Shaffer one of 9 from Empire competing at state track meet

By ERIC BRANCH
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

As a freshman, Petaluma High’s Forrest Shaffer was academically ineligible during the spring semester and unable to run on the Trojans’ track team.

Petaluma's Forrest Shaffer's road to the state track meet included a detour. Photo by Crista Jeremaison / The Press Democrat

Then, as a sophomore, the talented distance runner with long, stringy hair returned to campus and, well, it was obvious at least one thing had dramatically changed.

“He looked like a different kid,” Petaluma track coach Jim Lynch said. “He came walking across the track and I thought ‘Who the heck is that kid?’ He had cut his hair really short and was clean-cut. He looked like a preppy. I was like ‘I guess that’s Forrest. It’s the new Forrest.’”
Lynch soon discovered that Shaffer’s transformation was more than cosmetic.

The academic slacker again began flashing his smarts — Shaffer was a brilliant student in elementary school whose grades began slipping when he fell in with the wrong crowd in middle school.
And, looking back, Shaffer says the motivation to rededicate himself in the classroom was inspired by the pain he felt when he sat out his first high school track season.

“I just really loved running,” said Shaffer, a talented artist who also plays drums in the school band. “When that happened, I just couldn’t stop running. So I improved my grades and running helped. I’d go for a run and I’d feel good. And then I’d get my homework done. I would say running really changed my life.”

Shaffer is one of the nine Empire athletes who will compete at the two-day CIF State Track and Field Championships at Buchanan High in Clovis. The state meet begins today with preliminary heats in all events except for the 3,200, which only has a finals heat on Saturday.

Given his history, Shaffer’s road to state was fitting. At 10 a.m. last Saturday, he accepted his high school diploma as an accomplished student who earned a 4.17 GPA during the fall semester. In fact, Shaffer, who has taken honors classes in biology, chemistry and statistics, has pushed his GPA near 3.2 after an inglorious start.

Following his graduation, Shaffer drove to Berkeley, ditched his button-down shirt and tie for shorts and sneakers, and qualified for the state track meet with a dramatic fourth-place finish in the 3,200 meters at the North Coast Section Meet of Champions.
Shaffer narrowly earned the last qualifying spot with a personal-best time of 9 minutes, 19.94 seconds — seven-hundreths of a second faster than Campolindo’s Joyce Thomas.

Then, it was off to grad night where Shaffer made sure he was accompanied by his hard-earned hardware.
Said Lynch, “The last thing he said to me was ‘I’m wearing this medal there. I’m going to be showing this thing off.’”

Shaffer, who has an interest in biology, will run at Washington State in the fall thanks, in part, to his improved academic performance. Lynch concedes it’s something he wouldn’t have predicted a few years ago.

“It’s all come together for him and I think the running really brought a focus to his life,” Lynch said. “It kind of tied up all the loose ends.”