During the 800-meter race in the women’s heptathlon at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships on May 25, SUNY Geneseo track star Shayna Held was focused.
The meet was held at Spire Institute — an arena where Olympians have trained — in Geneva, Ohio. The 800 was the final event in the heptathlon, a seven-event competition.
The 19-year-old Wantagh resident, then a sophomore, recalled watching her legs moving forward as she fought to maintain her place among the top competitors in the country. Adrenaline pumped through her body, and sweat beads rolled off her face and down her blond French braids. She glanced to the right and noticed a taller competitor, who seemed to be moving faster.
So Held pushed harder. She needed to maintain her position in the 800 in order to finish among the top eight and earn the coveted All-American title in the heptathlon.
She finished in 15th place in a field of 21 runners, in a time of 2:32.79 — good for 658 points — and enough to keep her in the top eight in the heptathlon.
At the end of the day, Held had earned 4,651 points and finished fifth in the nation in the event, which includes a 100-meter hurdles, the high jump, the shot put, the 200-meter race, the long jump, the javelin and the 800. It is considered among the most grueling track events for women.
Held set a new SUNY Geneseo points record for the heptathlon.
“I can’t wait to tell my children [someday] that their mom was nationally ranked and an All-American,” she said. “It’s honestly so cool to think about.”
To become an All-American and break SUNY Geneseo records, Held had to overcome many hurdles — from a wrist injury that forced her to quit playing soccer, to enduring negative feedback from coaches, to contracting mononucleosis during her freshman year of college, she said. But she noted that her love of running and competing helped her persevere through it all.
“My dad always told me I was fast, but I never believed it,” she said. “Running has always been a big part of my life — my first email address was even shaynalightning@hotmail — but I wanted to do more than just run. I wanted to compete in other events.”
After she joined the Wantagh High School team, Held took up the hurdles and shot put, which tested both her agility and strength. Later, she mastered the long jump, high jump and triple jump, leading her to compete in her first pentathlon, a five-event competition similar to the heptathlon.
“My senior year at Wantagh was my break-out year,” Held explained. “It was the first year I had ever set a school record in the weight throw. This was the motivation I needed to continue running and competing on a college level.”
In 2015, she became an All-County athlete in the indoor weight throw. She also ranked fifth in Nassau in the 55-meter hurdles, and qualified her for the state competition. Additionally, Held took third in the pentathlon at the state qualifiers.
After joining SUNY Geneseo’s track and field team, she competed in the Division III indoor pentathlon. She ranked 18th in the country in the event and finished fourth, with a score of 2,937 points, at the SUNYAC Indoor Championships in February 2016.
In May, she broke the school heptathlon record, amassing 4,586 points at the Oneonta Last Chance Invitational, before moving on to the nationals.
Held said that her inspiration and motivation comes from her father, Glen. Calling his daughter a natural athlete, he said that he has always supported her goals.
“Shayna always strives to do better each time she competes and sets her bar high,” he said. “When she gets down on herself, I often send her a copy of a napkin that she and I wrote in a diner in April 2015, where she listed her dream times and heights and distance for the decathlon events.
“She has far exceeded all those times,” he continued, “and I’m sure she will continue to do so.”
Shayna said that although she has accomplished much, she will strive for even more in her next two years at Geneseo.
“The other day I went to train at my old high school track, and it flooded back all of these old memories of where I was to where I am now,” she said. “It’s an honor to compete for such an amazing team [as Geneseo], but also to have such great roots, too.”