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James Shirvell expected to be in Brazil this week, studying rats for his senior project.
He had good reason to delay his trip.
A former Fitch High School All-State runner, Shirvell qualified in the 1500 meters for the Division I NCAA Championships. A Yale University junior, he begins competition today in Eugene, Ore.
"I'm feeling pretty good," Shirvell said. "I'm really excited. I've always wanted to race at this level. I think I'm ready to do it and show what I can do."
Shirvell has had an outstanding outdoor track season.
Prior to this year, he had been primarily an 800 specialist at Yale and competed just once in the 1500.
A few weeks ago, he turned in two impressive performances at the NCAA East Regional in Greensboro, N.C. Two days after setting a personal best in his opening 1500 race, he finished in a school record three minutes, 41.09 seconds and placed fifth in the regional final, qualifying for the NCAA Championships.
The race's fast pace helped push Shirvell, who shaved over two seconds off his previous best.
"I definitely didn't expect I could run 3:41 this year, so that was a big surprise," Shirvell said. "I knew we were on a good pace. I was a little nervous because I've never been out that fast before in a race. I did my best to stay relaxed.
"There were some really good guys in the heat and I did my best to stay with them. Fortunately, I closed well and ran my best time."
Paul Harkins, Yale's middle distance and distance coach, said the NCAA East Regional race, which featured one of the fastest fields in recent years, gave Shirvell an opportunity to showcase his talent.
The better the competition, the better Shirvell performs.
"James rises to the challenge," Harkins said. "He's got some pretty good confidence in his ability. He's fairly understated, but he goes into every race believing he can win it."
Shirvell has gradually grown into an elite runner at Yale through hard work and dogged determination.
Recruited relatively late during his senior year at Fitch, Shirvell made a somewhat surprising impact in his first season, setting Yale indoor freshmen records in the 800 and 1000 meters and earning All-Ivy League honors.
He has continued to improve every season.
"James is the type of guy that makes you feel like a good coach because he comes in and improves so rapidly," Harkins said. "One thing I can guarantee you is that he's going to compete as hard as he can."
Shirvell also has earned the respect of his teammates. At a recent season-ending track banquet, he was voted captain for next year's team.
"I'm really excited about it," said Shirvell, who served as captain for the outdoor and indoor track and soccer teams at Fitch. "I really can't believe it. It's just wonderful. Yale has a tradition of having only one captain for each team, so it's a great honor."
He's also honored to represent his team and university at two major national meets this month.
Shirvell enters his first NCAA Championship competition with the fifth-seeded time overall in his event. The top five finishers and two other fastest times from each of the two heats in today's preliminary round will move on to Saturday's finals.
"It's going to be tough…," Harkins said. "Hopefully, James is still at the top of his game."
Later this month, Shirvell will compete in the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.
Once his track season finally ends, Shirvell, who is majoring in environmental studies with plans to eventually attend medical school, will head to Brazil for about two months.
For now, his senior project - and the rats - can wait.
"When I'm 40, I'll be working, so why not do it now?" Shirvell said. "I couldn't pass up this chance."