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Shannon Smith came to running late, joining the track team at Bandon High School during her sophomore year at an invitation from her boyfriend, Aero Franklin.

She was a seasoned basketball player, but wasn’t sure about running. Now it is a major part of her future.

Smith signed a letter of intent last week to run cross country and track and field for Western Oregon University.

“It’s great,” Bandon cross country and track coach Brent Hutton said. “Western is a good fit for her. She’s a small-town girl. Their girls team is on the way up.”

Hutton is familiar with the Western Oregon program because his son, Hunter, is a runner there. He was encouraged that Western Oregon is excited to have Smith join the team. And he expects her to shine in that environment.

“She’s a pretty hard worker,” Hutton said.

For her part, Smith is excited about the opportunity.

“I just want to see how much I can improve,” she said. “I’m a new runner.”

Smith’s parents, Gary and Lorraine, said they are excited for their daughter.

“She has a lot of dedication,” Garry said. “She’s put in a lot of hours.”

The parents weren’t surprised that Smith became successful in running.

“Shannon has always been the person if she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it 100 percent,” Gary said.

She’s been tough since she was born some three months early, weighing just 2 pounds, 1 ounce and spending about three months in the hospital — the family got to bring her home when she got to 5 pounds.

“She was definitely a fighter from the beginning,” Lorraine said.

Smith found success right away for the Tigers, earning a medal in the state meet in the 4x400 relay as a sophomore and also qualifying for state individually in the 400.

Her first cross country season, she placed 24th at the state meet. And last spring, she again qualified for state in track and field, but wasn’t able to compete in her event, the 800, because she became ill the night before her race.

As a senior in the fall, Smith placed 20th at the cross country state meet, helping the Tigers place fourth.

Hutton said Smith will shine at the college level with her work ethic.

She joins Hunter and Sailor Hutton (at Boise State) and Josh Snyder (Portland State) as college runners for the Tigers.

“This is the one thing I really wanted to have out of my program, is that kids see they can run at the next level,” Brent Hutton said.

Franklin had expressed an interest in running in college, but instead will enter the Army.

Smith, meanwhile, hasn’t decided what she’s going to study. Her eventual goal is to become a dental hygienist.

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