Describing the winding path her life has taken since her freshman season in the fall of 2009 running NCAA Division I cross country, Shannon Porter cut herself off in mid-sentence.
“I wouldn’t wish anyone…,” she said, and stopped.
After going from major college to junior college then through three years of life experience away from collegiate competition, the Hockinson High School graduate sees the positives in her life experience.
“Well, you know — I say that, but honestly, I wouldn’t change anything about what happened to me,” she continued. “I wouldn’t. It made me who I am right now. It was really hard during parts of it, but I’m really happy now and I wouldn’t change anything that happened because it’s given me such an appreciation for running that I’ve never had before.
“My parents can attest to this, but in high school, I kind of rode on talent for a while. It’s interesting coming back into it and having to work a lot harder, it feels like, but it’s more rewarding that way.”
What Porter is coming back into is collegiate competition.
Porter’s one season of cross country at Boise State in 2009 was followed by two track seasons at Treasure Valley Community College of Ontario, Ore., in 2010 and 2011.
After three years spent finding herself while completing her associates degree at Clark College as she juggled full-time work and concentrating on running half marathons, the 23-year-old is enrolled at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey and will run track for the Saints in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
NCAA Division II considers only seasons while enrolled in school against an athlete’s eligibility, according to Chris Gregor, SMU’s associate athletic director whose responsibilities include NCAA compliance.
That means Porter has three years of eligibility remaining in cross country and two in outdoor track, while her first collegiate indoor track season begins this weekend at the Washington State University Invitational in Pullman.
Porter would not be eligible to run Division I cross country because at that level, the clock to complete eligibility — barring a hardship season granted by an appeal to the NCAA — runs for five years beginning with the athlete’s first competition season or age 21, whichever happens first.
Porter is part of a family well-known in Clark County running circles.
In her immediate family alone, her mother Laurie is an accomplished distance runner who coaches cross country at Camas High School; one sister, Sarah Crouch, is a professional distance runner who had a decorated collegiate career at Western Washington; eldest sister, Georgia Glovatsky, is reigning Northwest Athletic Conference cross country champion running for Mount Hood Community College; and Shannon’s twin brother Matt ran at Northwest University.
Particularly because of her last name, Porter knows that she seemed to disappear soon after all of her high school accolades.
She recalled a recent conversation with someone from Hockinson.
“They said, ‘You used to be a really good runner. What happened?’ ” Porter said. “Hearing it in that context, it was like, ‘Did something happen to me?’ I think a lot of people didn’t understand.
“My family has been really great. They’ve been really encouraging, and that’s what matters most to me. I probably wouldn’t have made it back to where I am now without their support. I don’t think there’s any way.”
Brush Prairie to Boise
Porter was a three-time Class 2A state champion in the 3,200 meters after finishing second as a freshman, and was twice state runner-up in the 1,600 after placing fifth as a freshman and third as a sophomore. She was twice 2A state runner-up in cross country, also finishing third and fifth.
The Columbian named her All-Region after each of her eight cross country and track seasons, naming her Cross Country All-Region Athlete of the Year as a junior.
She represented Washington in the Border Clash cross country series sponsored by Nike and ran in Junior Olympics races around the country with the Flanagan Clan Girls Track Club.
Signing a letter of intent to join a collegiate program generally means having a plan for the next four of five years — athletics, academics and residence.
For Porter, it did not work out that way.
“You always think that where you sign is where you’re going to be for the next four years, of course,” she said. “It definitely wasn’t my plan to hope around as much as I did. It was just how things happened.”
There was much she loved about Boise, a place she said she will always think of “a little bit as my home, still.”
But on the course, that first fall seemed fine.
Porter was Boise State’s top finisher in all five races she ran as a freshman, including claiming individual honors at BSU’s own season-opening Roger Curran Invitational in Nampa, Idaho, and placing sixth at the Western Athletic Conference championships in Reno, Nev., to garner All-WAC status. She was an individual qualifier for the NCAA West Region Championships in Eugene, Ore., where she finished 101st of 184 runners.
“Freshman distance runner Shannon Porter had a very successful cross country campaign and will likely add strength to the team immediately,” reads a Dec. 9 release previewing the indoor track and field season.
That was not to be.
