By Catey McCann, Staff Writer
Mike Shanahan has won the weight throw at every indoor meet this season. And if he has his way, the streak will continue.
The America East Conference has recognized the sophomore thrower from Dover as the Male Field Performer of the Week twice this season. The first award came after Shanahan was the only America East competitor to win a field event at the Jay Carisella Invitational on Dec. 13, 2014, with a weight throw of 18.65 meters — 1.31 meters ahead of the second-place competitor. The second recognition came after he placed first overall in the weight throw at the URI Coaches vs. Domestic Invite last week with a toss of 19.15 meters. He has totaled six wins in the weight throw and come within centimeters of breaking the school record, which has been held by Jeff Kaste since 2010 at 63 feet and 8 inches. Shanahan’s top throw is 63 feet and 7 ¾ inches.
“We joke around on the team because at that point, it’s like what part of the ball they measure and how they pull the tape — if it’s loose or tight kind of thing,” he said. “But it’s going to come eventually. What’s more important to me right now is winning the conference and winning New England’s and hopefully winning IC4A’s — that’s where the really big competition is.”
Those are some pretty lofty goals for someone who would’ve described himself as “unathletic” a mere four years ago.
“I only played baseball up until my junior year of high school,” he said. “I remember that was my third season in a row that I sat the bench. I had good relations with the coaches and the players on the team, but I didn’t have the technical skills. I was a really wild pitcher and I couldn’t bat — and that was the one thing they really wanted me to do.”
He decided on a whim his senior year to give throwing a try. He figured it was better than sitting the bench, and he wanted to participate in a second sport so he could qualify for his school’s “Scholar-Athlete award.” Becoming a top thrower in New England was pretty far off his radar.
“It went okay,” he said. “I threw shot put for the first time and I got up around 42 feet, which was good enough to qualify for states but not very good in the state. It hooked on more in the spring when I picked up the javelin. In about three months, my throw went from 90 feet to 150 feet, which left the school record there.”
That sparked the interest of Jim Boulanger, head coach of the men’s track and field team at UNH.
“I remember meeting Coach B,” Shanahan said. “He was interested in my javelin. Not many kids who go from playing baseball are good at javelin because it’s a different arm motion. So the fact that I got up to 150 feet in three months was pretty good, I guess.”
Despite generating the interest of a Division 1 head coach, throwing still wasn’t Shanahan’s top interest.
“The big thing for me back then was power lifting,” he said. “I broke the school squat record by 55 pounds. I put up around 505 pounds as a senior. I had a 300-pound bench, 505-pound dead lift, and 270-pound power clean.”
Despite looking at other schools in New York and Chicago, Shanahan made the decision to stay local. His father and two older sisters attended UNH, so he felt like the school held a lot of family roots. None of them had been athletes, however.
“Yeah some people say ‘Oh, genetics. He’s strong because of his genetics,’” he said. “And I’m like ‘Well, no one in my family is an athlete.’ The closest thing I get is a cousin who plays college baseball. No one else ever competed at the college level or trained or anything like that.”
Which is maybe why he still didn’t think too much about his collegiate athletic career when he entered UNH.
“When I started here I didn’t really have big goals for track,” he said. “I just kind of came in and decided I’ll just keep throwing, I’ll just keep lifting. When I started here I was just a kid still trying to power lift and get stronger in the weight room. It took about half a year to transition out of that mindset and start focusing on getting a bigger throw.”
And transition he did. Just a year and two months after first picking up the weight throw, Shanahan is now the second-seed in the conference in the event — trailing the first place seed by a mere two inches.
“When I started at UNH I didn’t even know what the weight throw was until I picked it up late in the fall semester,” he said. “I knew I could be a pretty good thrower and help the team out, but I didn’t think I would be the second seed in the conference as a sophomore.”
He has certainly pleased the coach who initially saw the talent in the baseball player turned javelin thrower.
“We hope that he will become an outstanding hammer thrower and all-around weight man,” said Boulanger. “He has a tremendous work ethic and is a very good athlete.”
But despite all the success, Shanahan still feels a lot of internal pressure. He set a goal of throwing over 19.50 meters in the weight throw this season and breaking the school record. Despite coming painfully close, he has yet to hit the mark. Two meets in a row he threw well over the 19.50-meter mark, but toe-fouled.
“It’s all there,” he said. “I’ve just got to put it all together a little bit more. I know I can win – that’s not the hard part. I have to win and put myself first in New England. That’s really the goal going into America East.”
He said that winning every meet has actually made it hard to stay competitive. The closest anyone has gotten is a foot and half — which is a fairly significant distance in the throwing realm. He said that the lack of local competition forces him to push and motivate himself independently. But he finds ways to do it.
“I made a deal with my coach, Ted,” he said. “We like to mess around. Next year I want to throw around 68 to 69 feet and go to nationals with that mark. [We both] think that’s very doable. If I do go to nationals, he has to dress up in a prom tuxedo and go with me as my coach.”
That sort of light-hearted and fun attitude is just what Shanahan embodies. He has a deep passion for everything in life, yet doesn’t take things too seriously.
