Catching Up With Olympic Steepler Shalaya Kipp

Shalaya Kipp competes in the steeple (photo by Getty)

Shalaya Kipp competes in the steeple (photo by Getty)

In this week's Portland Track Weekly interview, we catch up with Olympian Shalaya Kipp. The former University of Colorado standout, who's now a volunteer assistant coach and working towards her master's degree, wrapped up her final year of eligibility and now looks towards the 2015 as a professional runner. She's definitely one to keep an eye on this next season!

Portland Track (PT): Coming down from the 2014 season and having a chance to reflect, how do you view your past season? Happy, content, or hungry for more?

Shalaya Kipp (SK): Freshmen student-athletes don't dream of writing the closing chapter of their college career beat and exhausted, but beat and exhausted is how I felt when I took off my CU uniform at the end of the 2014 track season. Since then, I've building my base in Boulder on the same trails I've always run on and it's been rejuvenating.

After ruminating on the sweat poured, teams made, and races raced during the last five years, I am fine with how the ending to my college career went. Now, I am looking forward to my professional career. So am I hungry? I am already salivating for next spring.

PT: You technically just finished up your first full season as a pro. What was the biggest transition for you, going from a full-time student-athlete to a full-time athlete?

SK: I still consider myself a full-time student-athlete. I am finishing my first semester as a graduate student at the University of Colorado pursuing a Masters of Science in Integrative Physiology. I am a volunteer assistant coach at CU now, so I still go to practice when it doesn't conflict with my class schedule, which is a lot actually. So when I have to train on my own I have to be more accountable to myself. It’s so easy to want to skip on stretching, or cutting core a bit short. It’s treating myself like a professional that has been the biggest transition.

PT: Looking ahead to next season, what are some of your early goals or thoughts on what you'd like to accomplish?

SK: Reducing the difference between Emma's PR and mine is a perennial goal of mine. I plan on making that number much smaller this year. I really want to be one of the top U.S. women, and I know there is a lot of work ahead of me!

PT: Emma Coburn is one of your training partners. Have any fun (or funny) stories of you and Emma training for the steeple together?

SK: CU’s water jump is used by two groups: steeplechasers, for training, and geese, for bathing. Usually, the throwers, sprinters, and jumpers practicing scare off the flock, but one ornery goose decided to stay, unbeknownst to Emma and I. As we were going off the water jump at the same time (more race like) we ended up sailing over him off the barrier. All parties involved freaked out—feathers were lost, screams where heard and we ended up having goose for dinner that night. Ok, not really, but that goose was never seen again.

PT: With the racing season still rather far away, what type of work do you put in this time of year?

SK; The Trial of Miles, Miles of Trials. If you know what I mean.

PT: You have an educational background in integrative physiology and psychology. Does having a keen understanding of how the mind and body work help you as an athlete? If so, how?

SK: We can't always focus just on the physiology or psychology of the human body; a great athlete is always made from a delicate balance of both. That being said, I have to admit, I'm more interested in the physiology, especially when I think about my own body during racing and training. As an exercise physiologist, I'm interested in the energetic and biomechanics of running, big surprise right? 

More specifically I am finishing up a project on the biomechanics of the steeplechase, and measuring the ground reaction forces involved in hurdling and water jumping. I would like to see if any implications for injury prevention can be assessed.

PT: You’ve talked a little bit before about your experience as an alpine skier. What's your background in the sport and how do you feel it helped you with your running?

SK: I grew up in a skiing family. I was an alpine ski racer for ten years until I decided to focus solely on running. When Coach Wetmore introduced me to the steeple water jump, I thought "I've gone 60mph down ice on wooden sticks, water is going to feel soft." But seriously, ski racing for a decade really helps me with the fear component most steeplers feel when going over a crowded barrier.

PT: How exciting was it to see the Colorado men win the NCAA title for a second time and see the women finish seventh - both big accomplishments?

SK: One national championship title is impressive in itself, but doing it back to back when the pressure is on is even more impressive. It was CU vs everybody that day and the men showed incredible grace under such pressure. However, I'm more impressed with the women's team. The graduated one guy from their team last year; the women graduated 3 and had to sit out 2 due to injury. There was a point in the early season I thought the women might just not even qualify for NCAA, but they pulled it together and a great team was formed.