Facing a bout with pneumonia as the academic term wound down, Porter went home. She still does not care to go into details of what played a part in the decision not to return to Boise, but that decision was made.
“I ended up getting pretty sick,” Porter said. “I got pneumonia, and I needed to go home to where my family was. That was probably the turning point for me. There were other factors, for sure. Division I is difficult, and I was feeling a bit lost toward the end of that season there, as well.”
On to Ontario
Porter enrolled at Treasure Valley Community College, located less than 60 miles west of Boise at Oregon’s eastern edge along the Snake River.
The proximity reflected a hope of eventually returning to Boise State, even running unattached in a pair of BSU indoor track meets that winter, but that was not to be.
“That kind of helped me get back on my feet a little bit,” Porter said of her time at TVCC. Training mostly with the Chukars’ men, she made it a goal to “pick off one or two of them” on workouts and long runs.
She was a two-time champion of what was then known as the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges in the 5,000 meters. She was a double NWAACC champion as a sophomore, adding the 1,500 meters title in 2011 after finishing second as a freshman in 2010, and was also third in the 10,000 meters as a sophomore.
On a school record board with leading performances dating back as far as 1978, Porter still holds TVCC’s fastest times at 800, 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 meters.
The years between
Then came the gap in Porter’s collegiate career.
Having completed her two seasons in the NWAACC, nothing materialized as an immediate next stop where she would complete an uninterrupted career as a collegiate runner.
Porter said she has lost track of how many times she has moved since returning to Clark County after the 2011 track season, guessing seven or eight. She held various jobs, most recently managing a fitness club until the start of her newest chapter.
She worked as an assistant track coach at Heritage High School, completed her degree at Clark College and kept active in the local running scene through Clark County Running Club events and half marathons. She won the women’s title in the 2013 Vancouver Lake Half Marathon.
Also during this time, she went on a church mission trip to Nicaragua, which she described as a “life-changing” experience she likely would not have had time for had she been a collegiate athlete at the time.
“I feel almost lucky that I had that little break to figure out what other areas of my life I needed to figure out,” she said. “I wouldn’t say it was exactly getting away, but I had to figure out priorities a little bit in other areas.”
She kept alive the hope of returning to collegiate running, and maintained her dedication to training with a little help — not that it was always entirely welcome
“Of course, in the back of my mind I knew: ‘Keep your mileage up, and whatever happens with school, just be ready to compete again,’ ” Porter said.
“My mom I have to thank for that. She would wake me up at 6 a.m. to go on a tempo run when I really didn’t feel like it. She’s always been the best training partner for me. If you really want to know the secret, she’s the one who kept me able to still compete. I owe her a lot for that.”
Porter eventually began reaching out to a few NCAA Division II programs in the Northwest, and even drew some unsolicited interest from schools in other parts of the country, and her path went to Lacey.
Back on track
Porter returns to collegiate competition with a greater appreciation for the talent she has, the opportunity it gives her and the responsibility to make the most of it.
She has not run a race shorter than a half marathon (13.1 miles) for more than a year, and said that the “re-learning process” of speed training has been a challenging adjustment.
With time away from speed training for track competition, she has found that rebuilding that is more challenging that it was to acquire and maintain when she was younger.
But a big thing she has noticed is the resurgence of her competitive drive.
“I’ve never been so excited to race and so hungry during workouts,” Porter said. “I think it did give me a new appreciation for it that I’m definitely happy to have. It’s such a gift to be able to compete for a school. Graduating from Hockinson and I had the world at my fingertips — I didn’t realize what that was. I didn’t appreciate it enough. If I could, I’d go back and shake my high school self and say, ‘You’ve got so many opportunities.’ I’m so thankful to have that again.”
Speaking of her competitiveness, Porter said she is not sure how she would fare in a race against her high school self if they lined up today.
But you know what they say about old age and treachery.
“I might throw some elbows or trip her before the line,” Porter said with a laugh. “That’s a good question — something I probably don’t want to think about too much.”
Porter, who is majoring in biology at SMU on a pre-dental track, is not sure how the rest of her collegiate running career will unfold, but she is ready to find out.
“I’m so happy to be back,” she said. “That’s a huge part of it. I have some goals, but I think I’m at a stage in my life where I’ll just let whatever come and the running will speak for itself. I’m definitely looking forward to the future, and I think I still have a few good races left in me.”