Athlete of the Week: Thomas Shuster, Willard

Every great cross country runner needs to be in peak physical shape.

“[His] physical characteristics, he’s probably one of the most talented athletes that I’ve had the chance to see, and to coach, definitely in the top two,” said Willard Cross Country Coach David Matthews.

However, the mental aspect is what really makes the difference.

“He’s able to stay focused the entire time during a race and still listen to potential corrections from the sideline or just cheering,” Matthews said. “So he does a really good job of staying on task with his mental focus.”

That approach and a strict training regimen boosted Thomas Shuster from conference title contender to conference champion.

“It was an amazing feeling,” Thomas said. “Words couldn’t even describe.”

The Willard junior won the Central Ozark Conference with a time of 16 minutes, 12 seconds. The time was a full 35 seconds faster than his previous time on the course in Nixa just one month prior.

“We were about to hit a turn, and I just decided to break loose, I took off [from] the front pack,” Thomas said. “I broke away and I felt free. I felt like I was a deer.”

Of course, any conference championship would feel special.

Yet, this one meant a little more for Thomas who recently lost his two grandparents, living in Peru, to COVID-19.

“I’ve dedicated my whole season for them,” Thomas said.

It’s another example of his mental strength, using those emotions to drive him to victory.

“I transfer all that bad energy into motivational energy, which converts into great energy,” Thomas said.

It’s energy he hopes to use at districts and beyond. No matter what happens, Thomas knows one thing for sure.

“I know [my grandparents] are looking down on me and they’re super proud of where I started versus where I am now,” Thomas said.

That dedication to succeed is what makes Thomas Shuster this week’s Athlete of the week.

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