“I like to think that life is very rhythmic,” he said. “I know that sounds a little mystic and funky, but I’ve played drums for a decade now so I’m very rhythmic with the way I think about things.”
He said he manages his time between training, school and working by finding a rhythm in his schedule.
“It’s not just about doing things and getting through them,” he said. “It’s about finding the right rhythm, the right pace, so that you can keep doing it all and not need a break. If I didn’t find that rhythm day-to-day I would probably fall apart in a week.”
Walk a day in Shanahan’s shoes and it would be clear why finding a rhythm is necessary for him.
A typical Tuesday starts with showing up to morning practice an hour early to work on his Olympic lifts by himself. His teammates and coaches show up for practice around 9 a.m. After practice he goes straight to Paul College for his 11 a.m. class. After class he goes back to lift at 12:30, then it’s back to class for 2:00. After that class, he typically will either go back to practice or head to volunteer coach weight lifting to the throwers from his high school.
“And somewhere in the middle of this you can probably find me running down Main Street shoving a sandwich in my mouth,” he laughed. “It’s kind of a silly sight. I time it so I have 10 minutes to get to class so I just have to get that sandwich down.”
He said it would be tough to live that kind of schedule every day but that Monday, Wednesday and Friday are a little more lenient.
“I have an hour break to go eat on those days,” he said.
While not having to eat lunch while running down Main Street is not everyone’s version of a “lenient” schedule, it works for Shanahan. He’s used to long days and tight schedules — and not because of being a student-athlete.
“When I was in high school, I was drumline captain for three years,” he said. “I was really into it. I ran around the country with drum corps and percussion groups.”
Last year, Shanahan was a member of Pure Fusion — a percussion group out of greater Boston, Mass.
“I would get up at 6 a.m. on Saturday and I would drive down to Boston with a couple friends from UNH and stay there rehearsing until 9 p.m.,” he said. “Then I would wake up at 6 a.m. the next day and do it all over again.”
This rehearsal schedule went from November to April. It led up to a massive competition in Dayton, Ohio where percussion groups from all over the world performed on stage in front of thousands of people. His group finished in ninth place out of hundreds of groups.
He has since had to stop playing in that percussion group to focus on school and track.
“I’m definitely sure of my decision to move away from it, but there’s always going to be a part of me that wants to be in performance mode,” he said, pausing for a few moments to try to find the words to explain what it was like. “There’s just something about it – performing in front of thousands of people who are just there to watch you.”
That’s why Shanahan is a member of the UNH marching band.
“I tell a lot of people that if I don’t drum and touch sticks that my hands start to get twitchy and I start to beat on the table a lot,” he said. “Which gets annoying for other people, so I’ve got to get that out somehow.”
He describes his time at UNH thus far as dynamic. Although he was initially worried that going to school 15 minutes away from home would be like “going to a different high school,” he has embraced the locality of the university.
“At first I didn’t like the idea of staying so close,” he said. “But it turned out to be really convenient. I can drive down the street and go back and forth. Staying where I’m from — where I know everything and I’m comfortable everywhere — that definitely helps out day to day.”
It also gave him the opportunity to help out at his high school, which is really important to him. This year every track coach left the team, leaving only a long-distance coach remaining.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a long-distance coach try to teach throwing or weight lifting,” he said. “It doesn’t quite work. So I decided to help out and go do what I could. I got the kids in the weight room the second week of school here and we’ve been working ever since.”
And when Shanahan isn’t on the track, in the weight room, at marching band practice, attending meetings for the Business Fraternity, at work, or volunteering at his high school, he is in the classroom working towards a B.A. in Economics and a B.S. in Information Systems Management.
He hopes that his track career will really take off so he can apply for a residency at the U.S. Training Center in Colorado after college. If not, he has three alternative paths lined up.
“I’m definitely interested in joining the Peace Corps,” he said. “They have a whole business division that helps developing countries with their new, local businesses. I’d get in there and work on a new language, a new culture — see what the world is like a little bit.”
If that doesn’t work out, he would either get a job or start his own company. He is interested in working with small companies and helping them utilize their technology, data and information to the best of their ability.
“So if it were a company that sells cookies, instead of baking 100 cookies and throwing out 20 or baking 100 cookies and not having enough, I would say ‘Bake 42 this day and 120 this day,’” he said. “I could help them see the trends and help them utilize the information that they aren’t because they think they are too small.”
It’s easy to see why Shanahan is so successful in life. Not only has he found a rhythm, but he marches to the beat of his own drum. He names his parents as his biggest inspirations in life. He watches motivational YouTube videos at night until he’s so pumped up to practice throwing he can’t even fall asleep. He loves the turkey sandwiches that get passed out on the bus before away meets. He’s the kid dancing during warm-ups to psyche out the competition and “get them thinking I’m some kind of goofball.”
And he does all that on the basis of one motivational line.
“I’m not done yet,” he said. “That’s what I like to tell myself.”
And he certainly isn’t.
“Off to go take an accounting quiz!” he announced, and rushed off.