Caden Shields

Caden Shields

Another awesome Otago athlete you probably haven’t heard of yet

Caden Shields might not be at the Olympic level just yet but it seems he's on the fast track. The Dunedin-raised physiotherapy student has recently returned from a scholarship at Purdue University in Indiana, where he competed for the “Boilermakers” in long-distance running events and found his niche in the cross-country.

After following in the educational footsteps of Nick Willis, New Zealand’s most successful runner in recent years, Caden has set his sights on taking his running to the next level. With a US college running apprenticeship under his belt, not to mention a world-class education, he could be our next great white hope.

College life in the US is very different to New Zealand. What kind of differences did you notice?
“I was fortunate to be at a university with the academic and athletic reputation that Purdue has. It is a university of 40,000 students, and boasts alumni like Neil Armstrong, Drew Brees, Etwan Moore, and John Wooden. Both academic and athletic performance expectations are very high. Life on campus is 24/7. There is a lot going on with sports and social events. Purdue has many sororities and fraternities. Weekends are great, with thousands of students tailgating before football games in the fall which creates a great buzz around campus. It really is quite exciting.”

College athletes can be the “big dogs on campus”, NCAA sports are huge, and the big 10 is a prestigious conference. How was life as a student athlete at a big school?
“The standout basketball players and football players are living legends on campus, especially if they are good enough to make the pro ranks. They are still given a lot of respect by the student population and generally left alone. These guys faced a lot of pressure during the season, especially if they lost a big game and had to attend class the next day. I was given a lot of benefits as a student athlete, such as being able to register for classes before the rest of the student body so I could get the class schedule I wanted to fit around training. People took an interest in what I did, so if I performed well it was quite common for strangers to congratulate me while walking through campus. I even had one guy come to my dorm room the day after I won a race to congratulate me (not sure how he knew where I lived).”

What was the highlight of your college running career?
“Making the NCAA cross-country championships, first Purdue male runner since 1987.”

Was it tough to balance training and study?
“We were on the road racing every two weeks, so a lot of the time it was about getting the work done during the week so we wouldn’t have to worry about it on the weekend. Purdue works you extremely hard in the classroom, so in reality I didn’t do much except run and study. Making sure you got enough sleep and ate well was the real challenge, but it taught me a lot about balance in life.”

Nick Willis is probably the most famous example of a New Zealander running in the American college system. Have you had much to do with him?
“Nick is a very personable guy. He is the athlete that every NZ distance runner looks up to. He's a class act. Nick is very supportive of everyone who attends US colleges, and he looks out for each of us. I was surprised when I first talked to him in the States – he knew who I was, and even offered for me to come stay at his house in Ann Arbor and take me out to dinner. It really shows how great he is, and I would love to achieve a fraction of what he has in his career”.

What are you plans for continuing running now that you're back in NZ?
“I am back with my old coach and ultimately trying to get to a level where I can represent NZ on the world stage. I have suffered some serious injuries in the last year, so am really trying to get back to where I was when I ran my best at Purdue.”
This article first appeared in Issue 17, 2012.
Posted 10:46am Sunday 22nd July 2012 by Gus Gawn.