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Good Sports: Two for the Road


By Paul Feinberg '85

Published Oct 1, 2010 8:00 AM


Hitting the Road: Bruin track siblings Shannon (front) and Amber Murakami get some practice time.

Even though cross-country athletes train together and race in packs, running is ultimately a solitary endeavor. But this season, UCLA's top returning cross-country runner Shannon Murakami adds companionship — and competition — on the trail as sister Amber Murakami joins the team.

Shannon was a top soccer player in high school, but switched to track early on and eventually became the California state high school cross-country champion. At UCLA, she's evolved from most valuable freshman to team leader; she was a Pac-10 finalist in 2009 and made an appearance in the NCAA Cross Country Championships.

Amber played soccer in middle school but, just like her big sister, she made the switch to running. "Watching Shannon's success and seeing her accomplish her goals was inspiring," Amber explains.

The Murakamis share more than just a talent for speed — they also understand that one runs with the body, but competes with the mind. For sure, when a normal training week totals 70 to 80 miles, one needs more than just strong legs.

"When my family talks about running, we say it's 20-percent physical and 80-percent mental," Shannon says. "In running, you put yourself through [the pain]. You can run as fast as you can as long as you can tolerate more pain."

To persevere, Shannon turns inward: "Mentally, I think about anything and everything," she adds, "from homework to a problem I might be having with a friend. Preparing mentally is one of the hardest things to do, [but] knowing I've put in the training allows me to get through it."

Little sister, however, uses goals as anesthesia — and her sport as a means to an end. "Running helped me get into UCLA," Amber declares.

Amber concedes she has a ways to run to meet or beat big sister's records. As for Shannon, now a senior, she hopes to not only blaze a path for her sister, but also to be a leader on the UCLA team. "I can play that role. I've been to the NCAA championships," she says.