“That was his defining moment,” Wales said. “That was the moment where he learned he could win.”
With his increased abilities as a runner came a deeper love for the sport. Shields admits it was hard at times, but his dedication to becoming the best he could be pushed him past any obstacles in his way.
“Some days you just don’t want to go,” he said. “But you keep at it because you know the work pays off.”
The effort Shields puts into his training has been met with results, both in his athletic career and in his personal life. Shields doesn’t hesitate to say most of his closest friendships have resulted from being a member of the BYU cross-country team.
“There’s a closer team aspect to cross-country than to track,” Shields said. “Track is a team sport, but it’s a huge team and you’ve got all sorts of events. With cross-country it’s just the distance guys and you’re a lot closer. It makes it really fun.”
Shields said he and his teammates like to get together for almost any reason. Sometimes they take girls out on group dates, other times they’ll gather at someone’s apartment to watch a Utah Jazz game.
“We really are best friends,” Shields said. “When we travel, we do things for fun like go to movies, go out to eat or go swimming. I’m going to miss it after this year.”
The tight knit relationships formed on the team aren’t exclusive to the students either. Shields said the team’s coach is very much a part of the group. As a former BYU athlete, national champion and professional runner, coach Ed Eyestone is somebody who Shields and his teammates look up to.
“He really is just like one of us,” Shields said. “He’ll play games with us a lot, he’s fun to be around and he’s just a great coach.”
Seeing how comfortable Shields is at BYU and considering the success he’s had, it’s funny to think his career as a Cougar almost ended before it began.
Growing up, Shields was always a BYU fan. His parents are both alumni, and he said his family would watch every football game. As he made his way through his senior year of high school, Shields said he kept waiting to hear from the coaches at BYU. After all, he had a considerable amount of success, placing second in the cross-country state championships and winning the two-mile in track and was being recruited by every other school in the state.
With the school year winding down and still no word from BYU, Shields committed to Southern Utah University. It wasn’t long after that Eyestone finally called.
“I was like, ‘Why didn’t you call me earlier?’” Shields recalls, laughing. “It was all right though. I had fun my freshman year at SUU, but I decided to transfer to BYU while I was on my mission. In the end, I’m really happy I ended up here.”
As his collegiate career is winding down, Shields said he still has a few things he’d like to accomplish. The team finished fourth at the national championships last year, and Shields said he looks to build on the accomplishment.
“I want to win nationals, or at least improve from last year,” he said. “A lot of the other guys on the team feel the same way. We want to win it. If we fall short, that’s all right, just as long as we go for it.”
As for individual goals, Shields said he’d like to finish in the top five. A post-nationals ranking last season had him ranked seventh among returning athletes.
If he’s going to have the impact he hopes to have this year, it will be because of his tremendous dedication to his sport and to his team.
“Rex is one of the few guys who you can look at during practice and say he’s truly giving 100 percent effort,” Rohatinsky said. “I consider myself a better runner and a better person for having been his teammate these last few years.”
Mason Porter is a Sports Information Director for BYU Athletic Communications. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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