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Missouri Student-Athlete Spotlight: Shannon Leinert
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By Molly Hulsey
Big 12 Campus Correspondent

For a track and field athlete, life revolves around steps—the balance with which you take them, the speed that is essential in them, and the power you put behind them. For Shannon Leinert, a senior mid-distance runner at Mizzou, steps mean much more. From a stellar freshman season to setbacks that almost ended her career, the steps to maturity Leinert has taken have brought her back to success and the sport she loves.

“Track has taught me a lot about the balance of life,” Leinert said. “Failure is not something we should or can avoid; rather, we should overcome and learn from our failure.”

She has done just that. A five-time Missouri Class 4 state champion at Eureka High School in Missouri, she was named the state’s 2005 Gatorade Athlete of the Year. Her success led to several recruiting offers, and she ultimately chose to attend the University of Florida. While there, she enjoyed immediate success, advancing to the semifinals of the NCAA Championships at 800 meters and earning SEC Freshman of the Year honors.

“At Florida I never understood the magnitude of being named SEC Freshman of the Year,” Leinert said. “I felt lucky to compete at the NCAA championships. I was excited to be there and just trying to enjoy the ride.”

Her successes also earned Leinert a spot on the Team USA IAAF World Junior roster. She traveled to Beijing with the team, where she experienced a new culture and tough competition.

“I felt this opportunity was the first step to maturing as an athlete,” Leinert said. “I was shocked when I found myself leading the field in one of the biggest races of my life. Making the semi-final will forever be an unforgettable experience.”

It was then, however, that Leinert’s career took a difficult step back. Plagued by stress fractures in her foot that were exacerbated by her team’s new workout plan, she struggled through her next two seasons at Florida and was barely able to compete. At the end of those two years she was given a difficult choice—remain at Florida, where she would never compete again, or make a new start.

“This was the second step to maturing as an athlete,” Leinert said. “I experienced first-hand the feelings and emotions that come with people telling you that you are not good enough, fast enough, or strong enough. I lost confidence and the hope of ever being competitive again.”

“But I did not lose passion.”

It was that passion that led Leinert back to her home state and Mizzou. With coaches that believed in her abilities and taking things as slowly as necessary for Leinert to become fully healthy, she began to run again. Then she began to run faster.

“I remember my first race back,” Leinert said. “I ran 2:09 and got third place. I ran over to Coach [Rick] McGuire with a huge smile on my face. I wanted so badly to be successful, but part of me had wondered if it was still possible.”

Now in her senior season, Leinert has returned to the success she enjoyed as a freshman, with a newfound appreciation for it. She qualified for the NCAA Indoor National Championships, receiving All-Big 12 honors, and will begin her outdoor season March 23. She credits the support group of family, coaches, and her roommate for her return, and hopes to accomplish something new this season—an NCAA 800 meter final. The road has been challenging, but Leinert couldn’t be happier with where it has taken her.

“I believe failure is the beginning of a long and exciting journey,” Leinert said. “It’s a journey I will always take on. Let’s just say I would rather be doing this every day of my life than sitting at home wondering if I could do it.”

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