(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)
Chewelah Track Coach Shirley Baker wins US Track and Field national title in shotput…
A national champion will now be hanging around Chewelah’s new track at Snyder field.
Track and Field Coach Shirley Baker, who has an extensive history in high-level athletics, won the national championship in the USA Track and Field National Masters competition at Eastern Washington University last weekend.
Baker finished first in the shotput with 34’7.5” which would have placed her in the top 10 of both the State 2B and 1A track and field championships in Washington. With the Cougars having a number of state champions and state placers throughout the year, Chewelah can hang their hats on the coaches also being able to compete at a high level.
Wanting to do well to inspire her athletes, Baker was nervous for the meet which she had decided to do when she found out they were hosting Master Nationals in Cheney.
“I am more inspired by the confidence I have gained by doing something which was very challenging for me,” Baker said. “I think when you have achieved high marks in anything early in your life, it is difficult to see yourself perform at a less competitive level.”
Baker began competing in track in sixth grade and competed at Capital High School in Olympia for coaches Leola Wheeler and Fred Breidenbach. She competed at state in the shot put for all four years, placing second her sophomore year, winning the 1982 state championship with her high school PR of 44’6.25 and placing second her senior year.
She placed second to Jennifer Ponath who would hold the state all-time record for shot put until 2017, and Baker would become her teammate at University of Washington from 1985-1988. The two proved to be an unstoppable force in college. Baker finished her college career in 1988 as a two-time All-American and placed second to her teammate at the 1988 NCAA Division 1 Championships. The two post-qualified for the 1988 Olympic Trials. Her lifetime PR is 52-6.5.
“The highlight of my day was after she heard I had won, my high school track coach, Leola Wheeler, texted me and told me how proud she was of me for re-entering the ring and competing today,” Baker said. “I am so thankful for her contribution to my development as a person. She was tough as a coach, but I learned a lot about what it means to be a good teammate from her.”
Baker added that she is thankful for all the teachers and coaches who helped her development as an educator and coach. Baker is also a teacher at Jenkins Junior/Senior High School and coaches Chewelah’s volleyball team.
“I hope to one day be the sender of a similar message to one of my former volleyball or track athletes,” Baker said. “Her message means a lot to me.”
Being a former Div. I athlete and one who was competing for a national title in the NCAAs, Baker knows that this is a start and not a finish. She wants to share with her athletes that you have to persevere and do your best each time.
“I won today, but I could have just as easily lost,” Baker said. “But when I look at the video my husband took of my competition, I looked okay and I met some really great athletes whom I would have never met had I stayed home.”
Baker admits she didn’t have the best workout on Friday before the national championship event, but everyone competing was really supportive, cheering each other on. Track and Field can be a weird sport like that, as many directly competing athletes support each other because they want to see the best possible marks and people achieving new things.
“One competitor asked me if I had been throwing for a long time, which I have I guess, as a coach,” Baker said. “But today was basically 30 years to the date of my last competition, which was the 1988 Olympic Trials. My daughter said I looked focused and competitive, not nervous. My family was there, so Wade and Whit were giving me feedback, which helped a lot to have them in my corner.”
Post-college competition in track and field is difficult. While distance runners have a lot more opportunities with a selection of races of varying length, there are limits for field event athletes or sprinters.
“The gap, really, is post-collegiate competition unless you are an Olympic caliber athlete who is sponsored and competes in Europe,” Baker said. “But for those of us who love the sport and want to continue, masters track starts at age 30, so the wait isn’t too long.”