Photo by Ryan Kelly
Since the age of nine, Shakeela Saunders has been shining on the track, ever since this age she has not looked back, from being a speedster in basketball, it only took the keen eye of her uncle to notice that raw speed in her step, and with this, he started her in track and field. Shakeela is currently a sophomore at Great Bridge high school, a AAA school in Chesapeake. But don’t let her age fool you; she is a becoming one of, if not the most, dominating female athletes produced in Virginia since McCorory. Her most notable recent performance would be her runner-up place at AAA indoor states, team competition that is! Her astounding finish, scoring forty-one points in five events is simply jaw dropping, few, if any athletes, guy or girl, can pull off that feat.
Saunders (pictured right by Ryan Kelly) is, like many track-stars, is a year round runner who competes in all seasons including the summer. Saunders may be a year round athlete but what makes her stand out from others is simply her times and her ability in almost every event. With bests over 40 ft. in the triple jump and five ft. in the high jump, not to mention a sub forty 300M and a sub twelve 100M, her times and jumps are astonishing and all contend for best in or are some of the best in the state.
While speaking with Saunders (pictured left by John Herzog), one can find out how driven and motivated she is. Though she may motivated by herself, she does point out a few helping hands who she considers have made her into the great runner she is. One of the premier role players in her entourage of motivators who helped her reach her ability she says is Coach Grant (Girls’ Sprint Coach) who has really pushed her and made her exell to the level she is at today. Shakeela also has a little help with the guys’ team, considering Taylor Sykes; one of the premeir male track athletes is on the same team. She considers this a big help since the guys and girls’ teams practice together, and thus, they are able to push each other and do better in practices and then meets.
With over two years to go in high school, Saunders has much room for improvement, which consequently would lead to many records being broken, especially some of a runner named Francena McCorory. When asked about her goals and idols, one name comes to mind, Francena. Francena was a dominant athlete to say the least, who during her senior year in indoor set a message to all track athletes that they were not going to beat her, that message being a 51.93 at Nike Indoor Nationals in the 400M! Though this record may be ridiculously fast, that does not inhibit Shakeela’s goals or demeanor. Saunders recently met Francena at the Peninsula Relays and when she met her she told me all she could think of was “ man I really want to break her records”; this attitude is a perfect example of how she wants to better herself and is setting the bar high for herself.
Aside from Francena, Saunders has many things on her plate to contend with right now. She is currently balancing competing in many events for the team, while still pursuing PR’s. She does however, like to focus on more individually based events, but says she is willing to do many events for the good of the team. Though she may love individual events, she is still, just like all of us, in love with relays, and misses them a lot. Though most people would not mind trading relays in for a few state championships in individual events. Shakeela may be amazing at anything she pursues but she sees the 200M as her favorite and her coach sees her best event as, and is focusing her most on, the 400M. She discusses with me, how that once you run the 400M and do well at it, that you can really do any event. Though her coach may see that as her best event, she does not. Saunders sees her best event being the triple jump and that is a rightful thought considering her 40’2” monster jump as a freshman last year.
Photo by Ted Plunkett
Shakeela may have many goals and records she is chasing; however, what she is currently doing cannot be overlooked or understated, it is simply astonishing. Her work ethic and motivation may be and can be attributed to many things, but one that is contingent for any athlete in any sport is self-drive. Her drive to be better and do better is why she is here today, jumping the distances she is and running the times she does. She has a raw ability to take her talent to the next level and beyond, she is not afraid of pressure, but loves and remembers her best race being in that pressure. Back in Indoor, at states, she came down to her last event, where if she won, she would place top three in states, that being the 300M, which she won. This and almost anything in her illustrious career shows her ability and drive to win, which she often does. Looking forward to next year, she intends on competing in a Heptathlon at Nike Indoor Nationals; along side with this, she is chasing many goals and records, which if she stays on the same path she will have no problem elapsing.
Though her idols may be Francena and Sanya Richards, she is swiftly moving closer to their times and her goals. Saunders currently is training this season for Nike Nationals and the Taco Bell invitational along with States and other championship meets. Her short-term goals are PR’s and long term goals are that she wants to be competing at The Olympic Trials in her senior year, a goal not too lofty for an athlete with her ability. Saunders (pictured right by Ryan Kelly) is proving that being a year round runner, and being motivated not just from her coach, but from her whole family too, and more importantly herself, is leading her in the right way of breaking records and PRing. Her work ethic and drive along side with all of these motivators are making her into one of the best female track athletes to run in Virginia. Though she may do many different events, what she does before each event does not change, she says a little bible verse her Grandmother taught her, before every competition and race, religiously. This verse was told by her Grandmother while loosing in a basketball game when she was seven years old, after her Grandmother gave her those words, they consequently won. These words, that she says and remembers before every race are- “I can do all things in him that strengthen me”. These words and her work ethic are living proof of how she is accomplishing her goals and chasing records in route to become one of the greatest female track athletes to pass through Virginia.