Spending a Few Moments With Shayla Houlihan!

My guess is that you never ran the steeplechase until late in your career at UNI.   What made you take a chance in that event?  And did you have any experience with the hurdles beforehand?

I didn’t take a stab at the steeplechase until my sophomore year of college. Every year in high school I would not miss the opportunity to watch the collegiate women run the event at the Sioux City Relays. I was drawn to it and told myself that I wanted to try it! My sophomore year, reluctant but approving, Coach Kepler allowed me the opportunity. He knew how badly I wanted to be able to travel with the team and how badly I wanted to be good. The steeplechase seemed like a possibility for me to achieve both. I had zero experience hurdling before my sophomore year. I was terrible. I would go to the track when I knew no one would be there just to practice while no one was around. One of my greatest memories was the advice that Joey Woody gave me while watching me try to improve over the barriers. It was one of those late nights when I thought no one else would be there watching!

You had somewhat average high school and college careers..What was the inspiration that made you decide to continue and try to make it professionally?

I knew  that I loved running. I knew that there was still more left in the tank. I decided to run post collegiately because I was coaching and was around it all of the time anyways. Mainly, I knew I could help the women I was coaching; it was more about them and less about me. The next year I continued to get even better and my focus moved from them towards me again. This is when I knew it wasn’t fair for me to coach and run at the level I wanted to run at. I wanted to be the best at both but it wasn’t physically or emotionally possible to achieve both endeavors. I made the decision after I signed my professional contract with Brooks to stop coaching and focus on myself for 2 years leading into the Olympics.

You spent time as an assistant at Utah with Kyle Kepler.  Kepler is also an Iowa native and a UNI grad.  What is it that makes track athletes from Iowa able to excel in D-1 as both athletes and coaches?

We joke about going back to our Iowa roots all the time but there is some seriousness to that statement. Whenever I feel myself going through challenging patches in life this is what I remind myself of. Growing up in Iowa under tough weather conditions whether that be the cold, snow and wind chill or the hot, humid and sun makes you tougher than most. Coming from a smaller D-1 school made making the travel squad that much harder because of the smaller budget. Having the smaller budget meant a lot of things as an athlete and coach. For the most part we were all happy having a roof over our heads and just getting the great opportunity to compete! Those experiences alone hardened the shell and made us tough at all levels and made it possible for us to excel at the top levels.

You have made “the Big Time”!  Moving to California after being named an assistant coach at a program that is a track and field mainstay, Cal-Berkeley.  You have to be excited.  Can you tell us a little bit about the hiring/selection process?

I’m very excited to be a new addition to the Cal family. This place is a place of tradition and loyalty. I got that feeling the second I came on my visit as one of the finalist for the job. It felt like the right fit and the next right step for me moving forward with my coaching career. Coach Sandoval and I were in contact for close to 2 months in the entire process before being named assistant coach. We got to know each other, met each other’s families and ultimately made sure things fit very well with a high level of communication. If either of us thought for a second we couldn’t feel comfortable with communicating then the whole process wouldn’t work well for the student athletes and they are the most important piece of the puzzle. 

You will be coaching in the Pac 12.  Your sister, Shelby competes for AZ State, also in the P-12 and Utah is a new member of the P-12!  Do you see this as an awesome opportunity, to be able to see Shelby compete regularly and watch Utah athletes you may have coached, or does it apply pressure?

All of those things are great additions but ultimately I’m here for my athletes. Getting to know everything about them and how they function in those different conditions is priority number one for me. If anything, knowing a 1/3 of the athletes out there competing will make this transition a lot smoother for me, no pressure.

Finally, tell us a little bit about your professional career.  You made great improvement.   Did you have a date or year in mind that you would call it quits?  Or did you just come to that conclusion after the Trials?

My body made the decision. My mind fought it for about 6 months. With 2 months leading up to the trials I saw that there were opportunities to take big strides with my coaching career. This is where my passion truly lies. I absolutely love running and being competitive but my body told my mind that it was time to show and help other people to see and feel their strengths as athletes and competitors at the highest level. 

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