Amy Donaldson: Coach has watched Utah Olympian Shalaya Kipp embrace obstacles, find success

Published: Sunday, June 30 2013 3:55 p.m. MDT

Shalaya Kipp has enjoyed considerable success since she ran for Skyline High in the mid 2000s.

Larry C. Lawson

The fact that Shalaya Kipp was a freshman when she showed up at Skyline High’s cross-country practice in August 2005 was about the only thing that made her stand out.

“In the Granite District, we don’t get a ton of freshman because the junior highs have cross-country programs,” said Skyline cross country and track coach Thomas Porter. “She didn’t act any different than any other freshman — kind of scared and didn’t say much.”

It wasn’t until Kipp started running that Thomas realized he had something special on his hands.

“You saw right off the bat — the girl was good,” he said.

But the girl was also an aspiring skier.

So while she clearly had talent as a runner, her heart was set on navigating icy mountainsides with the world’s best. Her goal of making the U.S. ski team meant as soon as the high school cross-country season ended, she started skiing, while the rest of the country’s top runners participated in regionals, nationals and rigorous indoor seasons.

Porter said she didn’t show up to work out for track season until April. And as any runner will attest, being fit is not the same as being in running shape.

“She didn’t run a full year for me until her senior year,” said Porter, who’s led the Eagles program for the last 14 years.

Even running part-time, she had remarkable success. Her sophomore year she won the 5A state championship in cross-country by less than a second. She lost that same race by less than a second as a junior, which Porter said fueled her summer workouts heading into her senior season.

She ran a great race and crossed the finish line second. Her effort had also helped the Eagles to a third-place finish as a team, something that had meant as much to her as an individual title as she credited her teammates for pushing her and making her better.

But before the team could revel in the accomplishment, Porter was informed by officials that Kipp had been disqualified for rolling her shorts at the waistband. State rules require uniforms be worn as the manufacturers intended, and it was Porter who had to tell her.

It was a heartbreaking blow that might have devastated other runners. But Kipp established very early that she isn’t an ordinary runner.

Her father once told reporters his daughter’s secret to success.

“She said, ‘All you have to do is hurt more than the other runners,’” said Ron Kipp.

Porter said Kipp’s mental toughness is unmatched in his two decades of coaching college and high school runners. Even before the dust had settled, Kipp was trying not to let the disappointment defeat her.

“She was most upset about the displacement of the team,” he said, noting that the disqualification meant the Eagles finished fifth. “That was her whole concern. She felt like she let the team down.”

Kipp used any frustration as fuel. She trained harder for the regional meet that would determine which of the country’s best high school runners would compete at the Nike national meet. And while she trained, she made a decision that her future was in running shoes — not ski boots.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Porter, adding that she told him at the beginning of December 2008 that she was giving up competitive skiing. “That was one of the most painful things for her to do, when she kind of realized skiing wasn’t going to take her as far as running would.”