LISBON — People begin race walking for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes you’re thrown into it after a coach sees your talents in practice. Sometimes you want a challenge and after seeing the unusual turns of the hips, knees, and arms, you give the challenging event a try.

If you’re Sydney Douglass of Lisbon high school, your athletic ability was viewed by coaches as worthy of the mile race.

“No one really volunteers for race walk,” Douglass said. “Our coaches put whoever they think can take on the challenge of the event.”

Douglass isn’t just an athlete tossed into the event to accrue points for the Greyhounds. The senior is the defending Mountain Valley Conference champion where she earned her personal best time of 8:13.58, and is the reigning runner-up at the Class C state meet.

The senior also is the defending MVC champion in the 800 meter run and was third at MVC’s in the pole vault and the 4×400 meter relay. But when it comes to race walking, Douglass wants people to know that it is just as difficult as other events.

“A lot of people judge race walk,” Douglass said. “We know it looks funny, but honestly it’s probably one of the hardest events and it takes a toll on your body. So don’t think we may look funny doing it because it’s really hard.”

The two-time Class C cheerleading state champion is at the top of Class C in the race walk rankings heading into the season and as a senior her role on the team has grown to leader, which she has fully embraced.

“I have a larger role on the team this year because I am a senior,” Douglass said. “I kind of, no matter what grade I was in, I just wanted to show everybody that you can accomplish whatever as long as you put your mind to it because if you don’t put in the work it’s not going to come to you. It’s not going come easy at all. I kind of am just big on being a good role model for people and showing people what to do if you want to succeed.”

On the boys’ side, Geoffrey Shambarger had no choice when he started race walking in eighth grade.

“I didn’t sign up,” Shambarger said. “It was middle school track and we were on our way to the meet and my coach said ‘alright, Geoffery, I put you in race walk and the other race walkers are going to give you a five minute crash course on it right before the race.’ So that’s how that started. I didn’t get disqualified and I came in the top ten. I am sure if I looked back on it now my form would be abysmal, just good enough not to get disqualified.”

Shambarger follows in the footsteps of great Lisbon race walkers of seasons past, including Tyler Bard, who won the Class C race walk title in 2013 and 2014, and most recently Mike Schlotterbeck, who graduated last year after three-consecutive runner-up finishes at the Class C state meet.

That kind of history is something that doesn’t just happen. Distance and race walk coach Hank Fuller looks for a specific athlete when it comes to race walk.

“It’s tough,” Fuller said. “You’ve got to have kids that are dedicated, willing to hurt a little bit, and you’ve got to have kids who are independent in thought as well as action. It’s difficult because you have to put up with the fact that you could be disqualified even though you think you’re doing well… The kids get together as a group, it’s a tight-knit group, and they critique each other daily on their form.”

Shambarger returns as a junior with teammate Alan Lavoie, who finished fourth and sixth at the state meet a year ago, respectively. With just 19 seconds separating them at states, the competition between the two will only help the team.

“The entire time last year Alan and I went back and forth,” Shambarger said. “He beat me one meet and then the next meet I beat him and we kind of pushed each other the whole way. At the beginning of the year last year I was always just behind him. It’s a constant friendly competition. If he wins then that’s good because it is good for the team.”

Lavoie was fooling around one day at practice as a freshman and his coaches told him he would be good at race walk. The football player has stayed with the event ever since.

Another race walker on the boys’ side is Corbin Hall, the grandson of head coach Dean Hall. Corbin Hall is returning to race walk and hopes to go under nine minutes after qualifying for states as a freshman.

“There’s only a few people who do it,” Hall said. “It’s not a large group. We help each other. My favorite event is race walk because it’s different from all the other ones and normally people overlook it or think it’s too easy, but it’s not.”

All have hopes of placing high at states with Shambarger saying he’d like to win. For Douglass, in-home incentives are always in the back of her mind as she trains.

“Well, my mom gives me incentives. She said if you win then I’ll buy this for you or we can go on this trip’ so that helps a lot. And just knowing it’s my senior year I want to do the best I can,” Douglass said. “She said she would get tickets for me and my friends to go to Canobie Lake and stay the night in a hotel and stuff if I won.”

Douglass is leading a race walk group with high aspirations this season. The senior leads a group that Shambarger considers “a little family inside a bigger family.”

Fuller agrees.

“The upper-class kids work with them and teach them and encourage them,” Fuller said. It is very similar to cross country as it’s a team within a team. We’ve had a lot of success.”

Lisbon High School race walker Sydney Douglass stretches with her teammates during the first day of practice on Monday.  (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Lisbon High School race walkers Alan Lavoie, right, and Geoffrey Shambarger stretch with their teammates during the first day of practice on Monday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

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