Tuning out the world and turning up the blues, you’ll find Shalah Smiling bumping artists like Jhene Aiko and Dylan Sinclair.
As she takes a step back from her traditional athletic role, Smiling reflects on the meaning of Sinclair’s song, “Home”.
“The whole song is just basically talking about love and I am definitely… a hopeless romantic so I would play that song at my wedding for sure.”
For Smiling, R&B isn’t the only style of music that gets her through her day.
During competition, gospel is her go to genre.
“I usually start my day off with…. worship music to just get my mind ready and positive,” Smiling said. “I try to focus on technique and what I need to do in executing my race.”
Smiling, a 22 year old marketing major from Stafford Virginia, is a full-time graduate student and track runner at Jacksonville University.
4th year sprinter, Pashen Williams enjoys running alongside her.
“Shayla; is a really high spirited person, she brings laughs and giggles to practice, she brings out the best in everybody.”
As a fifth-year returner, Smiling is viewed as disciplined and competitive, motivating her team to improve.
“So we have this thing … Testing week… and since she’s done it [for a really long time] she’s really good at it and has a lot of experience in it. So things that we are not good at, she’s good at and it helps push us to do better and be better and when we need those key pointers, she’s able [them] to give us”.
Testing week includes drills that test each athlete’s skill. This involves things like standing long jumps, standing triple jumps and block 30 m starts.
Junior; 400 m dasher Sadae Davidson describes her as an all-around great athlete.
“She does a lot of things with the track meets, just simple things like getting [us] to the vans on time , getting to the track meets on time, knowing when [we] need to check in, things like… getting things to coach Grigg… She’s good on communication.”
With every little bit of sunshine comes a bit of rain. For Smiling this was knee tendonitis an injury that she was diagnosed with during her second year.
“I think it started my sophomore year. It affects me daily. Sometimes I am restricted from knee activities such as lunges and other knee exercises.”
Knee tendonitis is an ongoing injury that Smiling continues to fight. The injury consists of tissue damage connecting the kneecap to the shin bone. Common side effects include swelling stiffness and pain. According to Smiling, knee tendonitis is a very minor injury that doesn’t restrict her daily operations.
Since recovering, she has created a routine to remain healthy and in top shape.
“I’ve learned to continuously upkeep my diet, sleeping nutrition… and rehab and that’s really just been pushing me as far as I’ve been now with my fifth year and I haven’t really had a major injury since so I just gotta be consistent in that just preparing my body for [NCAA Division I] activity.”
As someone who has battled previous wounds, Smiling knows how to uplift her teammates during times when they are battling injuries and physical setbacks.
“I just continue to encourage them to stay in the training room, to do rehab before practice daily and to pay attention to their bodies.”
Smiling is proud of her own determination.
“To say I made it this far and didn’t quit … there’s many.. Times where I wanted to quit but my mom motivated me… just talking to her… talking to my family keeping me mentally stable and just getting through years of track, 5 years of school … I’m proud of that.”
Smiling finds motivation from her older brother who played football in college. She looks to him as a mentor spiritually and athletically. Her brother inspired her during her workouts to keep going even when it was tough.
Today she lives by his message every time she fights a mentally challenging battle, “‘You gotta suffer a little bit, to get the glory to get where you wanna be and so I use that every time I’m going through a mental battle with track and field.”