Jarrod Shoemaker is an Under 23 ITU World Champion, an ITU Duathlon World Champion, a 2008 Olympian and a Hamburg ITU World Championship Series winner and generally acknowledged as one of the fastest runners in the ITU draft legal game. But after getting a concussion from a kick in the face during the swim last year at Hamburg and a severely sprained neck in a bike crash in a race later last year, his seemingly assured second straight Olympic qualification was thrown into doubt.
Shoemaker spoke about his renewed health and improved outlook two days before his date with Olympic destiny Saturday.
Slowtwitch: Tell us how you got injured last year? '
Jarrod Shoemaker: My 2011 year started out great. I had a nice home course win at the Clermont sprint and things were going well. Then at the Hamburg World Championship Series event [which he won two years before] I had an accident and things started unraveling from there. I got kicked in the face on the swim and my head snapped back and I had what was termed a very mild concussion.
ST: How did it affect you?
Jarrod: I completed the rest of the race. But I was on autopilot. It was a weird feeling. Even as I was running I knew I was running. I knew I should stop. But I just kept running. I knew I was running slow. So it was just tough.
ST: What about that whiplash?
Jarrod: Then had a bike crash a few races after that and got a neck injury. After that I could barely train and a it was a struggle. I just took time off and tried to make everything right.
ST: How did you recover?
Jarrod: It was awesome to be able to rely on the support staff back home in Clermont, Florida. I was able to work with my physical therapist and my massage therapist to find out what was really going on with my body and what I needed to do. Thanks to the USAT race in Buffalo, New York, I was able to go to the hospital there which has one of the best concussion centers. So my coach Tim Crowley and I were able to meet with one of their specialists. It made everything make sense as to what happened in the past couple of months.
ST: When did you start to feel more like yourself?
Jarrod: After Buffalo. My neck was still hurting. If you look at the pictures you can see my shoulders were high and protecting my neck. Finally at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in October I was feeling like I was stepping back in the right direction. I won that race and then went to the Auckland ITU World Cup and finished 5th there and had a great race. I actually broke away on the last lap of the bike and got 20 seconds on my group. So it was kind of a fun, go-for-it race. I loved it. The course was absolutely amazing there.
ST: Was there a silver lining to all that bad luck?
Jarrod: What was good about it was I was able to sit back and say what do I want out of the sport? What did I want to do? And I was able to make some changes both mentally and physically. Just try to have fun. I wanted to race for myself. I didn’t want to do things because somebody said I should be doing it. So it is like taking stock of everything inside and learning what I want from it.
ST: That must have been a big boost to your confidence?
Jarrod: I went into this off season with a nothing-to-lose attitude. I enjoyed it and had a lot of fun and I have a great crew in Clermont that is super supportive.
ST: Who do you train with in Florida?
Jarrod: It's pretty much all women training with me down there. They can all race with each other and I just get to train with them.
ST: You made the US Olympic team in 2008. Maybe you weren't the guy people were picking at that Beijing pre Olympic qualifying event in 2007. So clearly on that day you proved you were able to have a great performance when you needed to. What do you have to do Saturday?
Jarrod: I think the American guys -- we all fell flat on our faces in London. [Where they needed to finish in the top 9 to qualify but Manny Huerta was top finisher in 25th place.] I crashed on the bike but everybody else had awful races. We kind of put ourselves in a position where this weekend it is a one-race-takes-all situation. So if someone gets first American, they get an automatic spot. If two get top 9, they both make it. If just one man makes top 9, the next could be a discretionary spot. If no American men make top 9, the first US men's finisher at any position gets an automatic spot and the next spot is a discretionary pick.
ST: What is your strategy here in San Diego?
Jarrod: My strategy is to go out and race as hard as I can because you never know what happens. It’s about putting yourself in a position to succeed. So I'm going to go out have fun and race as hard as I can.
ST: What will you do about watching your American rivals?
Jarrod: As far as strategy for Olympic slots goes -- as long as I race hard that is all I can do.
ST: To what degree have to recovered and how close are you to your best' form?
Jarrod: Good question. There are times when I definitely feel 100 percent. But there are definitely times when I feel not so good. It is also about protecting myself. This past winter I did some cyclo cross and I crashed. When I got back I got yelled at by my coach. With what I've been through he told me you can't crash. If you do you are in danger of reinjuring your neck. Or get a concussion. On the other hand, you can’t go into things afraid. You just have to go hard and try to not put yourself in positions where things are dangerous.
ST: How do you feel about American men with two slots?
Jarrod: The biggest thing about having two men in the Olympics is we haven' had more than two guys going to races. If you look at last year Matt Chrabot and I were the only people racing. Manny was hurt and Hunter got hurt. You can't blame anybody. We pretty much had only two guys racing all the races. If you look back to the year before that, we had guys racing but nobody was performing very well. I can say we wish we had three spots. But we haven't performed well enough.
ST: What do you think of Hunter Kemper's quest to make a 4th Olympics?
Jarrod: I have no clue where he is at. I have absolutely no clue. We talk. We are friends. But It's not like I am going to call him up and check on his progress. We say hi. That's it. It would be really cool if he makes the team. Four Olympics? That's awesome. But it’s just like everybody else. All of us will have to earn it. You can look at all sorts of races. Like Hamburg two years ago when Manny and I got 9th and 14th. Then you can look at other races where Matt Chrabot was fit and went well at Yokohama. This year I think everybody has a shot. for the team.