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Interval Session #106 - Shakeia Pinnick

By Dave Devine - March 26, 2009

The Illinois Prep Top Times Indoor Classic will be held this weekend, and Waubonsie Valley standout Shakeia Pinnick is entered in the 200, 400, 55H and 4x200 relay.  If that sounds like an ambitious workload, you didn't see the multi-talented senior tearing through the Saturday pentathlon at the Nike Indoor Nationals earlier this month.  One year after finishing as a runner-up to now-graduated Ryann Krais at the 2008 NIN, Pinnick ascended to the top of the podium with a 2:15.09 closing 800m run, worth 891 points for a come-from-behind 3,627 point win.  While it may have been Pinnick's first Nike National win, indoors or out, she's no stranger to triumphs on the national stage.  Among other achievements last summer, Pinnick won the heptathlon and the 800 (2:12.37) at the AAU Junior Olympics, then finished second to Donique' Flemings TX in a terriffic 400H battle, 58.66-58.98, only 90 minutes after her 800 gold.  Shakeia was also sixth in the AAU 400 final, running 56.32.  That sort of range and versatily not only has Pinnick perched atop the high school multi-event world this winter, it positions her as a legitimate threat in a number of individual events this spring.

DyeStat senior editor Dave Devine catches up with this Illinois all-timer on the eve of the IPTT Classic.
1) First of all, Shakeia, congratulations on your national championship at the Nike Indoor Nationals!  You were trailing Ariel Roberts heading into the 800 meter run, and must have known you needed a good race to win the title.  Can you talk about how that pentathlon went for you, overall, and what you were thinking heading into that final event?  How did it feel when you realized you'd done enough to win?

Thanks for the congratulations. My pentathlon overall went fairly well, considering I hadn't prepared for all of my events (LJ). I jumped far enough and threw far enough to stay in reach. Going into the 800, obviously there was talk about what I had to do to win, and the announcer was hyping up the race. It was great, but I knew I had to run well. Once I realized I had enough to win, I was very excited, because the pentathlon championship and the ring was what I wanted most. I was completely surprised with how well I did in the 800, considering I wasn't thinking that I would run as fast as I did.

2) You've been a standout in the multis for a while, but had to contend with one of the all-time greats in Ryann Krais the last three years. I imagine it was both challenging and educational to go up against Ryann in some of these big meets.  Can you discuss what you learned from those experiences, and what you've done between last year and this year to make sure you were the one to beat in 2009?

Ryann Krais is an outstanding athlete, and even though many times I wasn't exactly within winning reach of her :) it was still nice to be able to push myself to go out and try to beat her. I learned to fight hard, even through the difficult events. I knew that I was the top scorer in the multi’s coming in this year, so I worked hard to stay on top because I know that everyone is still fighting for that top position.

3) Followers of the multis are used to seeing winning athletes who excel in many of the earlier events, but then basically hang on through the final distance run to secure the title.  But this year, two of the best in the country-- you and Curtis Beach-- are national calibre mid-distance runners who have the ability to enter that final run and blast it for big points.  Have you always had a natural inclination for strong mid-distance running, or is the 800 something you've really had to work on in order to excel?  Have you gotten to know Curtis at all through some of these national-level meets, and if so, have you discussed this commonality?

Honestly, I haven't met Curtis Beach, but I am very aware of him being the top decathlete. I didn't realize we had that in common, and that is a pretty cool thing to find out.  Actually, when I started the multi’s it was because it consisted of 3 events I already competed in (hurdles, LJ, HJ for the pentathlon). so the shot put and 800 were some things I just had to pick up and learn quickly. The first time I ran the 800 in my first pentathlon, I ran it really well, so I guess that would make it a natural ability to run it well, rather than “liking” to run it.  However, I do work on the 800 a lot now that I am older, because it’s my biggest scorer in the multi's, and I do the open 800 as well.

4) Do you ever wonder just how good you could be at, say, the 400 and 800 combo, if you weren't also trying to work on your shot put technique and your hurdling skills and your high jumping and, and, and....?  Has it ever occured to you to focus more specifically on one particular event area, or do you enjoy the opportunity to concentrate on multiple events?

