Shawna Ferraro knew that the New Canaan High School record in the 1600 meter run was 5:14.40, and that she’d missed it by five one-hundredths of a second during a Feb. 19 qualifier for the New England Indoor Track and Field Championships.
“I was incredibly disappointed and upset, because it’s been a goal of mine for so long to break the record, and to be that close was frustrating,” the NCHS senior recalled Monday.
Immediately after finishing the race, Ferraro said, she thought to herself, “There is no way I’m walking away from my senior season coming that close to breaking it and not breaking it.”
But there was a problem: Finding a sanctioned track-and-field meet where she’d have another chance. Ferraro and NCHS Girls Track and Field Coach Jeffrey Brentson searched for one, and eventually she found a meet to be held Sunday, Feb. 26 at Boston University. It didn’t offer a 1600 but Ferraro contacted the meet director, who added it.
That meant she’d be running alone, with no competition, which makes it “a lot harder because it’s just you and there’s no one to push you,” Ferraro said.
“But I told my coach, ‘I am going to do this,’ ” Ferraro recalled. “ ‘I have put in so much work and I’m not walking away.’ I was expecting him to say, ‘great, that’s amazing’ but he was like, ‘I will see you at the track at 9:45.’ So he drove two-and-a-half hours to see me run for five minutes, and he was at the 150 meters [area], yelling splits and telling me to move it. I knew as soon as I stepped on the track that I was going to break the record.”
She was right.
Ferraro finished with a time of 5:11.43, beating Amy Peloquin’s 1997 record set by nearly three seconds. (NCHS Athletic Director Jay Egan had been the school’s track coach at the time, and he noted that Peloquin had been one in a very talented group of middle-distance runners in New Canaan from the late-1990s through the early ‘00s, as well as a member of a 4×800 meter relay team—with Deb Clarke, Lesley Colgan and Sarah Scholl—that set a school record of 9:20.80 in 1998.)
Ferraro said she spotted the time clock at 5:03 as she came down the final straightaway “and I was like, ‘Holy crap I’m going to do it.’ ”
After crossing the finish line, she looked to the spot where Brentson had been feeding her splits, but “he was nowhere to be found” because the coach was already running excitedly toward Ferraro, she said, and that’s when she knew for sure that “I got it done, I did it.”
Brentson said Ferraro is a dedicated athlete who “works so hard every single day” to be healthy and get stronger.
“She has the right mindset for running and competing,” Brentson said. “She is the package deal. She gets it.”
Asked what it was like to watch Ferraro break the NCHS record in Boston this past weekend, he said, “To me it was a given. I knew she could do this. A lot of times I’m nervous—I don’t show it with the kids—but this one, I wasn’t really nervous at all. And I know she has even more because she ran that all by herself and just cruised. I think she’s got more time in her.”
Brentson noted that Ferraro is poised to compete for another school record and sub-5-minute mile. The NCHS Girls Indoor Track team has more talented runners coming up who could be running at a similarly high level as they grow stronger, he said.
“She has put in the time over the past year or two to make sure that she’s in as great shape as possible,” he said of Ferraro.
She is one of six Rams to earn All-FCIAC honors, according to a bulletin that the FCIAC issued Sunday, with Charlotte Moor, Delia Bakal, Elizabeth McLaughlin, Lauren Smith and Alexandra Cota.
She also is a member of a talented local sports family. Her sister, Nikki, is a gifted ice hockey player, while mom Darleen played field hockey and dad Jason played baseball and tennis in high school.
Jason Ferraro was at BU for the record-breaking run, and that made a difference, according to his daughter.
“I heard him the whole race,” Ferraro said. “Usually my mind goes blank and empty, and I can only hear my own breathing, but he was like, ‘You got it, Shawns, fight for it, push!’ He’s always been a huge supporter of mine. I look up to him. It was important and really special having him there.”
This is the first year that Ferraro was able to fully participate in varsity indoor track. She began running as a freshman but there was no track that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and during her sophomore year there were no meets until the outdoor season in the spring. Last year, Ferraro ran club track because she was trying to get committed to college for field hockey, her primary sport. (She plans to play field hockey and also run track at Middlebury College starting in the fall.)
Running has become “one of my favorite things in the world,” Ferraro said.
“It’s something I started doing during COVID to stay in shape for field hockey and soon enough I realized it was something I enjoyed doing every day,” she said. It’s kind of a break from reality, I feel so free.”
And the experience of breaking a longstanding NCHS record has brought with it important life lessons, Ferraro said.
“It’s really cool to see how if you work for something and put your all into something, how rewarding it is to see it pay off,” she said. “I put my all into sports, especially running, and all the late nights and early mornings and times I didn’t want to run and didn’t want to train, this shows what can happen if you really push through it. Nothing gets done without hard work and determination, and I’m really proud of myself for accomplishing this.”