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State champion has no plans to slow down

ESKO - Marisa Shady's cross country state championship time was fast. But there are days in the 16-year-old's life that are faster yet. A typical fall school day for the Esko junior begins before most, running cross country before school, hitting...

Marisa Shady

ESKO - Marisa Shady's cross country state championship time was fast. But there are days in the 16-year-old's life that are faster yet.

A typical fall school day for the Esko junior begins before most, running cross country before school, hitting the books, heading to soccer practice and finally starting her homework after that.

Somehow, in the midst of her on-the-go lifestyle, Shady also finds time to coach basketball, referee soccer and work at an athletic shoe company. She's a 4.0 student who enjoys the biology club and is an avid babysitter, too.

"I'm usually up around 5:15 on school days," Shady said. "Maybe one day on the weekend I'll get to sleep in. It's nice. I get bored though."

One thing Shady never gets bored of is sports. In the fall, she'll play soccer; in winter it's basketball and in spring it's track and field.

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She's the state's defending Class A cross country champ.

Last November, Shady became the first-ever state cross country champion in Esko's storied school history, and the first Northland winner since Duluth East's Kendall Wheeler back in 1998.

Her staggering 4,000-meter time of 14 minutes, 45.4 seconds was a personal best, a time the speedster said afterward even shocked herself.

"It definitely wasn't something expected," said Shady, who began running competitively on varsity in seventh grade. "I went down there thinking I could medal and shoot for the top-10. I didn't think I could win. It was all so overwhelming, I couldn't believe it."

Marisa's younger sister, Erika, 15, was also running that day. Placing 29th, Esko sophomore Erika remembered things vividly down that final stretch.

"I was on the stretch before the finish line when I heard the announcer say 'Marisa Shady is in first, let's bring her in,'" recalled Erika. "I was really excited and started to run faster so I could see. I couldn't quite get there in time, but it was cool."

Their parents, Jeff and Joanna Shady, were watching intently as well.

"I was running around trying to watch and I would listen every once and a while," said Joanna. "Then my husband was like 'Oh my, there's Marisa!'"

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That's when Marisa pulled away from her competitors with her arms raised triumphantly as she approached the finish line.

"At that minute I knew she was going to win and I completely lost my breath," Joanna said. "I was trying to video tape but you can't see it. I couldn't take photos or anything. It was so overwhelming. Everyone was so happy for us."

"Now it's kind of sunken in, I guess," said Marisa.

Since then, Marisa has become somewhat of a mini-celebrity.

"I still get people congratulating me and it was almost a year afterwards," said Shady, who has a hanger full of all her athletic medals. "I hear people talking all of the time. But they just have to run their race. That's what I did."

Entering this fall as the champ, Shady said not much has changed.

"I still haven't gotten new spikes," she said, laughing.

Shady also said she still trains on the same rural roads in Esko, with Erika and their fellow teammates. As for Erika training with her sis, she loves it.

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"She really pushes me and helps me get faster," Erika said. "Sometimes I think about how I want to beat her, but I know that if I can just see her, it's going to help me."

Both Shady girls eat 5-6,000 calories a day to increase their growth during training, while adding four to five miles of running each morning.

With all that eating and running, Marisa isn't devoting much energy to plans for defending her title.

"I thought there was going to be more pressure, but there's not," Marisa said. "It'd be nice to win again, but that's not my main focus. For me, I'd like to start where I left off and run my race. I know I can get my time down."

Her coach, Jerry Zimny, affirmed that the pressure is off.

"Marisa is obviously something special, but I told her that she doesn't have to win every race or state again," he said. "If our kids just do their best that day, we're going to be happy and we don't ask for any more than that."

"We don't expect them to be superstars," said Joanna of children Marisa, Erika, Selena, 12, and Savanna, 10. "That's just who they are. They're very competitive and have made me so proud."

With a new season under way already, Marisa noted their team looks good again. According to Zimny, Esko's cross country team has gone to state consecutively for almost a decade now.

"We don't really focus on individual accomplishments, our focal point is the team," Marisa said. "We have a target on our back but we just take that in stride. We have a reputation, but that just pushes us even more."

Although the state's best individually, Shady is still striving for something more meaningful when she takes to the starting lines this fall ... a team title.

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