37-Year-old U.S. Collegiate Runner Shannon Jones Pushes Age Boundaries

The standout runner and mother credits running to bringing her back from darker places in her life

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When you go to a college cross-country meet, you expect to see a slew of young student-athletes in their 20s. However, one Florida college is challenging the norms, with one of their athletes bringing more experience, not just from running but also from life.

Meet Shannon Jones, a 37-year-old mother and standout runner at Daytona State College, whose path to athletic success is as unique as it is inspiring.

When Shannon Jones lines up at the starting line for Daytona State College, she stands out not only for her strong results this season but also for being the oldest runner among the sea of twenty-some-year-olds. 

37-Year-old U.S. Collegiate Runner Shannon Jones Pushes Age Boundaries 1

Her comeback has sparked a debate about the advantages of older, more mature athletes competing against their college-aged counterparts. Challenging conventional notions, Jones’s return to collegiate running has reignited discussions on whether athletes like her should be allowed to compete at the collegiate level.

Jones, hailing from a family deeply rooted in running, initially found her passion in soccer but decided to forgo pursuing it at the collegiate level in her senior year of high school.

Her collegiate journey took her to Polk State College, but personal challenges, including her parents’ divorce, led to a period of uncertainty marked by anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. 

“I was an adult, but I didn’t feel like an adult,” Jones revealed to Runner’s World, reflecting on those tumultuous times. “I completely stopped sports. I felt kind of failed at the time.”

The turning point in Jones’s life arrived several years later when an unexpected pregnancy forced her to reevaluate her choices. 

Determined to embrace positive changes, she quit smoking and embarked on a transformative journey back to running. During her pregnancy, Jones started by walking at the local middle school track, gradually progressing to jogging and ultimately returning to running.

Jones recounts when she found a renewed passion for running, as she not only ran her first mile but also pushed her son, Jack, in a jogging stroller. Setting ambitious goals, Jones aimed to break the 20-minute barrier for a 5K, a feat she accomplished with an impressive time of 17:50.

Her exceptional performances caught the eye of Daytona State’s cross-country coach, Judy Wilson. 

To everyone’s surprise, Wilson discovered that Jones still had eligibility to compete at the collegiate level, requiring only one class to complete her associate’s degree. 

Seizing this opportunity, Jones was offered a full scholarship to join Daytona State’s cross-country team, marking a new chapter in her athletic journey.

However, her comeback has not come without its challenges. Some argue that the wisdom and life experience gained by older athletes provide them with a mental edge, enabling them to navigate the challenges of competition more effectively. 

The debate also centers on whether the maturity and resilience developed over the years offer a distinct advantage in endurance sports like cross-country.

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Skeptics also argue that collegiate sports are primarily designed for young athletes, often in their late teens and early twenties, who possess a different kind of energy, recovery rate, and physical peak. 

They question whether allowing more mature athletes into collegiate competitions may create an uneven playing field and limit opportunities for younger athletes trying to establish themselves in the sports world.

Shannon Jones’s story adds a compelling layer to this ongoing debate. As she continues to make her mark on the collegiate cross-country scene, her journey prompts reflection on the nature of competition, the evolving definition of student-athlete, and the broader implications for athletes of all ages.

Regardless of the ongoing debate, one thing remains clear: Shannon Jones’s presence in collegiate cross-country is not only challenging perceptions but also inspiring athletes of all ages to pursue their passion for sport, proving that determination, resilience, and love for the game transcend age boundaries.

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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