Ever since I started running I’ve always done three or more events, so the answer would be, No, I don'’t really wonder how good I could be if I cut it down to one thing.  I just enjoy doing many events, and luckily the heptathlon covers that in one competition. I'm so used to doing everything, that only doing a single event or two would probably bore me.

5) I know you've come up competing for the Aurora Flyers club, and also for your Waubonsie Valley high school team.  Can you talk about the balance between those programs, and how the coaching situation works out for you?  Did you get your start in track and field competing at the club level in youth events, or did  your introduction come while competing for a school team?

I started doing track in fourth grade with the Flyers. I would say the balance between the two programs is a little unbalanced for me. Flyers track comes at a better time for me, which is during the summer, so by then I'm in close to top shape, rather than in high school where I’m working my way up to top shape. The weather here in Illinois also makes it difficult (cold for HS track/warm for Flyers track). The coaching styles are also completely different in my point of view. Coach Boatright (of Aurora Flyers) has everyone doing some of each thing: a little bit of base, sprint, mid-distance work. However, on my high school track team the sprinters sprint, the distance girls run long, and middle distance chooses which of the two they want to be in for the season. Coach Boatright is more like family, and my high school coach(es) are there to help me prepare for my upcoming season.

6) It's clear to anyone who's watched you at a meet that you have strong support from your family, friends and coaches.  Can you describe some of the people who've been there for you as you've come up in the sport, and what it means to have that network of support? 

It means a lot to have support because I know there's always someone there to talk to or just ask questions. Everyone that supports me is very much alike: my parents, coaches, and close friends, even some of my competitors are always trying to be positive and let me know what I can do better, when I’m doing fine, or anything that helps my case as an athlete. It really helps to have that, because I know I’m never out there in the track world alone. I've had a lot of coaches over the years to help me get where I am today.  Coach Boatright has been there from the beginning; he is the one who first told me to come on the track and try it.

7) Let's say you had the chance to design the Shakeia Heptathlon (Shakathlon?), tossing out the events you don't love, adding ones you'd rather do.  Which 7 events would make up your own personal heptathlon, and why?

Actually, I think I would leave most of the events in there except for the 800 and shot put.  I’d exchange the 800 for the 400 hurdles, and the shot put would be exchanged for the 400m. The 400H and 800 people are usually on the same level, and with that in mind, I love the 400H, so I'd swap the two and it would still work out in my favor ... hopefully. The shot put is more difficult for me, so the 400 (after last summer) is looking good for a spot in my “Shakathlon” instead of the shot put. The javelin, I’'ve grown to like as I’ve gotten better, so that can stay as well as the 200, 100H, LJ, and HJ.

8) I know you've signed with Arizona State University for college next year.  How was the recruiting process for you, overall, and what was it about ASU that convinced you Tempe was the place to spend the next four years?  Do you know if the coaches there plan to keep developing you as a multi-eventer, or will there be an effort to concentrate more specifically on a single event area?  And when it comes to being a Sun Devil next year, what things are you looking forward to?

The recruiting process was something very new for me, and at times uncomfortable, because there were people I had to say no to, and the whole [experience of] talking to people on the phone was not a favorite. I am shy at first with a lot of people, so that was hard.  With all the different coaches with different philosophies to choose from, that made it difficult for me in the beginning, but I got the hang of it after a while. As we narrowed the choices down, ASU became the number one pick, because when the time was right, they were the National Champions, and NCAA Champion (and Sun Devil) Jackie Johnson, an athlete I look up to, went to the Olympics.  Also Dan O'Brien, a great decathlete, is going to be assisting me in an event he excelled in-- who could pass that up? When I become a Sun Devil, the coaches are looking to continue my heptathlon career as well as my 400H career, but not cutting out the other events. Next year, I'm looking forward to going to school and competing on the collegiate level with people who enjoy track as much as I do, and who want to win. I look forward to meeting new people and winning some championships as well.

Photos: Top, Jeannette Seckinger from 2009 NIN; middle, John Nepolitan from 2008 USATF Jr. Nationals;
Bottom, ASU letter of intent signing courtesy Pinnick family

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