Nikita Shah prepares for run at cross country state title
By Kyle LoJacono
Nikita Shah’s name is never far from the top of any race she enters.
The Wiregrass Ranch senior has been turning heads since she finished 17th overall at the Class 3A state meet as a freshman.
Shah runs with the speed, power and grace of a natural-born athlete, but her journey as a distance athlete started because she was cut from other squads while an eighth-grader at John Long Middle.
“I tried out for most of the middle school teams, and track was just one of them,” Shah said. “I didn’t really make any of the other teams. … I really wasn’t that athletic at all, which is why I didn’t make any of the other teams.”
Shah became the No. 2 runner for the Longhorns that season. The success convinced her to try out for the Bulls cross country team when she reached high school.
“When she first got here as a freshman we saw someone running effortlessly with all of our top girls,” said seventh-year Wiregrass Ranch coach Don Howard. “I knew we had something special.”
Howard said Shah’s work ethic and ability help the team beyond her times on the course.
“It gives them that No. 1 that they know is going to put a small number up, and if they can do their thing, then we’re going to be competitive in every race,” Howard said. “Also, she leads by example. She’s always out here; she never misses. She often times trains with the boys or ends up running by herself just because her pace is different than the rest of the team.”
Junior Elise Cedre, who has been on the team the last three years, said Shah’s ability inspires the squad.
“She does some of her workouts with us, but mainly she works out with the boys, but that kind of pushes us,” Cedre said. “She’s kind of up on a pedestal, and we all know she’s amazing and want to be like her. We want to be great runners too. She encourages us a lot, so she’s a good teammate. I just really admire her a lot with her running ability.”
Shah has become entrenched as the top girls distance runner in the area, but she hit a serious obstacle her sophomore season. Despite her work to get better, she was getting slower.
She finished the state meet that year 27th in 19 minutes 45.13 seconds, 13 seconds worse than her freshman season.
Turned out the problem was Shah was anemic, which prevented her from getting enough oxygen to power through runs.
After getting her iron levels fixed with supplements, Shah returned to make up for lost time last year. She finished fourth at the 3A state cross country meet in 17:53.96, which would have given her the championship in the other three classes.
She also set a new personal record (PR) at the district meet by posting a 17:52. Her PR entering her junior season was 18:38.50. Her efforts earned her the The Laker/Lutz News Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year for the second straight season.
Shah continued to push during the track and field season and ended up with the third-place medal in the 3,200-meters (2-miles) at the 3A state meet after running a 10:49.62.
“Her sophomore year, really because of her iron issues, she didn’t live up to what we thought she was going to,” Howard said. “Then last year everything changed. She finished fourth in cross country and then third in the 3,200 in track, establishing herself as one of the top runners.”
The rebound season showed Shah what she can do when healthy.
“It meant a lot,” Shah said. “It just proved that if you work hard and give it your all and train right during the season it would show in the postseason.”
Senior Hannah Eder, Shah’s teammate in cross country and track, said seeing Shah healthy is amazing.
“Me and Nikita have been best friends since third grade,” Eder said. “We live right across the street from each other. … It was kind of rough for her and I know she was trying really hard, so to see her doing what she did last year and how fast she is now is really great.”
Last year’s accomplishments made her hungry for more this season.
“I’ve been working really hard this summer, and hopefully it pays off in the end,” Shah said. “My goal is to win a state title this year.”
Shah put in 50 miles a week during the summer, fighting through blisteringly hot conditions and hours of pounding. The thought of competing with the best in the state always gets her through the workouts.
“It’s definitely exciting, and anticipating what it’s like makes me train harder,” Shah said. “The other girls are training hard, and I want to compete with them. It’s a great experience to be a part of.”
Howard said he’s seen a difference in Shah’s training in preparation for her senior campaign.
“The change I’ve seen is she’s been in the gym all summer,” Howard said. “While the casual observer may not know it because she’s small, she is now much stronger and leaner, and that’s going to bring more power to her races than in the past. I’ve been in the gym and worked out with her, and she’s strong, surprising strong for a girl her size.”
Shah said she feels no pressure to live up to what she’s already done.
“I know I’m working as hard as I can, and that’s all I can control,” Shah said. “There’s no reason to feel pressure if you can tell yourself that.”
—Results as record by the Florida High School Athletic Association
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