Shae Anderson: Transferring to UCLA, overcoming injury and finally feeling at home
Searching for the right university, going through the recruitment process, and managing the pressures of high school can be overwhelming to say the least. But just know, there are hundreds of possibilities and programs in the collegiate landscape that are just waiting to be explored!
Streamline Athletes hopes to highlight collegiate track and field recruitment stories and experiences of all kinds to provide soon-to-be high school graduates with more insight into the recruitment process and tips as to how they can start and progress with their own journey.
From a young age, American sprinter Shae Anderson dreamed of going to UCLA and competing in the Olympics, just like her father. Holding a PR of 51.99 in the 400m, Anderson isn’t far off the Olympic qualifying standard of 51.35, and having recently transferred to UCLA, her dream is halfway there; but it has been quite the journey for Shae to get to where she is today.
I had the opportunity to speak with the Junior from Norco, California about her path to finding success with the UCLA Bruins after transferring from the University of Oregon, her experiences on the USA World Junior Team and her battle with a stress fracture in her spine.
Shae grew up in an athletic family: her mother was a figure skater and her father, Mark Anderson was a decathlete. In fact, he was a two-time All-American, NCAA Champion in 1980, and still holds the UCLA decathlon record with 8,171 points. Like Shae, he had dreams of going to the Olympics, but unfortunately, he tore his meniscus the year of the USA trials, the same year the Olympics were boycotted in 1980 and he never got his opportunity, but now it’s Shae’s chance.
When she was young Shae tried out a number of sports including figure skating and dancing, but ultimately they weren’t for her. During her freshman year of high school, she decided to try out for the track and field team and that is when her dreams started to brew.
Later that year, with not much coaching and limited training, Anderson made it to the first round of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) State Track and Field Championships. While she didn’t move past the first round, she saw something in herself.
“Okay I can do this,” Shae thought, “if I actually got good training.”
Throughout the rest of her high school career, Anderson moved around a lot, transferring schools to find a coach that worked for her. At one point she even decided to be homeschooled because she wanted to pursue the heptathlon — which required a lot of dedicated time — but in the end, she made it full circle back to her original high school, Norco, and her dad became her coach, which worked out well for her.
When she started competing and racing well — even if only here and there — everyone thought she had just come out of nowhere, but in reality, she had just been putting all her efforts into training and hitting good times in practice, away from competition.
“I knew what I was capable of, even though nobody saw me.”
During her Junior year in high school, Shae started looking into colleges, with the search continuing into her senior year.
“I didn’t have super high expectations because I wasn’t competing as much and no colleges had seen me yet.”
The first option to present itself was San Diego State because of a mutual connection, so Shae took a visit during the fall of her senior year. They offered her a low scholarship at first, which later turned into a full-ride once Shae started to run fast during the season, but now offers from other schools were starting to roll in.
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“When I went on my visits it felt really rushed because it was during track season. I went to Oregon for a very short weekend, as well as USC, which was only an hour from my house. I could have taken other visits in the East Coast, but it didn’t make sense because I was in the peak of my season and I didn’t have time to travel.”
Shae wanted to focus all her energy on her season and worry about the stress of recruitment afterward.
“I saw the recruitment process take a toll on me and I didn’t want to be stressed out during my season.”
Focusing on her competitions, Shae told coaches she wouldn’t have an answer for them until after the season was done, but deep down she knew that USC would be her choice; it was a convenient location, there was good weather and she would get to see her family every weekend. Unfortunately, by the time she got in contact with the coaches to tell them the good news, she found out that her scholarship money had been given away. Shae took this as a sign that USC just wasn’t the place for her and started her search again.
“It was now down to San Diego State or Oregon. I decided Oregon because it seemed like an environment full of top athletes and at that time Oregon had just won their triple crown at nationals, so I couldn’t go wrong and I was offered a full ride.”
Shae competed at the University of Oregon during the 2017–18 Season. She earned first-team All American honours by helping her team place third in the 4x400m relay at the Outdoor NCAA Championships with a time of 3:28.36 and made it to the semifinals at the NCAA West Preliminaries running a time of 52.92.
While Shae had a great freshman season, she realized that she needed a change.
“I learned a lot of lessons about myself while at Oregon, but it just wasn’t for me. I had a great experience, I got to run on one of the top 4X400m teams in the NCAA and ended up making the USA World Junior team that year as well.”
At the IAAF World U-20 Championships, in Tampere, Finland, Shae helped Team USA to their ninth consecutive gold medal in the 4x400m relay, to add yet another accomplishment to her resume.
“Still, I didn’t meet my expectations for the season and didn’t compete as well as I wanted to individually. After Juniors I decided I would stay at Oregon for one more year, talk to the coaches and see if something could change. It didn’t look like that was going to happen and because of all the Oregon rain, I ended up getting seasonal depression. I decided I had to leave for my own well being and I thought if I were to go somewhere else it had to be sunny.”
Shae looked into USC, San Diego State and UCLA again; these schools were all located somewhere sunny and were all close to home. Shae ended up taking a visit to UCLA.
“I felt like I was at home when I was on my visit. I felt like the coaches cared for me and were going to treat me as family. They even said my Dad could have a say in my training program and it just seemed like the best option for me and I can say it has been the best decision I have ever made.”
Unfortunately, the road bumps kept coming. Shae found out that she had a stress fracture in her spine upon transferring to UCLA, resulting in her missing the 2019 season. Again Shae preserved and she didn’t miss a beat upon her return to track in the 2020 Indoor Season.
Shae had an historic debut season with the Bruins, breaking the UCLA indoor 400m record twice, coming out with a time of 52.07, was part of the women’s 4x400m relay team that achieved a UCLA indoor record and earned MPSF Winter All-Academic acclaim.
A lot is still up in the air because of COVID-19, but since the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been postponed to 2021, it has given Shae more time to get back to where she wants to be, especially after transferring schools and recovering from injury.
“I was relieved when the Olympics got postponed. It is a goal for me to make that Olympic team next year and I’m using the time right now to build my strength back up. During my back injury, I wasn’t able to lift a very heavy squat, so I’ve been trying to get back to where I was.”
Shae is now in a place she can call home and the future is bright. After her experiences within the collegiate and recruiting world Shae was keen to share one last bit of advice for soon-to-be high school graduates.
“Make sure you really talk to the coaches of schools you are interested in. Make sure the training and environment are going to work for you. Not everything is always glitz and glitter, you really need to ask the important questions so you understand if a school is the right fit.”
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
Are you a track and field/cross country student-athlete dreaming of competing at the collegiate level? Or a transfer student in search of your next school? Find your best fit for university with Streamline Athletes.
Through our platform, you have the ability to sort, filter, and add university programs to your own opportunities list. After your list is complete you can reach out to coaches and college coaches can contact you, too!
There is a place for everyone in collegiate athletics and we are more than happy to help you find your home!
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