It would have been easy for Skyview High School's Kaleb Shields, after back-to-back track seasons marred by injury, to have lowered his expectations.
But that's not the type of person Shields is.
"He's had some adversity, but he doesn't let that bring him down," said Skyview track coach Rob Sparks of the Panthers senior.
Indeed, after going undefeated in the hurdle events through the regular season last year, Shields had to bow out of the borough championships with a broken foot. The year before that, it was a fractured collarbone that forced him out for the season.
And despite the slow start to this season the Panthers' first two meets have been scratched due to snow Shields has maintained his lofty goals.
"My junior year, I wanted to win state in the 110 hurdles and the 300 hurdles," Shields said after practice last week. "I broke my ankle last year, but those are definitely my goals this year."
Shields said his introduction to the hurdles was serendipitous a week before the middle school borough meet during his seventh-grade season, his coach suggested he go run some hurdles.
"It felt natural, and I ended up winning at boroughs," Shields said. "I've always been taller, and I have really long legs. I take really long strides, and that's been to my advantage."
Sparks said Shields has spent his high school years refining his natural talent.
"Kaleb is one of those coach's athletes. He's willing to listen and learn," Sparks said. "Obviously, he came in with some talent and he's got good size. He came in as a natural hurdler and we've worked on his form.
"... He always strives to get better."
Improvement hasn't always been easy. This year, for example, track teams have been stuck training inside until just last week. Still, Shields and his teammates have found ways to get better.
"We brought six or seven hurdles inside and went upstairs to the carpeted hallway for drills," Shields said. "We got to go over two hurdles out of blocks."
Shields also pushes himself off the track, both inside and outside of the classroom. Close readers of the Clarion's Letters to the Editor section might remember one he penned last fall announcing himself as a write-in candidate for school board.
"I'm really interested in government. I like politics a lot," Shields said.
Shields said his desire to share his ideas comes from several sources. Shields said his parents, Pat and Lea, have always been supportive of his endeavors. His older brother Joel is studying philosophy at the University of Hawaii Hilo. In addition to sharing some of those ideas, Shields said his brother also introduced him the the band Rage Against the Machine when he was in middle school, and the group's message of social awareness has stuck with him.
"They're politically minded, and they challenge you (to think about) what is going on," Shields said. "They challenge you to make your own views."
Shields said he got the same challenge from Sparks' government class at Skyview, which led him to his run for a school board seat.
Sparks said that as part of the class, students were required to partake in some type of political process. Projects have included things like changing a school policy, and Sparks pointed out to his students that quite a few issues were facing the school district.
"I told him, 'If you're going to put yourself out there, people are going to challenge you,'" Sparks said. "A lot of kids would say 'I couldn't do that, I'm just 18,' but he said he had something to add to the discussions going on."
As it turned out, Shields discovered that he wasn't eligible to run because he had not been a qualified voter for the required number of days prior to the election. Still, he picked up 16 votes and learned some things along the way.
"Kaleb is one of those fortunate kids in our society. He has the type of family where they've given him a good strong set of values, but also let him explore the world for himself," Sparks said. "He's looking to go out and see the world a little bit, and grow as a person. Another thing I have respect for is kids that aren't afraid of life and are willing to go out and take some chances."
While Sparks wasn't surprised to see Shields try his hand at candidacy, it did surprise some of his classmates.
"I was shocked, but he's like that," said Andrew Smith, a teammate on Skyview's football, basketball and track teams. "He likes to be an individual. He has his own opinions, and he shares his views.
"He's somebody a lot of people look up to. He's a good role model."
In his free time, Shields said he enjoys playing a hand drum called the djembe. He's played with other students at Skyview, including his sister Kelsey, who plays guitar.
Shields also played football and basketball at Skyview. He shared quarterbacking duties last season and played a power forward role with the basketball squad.
Shields said his favorite sport is baseball, where he plays pitcher and shortstop, though he hasn't been able to participate for the past two summers due to injuries. Still, he's hoping he can work some innings in around his other commitments this summer.
Shields would like to run track in college next year and has narrowed his choices to a few schools. He said he plans to study physical education and political science, and added that he'd like to coach after college.
His decision on which school to attend hinges on this year's track season and whether or not he can attract any scholarship offers.
"The season got off to a slow start we just got out on the track but I'm excited about it," Shields said.
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