Royals Athlete of the Week: Abigail Shelly

Royals Athlete of the Week: Abigail Shelly

Senior Abigail Shelly (Collinsville, Miss./West Lauderdale) started EMU's 2019 fall sport season as our Royals Athlete of the Week. She ends the fall with a repeat honor after not just qualifying for Nationals in women's triathlon, but by finishing 13th in her first ever season in the sport.

It was quite the rise for Abigail, who entered her final collegiate season with only an All-ODAC Third Team medal with EMU's distance medley relay team from last spring's indoor track season. It was also an incredible jewel in the crown of the first year for the EMU women's triathlon program.

Abigail's work over the summer to prepare for the season could inspire a textbook, although she is quick to point to all the people around her who helped along the way.


How you ever experienced anything like Nationals, from all the logistics of getting your bike out there to managing your week leading up the race?

I’ve definitely never experienced a weekend like it before.  I had become accustomed to making long trips with the cross country team about once a year, but this was completely different.  So much different preparation goes on.  We had to send my bike about a week before I left, which meant that I spent time practicing on a different bike for the crucial week beforehand.  We practiced at a different pool due to the one we usually use being broken, so that was also an adjustment. However, once we landed in Arizona and (Coach) Joanna (Friesen) so skillfully assembled the bike, I felt like everything was going to be okay.  There are just so many more things on the “to-do” list for a competition like this!  The coaches and our bike mechanic were so helpful in this process… they were the ones who were watching my bike, making arrangements with different pools, etc.  I can’t believe all that they did to make this work.


Tell me about your decision between going to Triathlon Nationals or Cross Country Regionals.

This was definitely a tough decision.  I love my cross country team so much, and would have loved to experience Memphis and a final race with them.  However, from a competition perspective, my chances for success were much higher at the triathlon Nationals. I also saw that it could mean a lot for the future of the program, especially with recruiting.  I so badly want to see the Triathlon team grow!

My teammates on the cross country team were so, so gracious about it all.  I can’t believe how supportive they all were through this, as I dropped off the team’s training about two weeks early, right after ODACs.  All in all, it was a decision where I did have to drop at least one thing, and there were definitely some bittersweet feelings to go along with that. 


What was going through your head as you stood lined up for that starting dash into the water?

During my entire warm up, I was trying my best to just think about all the people who have supported me to get to this point… there are so many!  This really helped me keep a positive mindset.

Before I go into the water, I always run through the race as quickly as I can in my mind, going through each step of each transition.  I usually have weird hand signals to go along with this. If I mess up or “miss” a step during transition [mentally], then I make myself start over.  Haha, it’s kind of like a little game that I play with myself to calm my nerves. Right before the gun went off, I had just run through the whole race successfully without having to start over, so I hoped that I was fully mentally present for the race.  


Tell me about your race at Nationals.

It was incredible!  There was excellent competition, and it felt like it was all a huge celebration for all that the season had held.  The swim was one of the better ones that I had had for the season. My time did not change drastically, but the way I felt when I got out of the water definitely did.  (Coach) Chad (Gusler) and I had worked on maintaining a faster pace over a long period of time, and this by far helped with my transition out of the water. The bike was a super technical course, and had about 24 turns, all of them either being 90 degrees or 180 degrees.  I was able to handle the bike relatively well, but I definitely hit slower times because of them. Then, the run came. During triathlons, I never feel more relieved then when I hit the run. Perhaps it is because it’s my stronger leg and where I am able to pass people, but mainly it is because it means that I did not pop a tire on my bike!  It’s kind of like reaching a “safe zone” of sorts. It’s usually when I feel the most exhaustion I’ve ever experienced in life, but in the best of ways - in a really empowering way. Then, finally finishing, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment and gratitude for all that this season was. It was an honor to hear them announce Eastern Mennonite University to everyone.  


Did you have any idea at the beginning of the season that it might go this way?

Not at all!  Originally, this was just something that would hopefully help my running.  However, after I was done with my summer training, I knew that I wanted to work as hard as I could to get as far as possible, whatever that meant.


Knowing all the work you put in during the summer, how does it feel to end your fall with this successful trip to Nationals?

The trip and experience all felt surreal, especially when I thought about all the work that had been put in to get to this point.  I was talking to someone recently, and I recognized how odd it felt to be getting this much attention now for my one singular performance at Nationals. This season has been composed of SO many small victories and battles, especially in the earlier summer months with doing so many workouts alone or in the heat or at the cost of sacrificing time to do other things.  It all felt so gratifying beyond compare. I definitely did not necessarily deserve a trip to Nationals based on the work I had done this summer or over the season, but it did add so much more meaning to the experience.  


What does it mean for you to represent EMU at Nationals in the program’s first ever season of existence?

I hope that it means more people will come and join EMU’s triathlon program, whether they are a student at EMU already or are being recruited!  If anything, I hope my success shows that really anyone can do this, even if they are new to the sport. The coaches here know what they are doing and are ready to work with all different ability types. 


What are one or two things you learned about yourself through your one year with triathlon?

  1. I love food.  I love the amount of food that triathlon allows me to take in.  Undoubtedly, I will miss this. I already do. :’{

  2. Hard things are never done alone.  We need people, and I was able to benefit from an insane amount of people who supported me through coaching, encouraging, doing workouts with me, and grounding me.


Coach Bob Hepler on Abigail Shelly:

Abigail's season in triathlon and cross country shows all EMU athletes that a summer of dedicated training makes a huge difference. Abigail transformed herself into a really strong and fast endurance athlete in the span of six months. Kind of like Wonder Woman’s relatives on that island in that movie. Somehow she did it all while working and maintaining a huge academic and student life load.

Abigail's success is just the most prominent story of a successful first for EMU Women’s Triathlon. Leah Lapp, Mim Beck and Lydia Chappell Deckert were high school swimmers who had to learn how to be competitive cyclists and runners in just a few months. I’ve told Emma Hoover’s story to many amazed coaches. She went from a poor swimmer with no cycling experience to a solid swimmer and great cyclist who almost qualified for Nationals! I’m very proud and grateful of all of them. Because of their efforts several current EMU women are joining the team and the recruiting has been strong. The future looks so bright that I better pick up a fancy set of EMU sunglasses from the bookstore.