When athletes finish their college eligibility, many move away from the sports that they competed in. Running is the exception as former Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders continue to run both competitively and recreationally after completing their eligibility.
Shawn Flanagan, who is the architect behind the cross country and track programs, has developed champions in both sports. But in the 10 plus years as head coach for the Islanders, Flanagan has helped nurture and direct his athletes love for running even after their collegiate careers end.
"Running is not something that you can get a person to love, they love it already or at least feel fondly about it before they get to me," said Flanagan "They have had success at it and I try to create an environment where they can continue to have success at it."
Former runners still apply the lessons learned from their college coach as Alamar Cavada, Shadrack Songok and Leeann Jimenez still swear by Flanagan's methods.
Cavada, who was one of the first signees for the cross country and track team, wanted to run for Flanagan from an early age after attending his running camps in Austin at the University of Texas. While in school she ran the Steeplechase, 1500m, 800m, occasionally the 5000m and the mile relay while also competing in cross country.
Following graduation she joined the Corpus Christi Roadrunners and trains with group called the AJ group, named for their pre-run meeting spot, Agua Java. She qualified for the Boston Marathon running at the Chevron Marathon in Houston Texas. In Feb. 2010, she ran her first ultra marathon at Rocky Raccoon, a 50 mile race consisting of three loops of 16.7 miles.
"Coach Flanagan continues to motivate me to run, asking about my races, and answering any questions that I have. He also joins us on some of our weekend runs at Agua Java," said Cavada "I look up to him and thank him for taking a chance with me 11 years ago.
"I wouldn't have done the things I have without his instruction and sharing his enthusiasm of running with me."
Songok, who won national championships during his time on the Island, has continued to run while helping out the Islanders as a graduate assistant for the cross country and track teams.
His events for the indoor season were the mile, 3000m and the 5000m and the 1500m, 5000m and 10000m for the outdoor season while participating in cross country as well. He still trains throughout most of the year and has competed in some road races since finishing his eligibility.
So far he's run three half-marathons, one last year and two early this year, and four 10K road races. He is planning on competing in more road races this coming fall and hopes to run a few track races next outdoor season.
"The reason I chose running before and even now is because it's what I enjoy, I love the fun of competition in the races. I also feel like I have a God given talent and so I still want to keep pursuing it because you never know what new doors in life it might open ," said Songok "I want to be a professional runner some day after school and so I have to stay fit and in good shape. It's also because of the great mentoring from Coach Flanagan that I still want to pursue professional running after school.
"He has so much belief in my capabilities in this sport and that gives me more confidence to go for it!"
Another original Islander that continued to run after her days of competition were over is Jimenez, who runs to keep her competitive juices going.
While an athlete she was another long distance runner running the 5000m and 10000m during her time on campus in the early days of the program. Currently she runs 5000m and half marathons to stay competitive plus active.
"I choose to run because of the purpose of competing, now that I am getting older there are not as many things out there to satisfy my competitive fix," said Jimenez "It's relaxing for me to enjoy the outdoor scene and listen to my iPod when I run."
Following each runners career at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Cavada, Songok and Jimenez continue to apply lessons learned from coach Flanagan to both running and life.