Though her days of leaving NAIA competition in the dust are over, Anna Shields is far from the finish line as a runner.
After a stellar career at Point Park that produced 10 national titles and 15 All-American accolades, she is spending part of her summer exploring options to compete professionally. This past week, she visited ZAP Fitness in North Carolina.
She said she also is taking a hard look at NE Distance (Rhode Island) and Central Park (N.Y.) Track Club.
“I feel like, as a runner, I always had big dreams,” Shields, 28, said last week from Philadelphia International Airport while awaiting a flight back to her native Connecticut. “It started to become more realistic at Point Park. I would say my junior year, it seemed like I could really do it (run professionally) instead of just hope and dream about it.
“I feel like I proved myself on the collegiate level. Now I am ready to see what I can accomplish on the pro level.”
Shields more than proved herself at Point Park. Over her last two years with the Pioneers, she won nine of her 10 NAIA national titles: one in cross country and four each in indoor and outdoor track and field. She won back-to-back titles in the outdoor 800- and 1,500-meter runs and the indoor mile and 1,500.
She closed her Point Park career in May by winning the 1,500 national title by 11 seconds, and less than two hours later in the 90-degree heat of Gulf Shores, Ala., she won the 800 by nearly six seconds.
“My junior year when I won the mile indoors with my 4 (minutes), 37 (seconds),” Shields said when asked which of her accomplishments stood out. “I had just been wanting to break 4:40 for a really long time. That race got me excited for pursuing post-collegiate running.”
Shields already has tested herself against some of the country’s best. She qualified for the USA Track and Field national championships in the outdoor 800 and 5,000 in 2018 and, in the winter, qualified for the USATF indoor 1,000 national finals. In April, she placed fifth in the USATF 1-mile road championship with a time of 4:36.4.
Now, she is looking to improve her performance to be able to compete in world meets. For that, she said, she needs to be among the country’s top five or 10 runners in her events.
Getting hooked up with a professional club will be key to her development. With a club, she will have access to more individualized training — everything from sports massage to form analysis to targeted weight training to tips on how to manage her mileage safely.
She also — unwittingly — might have helped her professional future when she stepped away from running for a time. After graduating from high school, Shields went to Central Connecticut State to run, but two lackluster seasons led her to give up the sport until she resurfaced at Point Park in her mid-20s.
She has been told the couple of years off should extend her shelf life as a runner.
“I’m not worried that I will be done doing this in three years,” she said.
Shields is preparing to try to qualify for the USATF outdoor national championships, which are July 25-28. After that, she plans to have a decision on where she will begin what she hopes will be a long professional career.
“I am excited to see if I can make that step,” she said.