National champion Shields leaving legacy, making most of second chance


Photo by Robert Berger | Point Park Athletics

Junior Anna Shields races ahead of the pack in an outdoor meet last season. The team begins the 2018 outdoor season this Saturday at the Cal U Early Bird Invitational.

Written By Dara Collins, Co-Sports Editor

Anna Shields finished the indoor track and field season with a number of accomplishments. From being named the conference Indoor Track Athlete of the Week five times to being named the NAIA Women’s Indoor Track National Athlete of the Year, Shields racked up every honor in between.

Shields highlighted the women’s team at the indoor national competition when she claimed two NAIA national titles in the 1,000 meters and mile, recording new personal bests and almost breaking the meet records by 0.41 and 0.4 seconds respectively.

Last year, decorated Nigerian runner Aminat Olowora beat Shields in the mile event. This year, Shields took home the gold. The Oklahoma City University athlete had never lost an NAIA championship race before.

“I am not surprised she won,” Olowora said. “She deserved it. She’s a very competitive athlete. We ran together in cross country, and she was beside me the first mile before I left her. I won’t say because I’m tired she beat me. No, she beat me. That deserves it. She’s a hard-working athlete, so she beat me this time. So that is running, some will win and some will lose.”

Shields is all too familiar with losing.

During middle school, the Torrington, Conn. native began running well and noticed she was already competing on the national scale. A number of state championships, state records and offers from Division I schools later, Shields’s ability began to decline.

“In my mind it was all going to work out, but during my senior year I started running worse every race, and I wasn’t really sure why,” Shields said. “Now I would say there were probably some nutritional deficiencies…I didn’t have someone to give me advice on that aspect of training which is just as important as actual workouts.”

Shields’s Division I offers were rescinded. She originally committed to University of North Carolina, but the coach retracted their interest due to Shields not “running at a high enough level.”

Scrambling to find a school, Shields reached out to Central Connecticut State University to find a coach who would give her a chance.

“I ran even worse,” Shields said.

Shields admitted she would give her best effort, but she continued to run worse. The coach who signed her left after her freshman year, and the new coach suggested she think about quitting.

So she did.

Shields finished two full years of school, but only one full year of athletic eligibility. Losing the athletic scholarship forced Shields to find a full-time job.

“It became more important to me to be independent, so I got my own place and was living on my own working a few different jobs to try and support that,” Shields said.

Shields realized that finding a job without a college degree is frustrating and depressing.

“People act like you’re stupid if you don’t have a degree which, of course, isn’t true,” Shields said. “I think that is a real shame because I got lucky to be able to run and go back to school, but there’s so many people out there that don’t have that opportunity.”

Shields continued to stay active minimally after work following her withdrawal from Central Connecticut.

“It was ridiculous,” Shields said. “I didn’t even own a pair of running shoes. I would get out of working at the bank, and I’d be wearing loafers. I’d go jog for 15 minutes in work pants.”

At 25 years old, Shields decided she wanted to start training again.

“I would run for even two hours at night, alone on a bike path,” Shields said. “I felt the love for it again and got stronger and stronger.”

Training inspired Shields to return to competing.

“The highlight of my life at that time was looking forward to road races,” Shields said. “It didn’t even matter if it was a goofy local 5K. That was the most exciting thing. I was running again, and I was competing. I was running a 20-minute 5K, but I won a race again, and it just got the fire back in my blood to compete. It was never really gone, but it was something I didn’t think I could do.”

Shields could not have been more wrong.

The junior cross country and track athlete has piled on the accolades since her first season at Point Park.

“It’s a good and bad thing sometimes, but running is her primary focus,” Parsley said. “It’s really what drives her.”

Parsley acknowledges Shields doesn’t love cross country, but she appreciates and values it. On the other hand, track is a “whole other animal” for Shields.

Shields finished the indoor season with the top times in the NAIA in the 800 meters, 1,000 meters and mile and the second best time in the 600 meters. Shields’s college-bests are 2 minutes, 7 seconds; 2 minutes, 47 seconds; 4 minutes, 37 seconds; and 1 minute, 33 seconds, respectively.

Of these first-place events, Shields also runs the best times in all three compared to women’s track and field teams of local Pittsburgh schools University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University, Carlow University and Robert Morris University.

Shields has started to create in Point Park athletics. She was named to the All-River States Conference (RSC) First Team and qualified for nationals in her past two cross country seasons. Shields placed twelfth at the national meet this past season with a time of 17 minutes, 50 seconds, a national meet record for the Pioneers.

The track star has qualified for nationals in multiple events in her past two indoor seasons and last year’s outdoor season. She was named NAIA Outdoor National Track Athlete of the Year during the 2017 season and gained the honor once again this past indoor season.

Shields has won seven NAIA All-American honors since her debut and claimed conference and national track athlete of the week 12 times across cross country and track.

“I think that sometimes people think it comes easily to me but it definitely doesn’t and it hasn’t.,” Shields said. “It’s been a long struggle to get here.”

At 27 years old, she’s only just scratched the surface.

“She’s getting [awards] so fast and so many, there’s a chance we might miss a few,” Parsley said.

The smallest victory means everything to Shields.

“I don’t take any win for granted against anybody,” Shields said. “Every moment, I appreciate it. It will never become stale, and I think that that’s something people don’t know. I still feel anxiety before every time I race.”

Shields represents Point Park as a better athlete than she’s ever been.

“I’m better now than I would’ve been if I pushed through it,” Shields said. “I would have wasted my college eligibility running poorly.”

Shields joins the women’s squad this Saturday as the outdoor season kicks off with the California University of Pennsylvania Early Bird Invitational. She aims to drop her outdoor personal bests and run times that will allow her to run in top-level races over the summer.

“I hope I will be able to establish myself as someone who can compete at a high level and set up the pieces for possibly having a pro career post-graduation,” Shields said.