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Shamai Larsen remembers shaking hands with Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Chief of Staff of the Army, after helping the JBLM womens active duty team clench first place in the 2012 Army Ten-Miler in October.
Larsen said, It was super intimidating and crazy, but it was from being a runner, not anything else. (Running) has opened so many doors for me as far as the Army goes.
Now a first lieutenant and company executive officer with 62nd Medical Brigade, Larsen didnt commit herself to running until years after she enlisted in the Army. She was 23, and a dental NCO at Fort Campbell, Ky., when she just decided to run a marathon.
A sergeant first class at her clinic inspired her to lace up.
She was really fast and ran a marathon. I thought she was pretty cool, and I wanted to be like her, Larsen said. The Dillingham, Alaska native strode toward her new goal alone. She ran whenever she found time. After a month and a half of training, Larsen ran all 26.2 miles of her first marathon the first race of her life.
I knew nothing about running. I just started running on my own, at night and after work. Just running more and more and more, she said.
Larsens next step as a runner came simultaneously with a step up in her career. She enrolled in Austin Peay State University in Tennessee under the Armys Green to Gold Program, where enlisted Soldiers can earn their commission through a combination of college and military training.
The assistant coach of Austin Peays track and field team recruited Larsen at the second race of (her) life, a 5K run, only four months after her first marathon. She went to practice the next day.
I enlisted right out of high school, so I didnt think I was going to get that college experience. Being a student athlete really made that come true, Larsen said.
Joining the Division I team at Austin Peay was a whirlwind and amazing experience.
Doug Molnar, head coach of track and field at Austin Peay State University, described Larsen as, One hard worker. She worked from the crack of dawn until after dark.
Having only started competitively running after joining the Army, Larsen and Molnar knew her teammates and competitors would have experience on their side and that she would have to catch up. Her experienced teammates brought her up to NCAA-speed.
Molnar remembered sitting with Larsen in his office and going over her goals.
She said she just didnt want to finish last, he recalled. I remember telling her Dont worry, you wont. And she didnt not during her first collegiate race, or since.
At Austin Peay, running became a lifestyle, she said. Its not even really a choice. I dont really feel normal if Im not running almost everyday.
Larsen recently traded road races, like the Army Ten-Miler, for mountain trail races where shes found her niche. I dont really like running on the road anymore. I think Im retired, she said.
Adopting a runners lifestyle has changed more than her level of fitness. She has like-minded friends, eats healthier and feels accomplished.
Its never been about her finish times other than not being last or the competitiveness of sport. She said running is about the experience. Like the experience of her last road race, the 2012 New York City Marathon. Facing a canceled race in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Larsen was momentarily set back. She prepared for one of the most famous runs in the world by joining 20,000 other runners for laps around Central Park. She said the sense of community was common among her trail running friends, and a reason she prefers dirt to asphalt.
The way the runners rallied together without any official organization was almost better than running the marathon, she said.
For another first, Larsen plans to run the Deception Pass 50K in Oak Harbor, Wash., Dec. 8, her longest trail run. Its just a part of who I am now, and it will always be in my life, she said.
Larsen may have retired from the road, but she has no plans to stow her running shoes any time soon.