Shannon Porter has been one of “the Porter sisters” in races before.
Just not with this sister.
Georgia Porter never wanted to be a runner, until she did.
Each went on a bit of a journey after high school, now running collegiately — again, in Shannon’s case — a few years later than what is typical.
At the NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships held March 11-12 in Pittsburg, Kan., each Hockinson High School graduate earned All-America status.
The first day of nationals was Western State Colorado University junior Georgia’s day to shine, as she placed fifth in the 5-kilometer race, with Saint Martin’s University junior Shannon finishing 12th. In the next day’s 3K race, Shannon reached the podium by placing eighth while Georgia finished 14th.
Shannon Porter broke her own school records in both races, with times of 9:35.31 in the 3K and 16:55.49 in the 5K.
Georgia Porter’s 5K time of 16:18.39 is a personal record and second-fastest in her school’s history, and her 3K time of 9:48.24 is her second best time and fourth in school history.
Georgia Porter and Shannon Porter both took circuitous routes to becoming All-America runners.
NCAA Division II allows athletes 10 semesters of college enrollment (including community college) to compete during eight semesters, regardless of any gaps in college enrollment.
The eligibility “clock” for NCAA Division I begins when a student enrolls in college and expires after five years regardless of circumstances, subject to appeal by the school.
Georgia Porter graduated from Hockinson High School in 2006. She enrolled in Portland Community College but soon switched gears, earning a paramedic certificate and working in that field.
It was a few years before she decided to take up the family passion. Soon after starting to run, she enrolled at Mount Hood Community College to earn her associates’ degree in the Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education program.
Getting long-distance coaching in distance running from middle Porter sister Sarah — now Sarah Crouch, 26, a decorated 12-time All-America at Western Washington University and is a professional runner — Georgia proved to be a quick learner.
Porter was doing a workout on the MHCC track when she caught the eye of a coach, who invited her to join the team. In her first year of competitive running, with no indoor track season in between, she won Northwest Athletic Conference championships in cross country and the outdoor track 5K and 10K.
With encouragement from Crouch that she could be a collegiate runner, she started contacting schools and ended up at WSCU in Gunnison, Colo., where she also continues to work part-time as a paramedic.
Porter’s time at PCC and MHCC counted as three years on her five-year NCAA eligibility clock, despite the fact that she had no intention of being a collegiate athlete during the first two of those years.
Georgia has remaining eligibility for outdoor track this spring, then a full 2016-17 of cross country, indoor and outdoor track.
Shannon Porter — who discussed her post-high school journey with The Columbian last January — went to Boise State University after graduating from Hockinson in 2009, leaving after her freshman season of cross country and enrolling at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Ore., competing for two seasons and winning back-to-back outdoor 5K and 10K NWAC titles.
After three years away from school, working while carrying on with a running lifestyle, she felt pulled back to collegiate running and went to Saint Martin's in Lacey to complete her collegiate eligibility.
Shannon has remaining eligibility for outdoor track this spring, then cross country and indoor track during 2016-17.
The Saints' first women’s indoor track All-America, Porter owns the record books at both TVCC and Saint Martin's, having repeatedly set Saints school records in the indoor mile, 3K and 5K and the outdoor 1,500 meters, 3K, 5K and 10K.
WSCU — which was known for decades until recently as Western State College — has a storied career in the sport, and Georgia Porter’s indoor 5K time at nationals was about three seconds off the record.
While they are not teammates, they are family — and it was comforting.
“We had talked up until it happened about what it was going to be like and how it would feel, because this is the first time that we’ve raced competitively together, and it was wonderful,” Shannon Porter said.
“I mean, we both had highs and lows throughout the weekend, for sure, and being there for each other during the races and after when we both knew what it felt like to have a race go not exactly to plan and have a race go how we wanted — and the fact that we both doubled — was such a cool thing.”
Together at last
Before their races at nationals, the sisters discussed working together on the track as if they were teammates if opportunity presented itself. The races did not play out that way, so there were no coordinated tactical moves on the track.
Still, they were there for each other.
“We’re capable of running with each other, but we knew right before the race,” Georgia said. “We talked about it and said we each need to run our own race. It ended up working out well. … I would never want to hold her back, or vice versa. It was so cool just to be in the race with her. Knowing my sister was there was just really awesome.”
“We decided that we’ll know where each other is and all, but it really wasn’t realistic to think that can happen,” she said. “As far as working together, it was more like we’d tap each other during the warmup and on the line, we’d say a few things.”
Georgia said the 5K is her stronger event and was “super happy” with her result, and she poured so much into that race that her 3K suffered from that.
Shannon said she did not put herself in the best position during the 5K and may have been more concerned about her split times than racing. She learned that lesson and was more aggressive in the 3K on the way to the podium.
Better late than never
Neither sister is a “traditional” college student.
Before the end of the month, Georgia will be 28 and Shannon will be 25 on their shared birthday.
Shannon has one year of eligibility remaining: outdoor track this spring, then cross country and indoor track during the 2016-17 school year.
After the just-begun outdoor season, Georgia — an NCAA-II All-America in cross country after placing 15th at nationals in November — has a full year of cross country, indoor and outdoor track in 2016-17.
As recently as two or three years ago, who would have imagined the sisters toeing the line in national championship races?
“Not anybody,” Georgia said. “Including me.”
While her younger sisters Sarah and Shannon grew up as runners, dominating the local scene during their time at Hockinson, Georgia did not.
“I didn’t run in high school at all. It was obviously Sarah and Shannon’s thing. I was like, ‘Running?’ ” she said with dismissive emphasis on the last word. “I wasn’t into it at all.”
She did compete in field events during high school.
However, that seems likely to remain in her past.
“I’ve been trying to talk them into letting me throw javelin here,” Porter said. “They think it’s hilarious, so I think that might be a no.”
Shannon routinely raced in high school against middle Porter sister Sarah — now Sarah Crouch, 26, who went on to a decorated 12-time All-America career at Western Washington University and is a professional runner.
When Georgia decided to give running a try about three years ago, she turned to Sarah for guidance.
“It is so random and ironic,” Shannon said. “Sarah’s talked to us about it. It’s funny. You never would have pictured that happening. … The fact that Georgia has really made her own non-traditional journey, as well, just adds to how special it is. It’s so weird. The fact that we were both on the podium on different nights was so cool.
“One of my favorite parts of the weekend was hearing the announcer talk about us being sisters during the race. … I hadn’t heard that since Sarah and I raced in high school. It was a very odd flashback that they were talking about the Porter sisters, but it was different. It was neat.”
Georgia said the greatest blessing of her path is having an appreciation for the journey and not taking it for granted.
“I’ve gone through a lot of stuff in my personal life, and I’ve really had the odds stacked against me,” she said. “So for me to have been at that meet was huge.
“I knew what a blessing it was and what an opportunity it was. I appreciated every minute of it, and the cool thing is that I recognized that. I know this is the best time of my life. Sometimes I think these kids come here at 18 or 19 or even 20, and they don’t really see that.”
Both sisters are eagerly anticipating the outdoor season this spring — Shannon’s final collegiate outdoor season — and hopefully seeing each other again at another national championship meet.
“Oh, I’d better,” Georgia said. “We’re both 5K and 10K girls, so I’m hoping our seasons go well and we stay healthy and we’re both there in the 5 and the 10. That would be my hope.”