came in the summers,” Vavra said.

“She would come back every year more fit and in better shape than when she left us. ... She just has that internal push to get better.”

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