Hometown: Eagle River, Alaska
Fun Fact: Was a Tae Kwon Do standout as a kid.
For the last six years, Shaun Ward has worked hard on the track and in the classroom, earning three academic degrees and some Wells Fargo Sports Complex wall real estate for his athletic records.
The youngest of three boys, his dad retired from the military when Shaun was 3 years old and his family was able to settle in Eagle River. Running from your athletic older brothers in the great outdoors can really whip you into shape for track, it turns out.
“My dad was a great athlete,” he says. “We definitely got our athleticism from him.”
Of course, he laughs, his older brothers pushed him around. “We all get along really well, but when they have a chance to push me around they still do. Growing up that’s what made me tough. In sports, I always felt like I had something to prove and I always wanted to make my family proud.”
At Chugiak High School, after going out for every sport, Shaun started to recognize his gifts.
“At the end of my sophomore year, I realized I was kind of good at track,” he says. His junior year he was undefeated and went on to win at state. Same thing senior year.
His track performance in high school was enough to earn him a scholarship to a California college. But it wasn’t a good fit.
“I didn’t like the atmosphere,” he recalls. “So I came back here.”
He was surprised to learn that UAA had a track team and went in for a talk with Coach Michael Friess.
The rest of the story is in the record books for this All-American athlete.
Despite being plagued by injuries, he set a Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) record for the 400-meter hurdles in 2012 (52:00), qualifying him for nationals. In 2011, he was the GNAC champion for 400-meter hurdles, 4×100-meter relay and 4×400-meter relay.
“It was probably the best decision I made, to come run here,” Shaun says. He credits the coaching staff, athletic director and support staff for helping him to achieve his athletic and academic goals.
“It took a lot of help from my family, my coaches, my teachers,” he says. “As an athlete, you have to organize yourself in a manner to which you can go to school and run track and still get your assignments done when you’re traveling every week in the spring.” Perfect training for the business world.
Scholarship support provided the last piece of the puzzle, allowing Shaun, now a first generation college graduate, to dedicate himself to both athletics and academics, earning two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s in business administration.
This last year, he made the transition from student-athlete to graduate assistant coach. It’s been a welcome new challenge, but shifting roles hasn’t been without its quirks.
“They’re no longer my teammates. Now they’re my athletes,” he says. “But we’re all trying to make each other better.”
With his M.B.A. in hand, he’s turned his sights to what’s next and is eyeing the job market as well as opportunities to continue to grow and compete as an athlete. He’s particularly interested in Alaska’s oil and gas industries.
California might be on the horizon again, too. After traveling and competing extensively in California, he says, it’s started to feel like a second home. Alaska will always be part of the picture, but he can see himself enjoying a few years in another state.
A quip about overcoming any hurdles he encounters along the way seems a bit too trite for this talented new alum, but we do hope he finds his way back to Alaska in the long run.