Rowbury’s roots helped cultivate Olympic career 

click to enlarge Eyes on prize: Shannon Rowbury says coach Andy Chan always kept his focus on her future as a runner. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Eyes on prize: Shannon Rowbury says coach Andy Chan always kept his focus on her future as a runner.

Andy Chan first witnessed it 14 years ago, and has seen it hundreds of times since.

It’s the simple sight of his former student, Shannon Rowbury, jumping up and down two to three times before each and every race. But four years ago at the Beijing Olympics, the spectacle was different.

“I remember being in the Bird’s Nest, and getting kinda teary-eyed and emotional,” said Chan, cross country and track coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral. “That’s sort of her thing, I’ve seen her do it hundreds of times with that Irish uniform on. And here I was watching her do it with the USA jersey on ... in the Olympics.

That’s when I realized that this really was happening.”

At this year’s London Games, Chan will see it happen again.

Earlier in July, San Francisco’s Rowbury, 27, solidified her status as a two-time Olympian, earning her spot in the 1,500-meter event with a second-place finish at the U.S. track and field trials in Eugene, Ore.

And Chan, 41 — who began his Sacred Heart career the same year Rowbury started hers as a freshman — was in Oregon, too.

“I’m so grateful for the relationship that I have with Andy,” Rowbury said. “You see a lot of high school coaches and college coaches — and any coaches — who are really looking for glory, or looking to achieve through an athlete something that they couldn’t themselves.

“He thought about me in the long term. I don’t know if he thought Olympics when he first saw me, but he definitely thought college. He tailored my training in such a way that I would gradually progress.”

That progression led to a collegiate running career at Duke University and later to a showing in Beijing, where Rowbury finished seventh in the 1,500 — the highest placing by an American woman at that Olympic distance. But Rowbury’s road to the elite level wasn’t without setbacks.  

She had been diagnosed with a hip stress fracture in April 2007 and proceeded with three months of rehab.
And though that season was clouded by caution, the rehab worked.

A little more than a year after her diagnosis, she qualified for the Olympics in 2008. But it was hardly her first injury. It was in kindergarten when Rowbury tripped over a basketball in the schoolyard, fracturing her tibia.

Irish dancing, by instruction of her grandmother, was her leg-strengthening remedy then. And dance is what she eventually sacrificed for a full-time high school Irish running career.

But an elite career it has been.

And in just a few weeks, she’ll endure perhaps the hardest four minutes of her life in an attempt to secure something that eluded her four years ago.

“I’m gonna go try and get one of those — one of those pieces of hardware,” she said. “And represent San Francisco.”

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