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Gator junior makes first state trip

The mind was always willing, but Dani Shimer's body was not.

"Knee problems, shin splits, hip problems," said the Land O'Lakes junior, rattling off a list of ailments she's battled in her three-year career.

"Your Achilles," coach Kris Keppel added.

"Yeah, my Achilles," Shimer said. "You name it, I had it."

In many ways she still does. But a healthier, stronger Shimer has managed the aches and pains on the way to her first trip to the state meet.

On Saturday, three seasons of frustration can be put to rest with a strong performance at the Class 3A meet.

Shimer is the only county runner in the 3A meet. She has run a season-best time of 20 minutes, 6 seconds, finally reaching state after injuries cut short her freshman and sophomore seasons at the district level.

"I'm proud of it," Shimer said. "I was hoping I'd get through it better (this season), but I wasn't sure. I was praying a lot, and hoping."

And working. Shimer used strength training to build muscle and strengthen ligaments and tendons. All that work for a sport she doesn't even rate as her best.

Track is her true love. Shimer holds the school record in the 800 meters (2:23). So what makes a great middle-distance runner want to tackle 5-kilometer races she otherwise wouldn't run?

"She enjoys running, but I think she enjoys competing more," Keppel said.

"Yeah, that's true," Shimer said. "I'm over-competitive for a runner. I like to compete and I like to know that I'm doing well in my training."

Cross country does help prepare her for track.

"I'm more of a rhythm runner on the track," she said. "Knowing how hard I have to go, seeing how far I have to go, and the spikes hitting the track get you going."

Is she a power runner? A speed runner? Is it her endurance that makes her so good? Keppel said it's a combination of all three. But her true strength, he said, is her consistency, both on the track and on the course.

"I don't think you can define her," he said. "She's a really good middle-distance runner, but she can still have a very good kick at the end. She's been able to manage her running skills a lot better than other girls on our team.

"She's also a very smart runner. She'll know when to tuck in behind a runner and stay with the group."