By Mel Weber and Adam Gostomelsky
Tramaine Shaw sits up in her office chair, located in a narrow hallway on the first floor of Cabot, and leans forward. “You know, I always joke with my athletes, I don’t know if I could have ever coached myself.”
It’s an ironic statement coming from the 2015-2016 Northeastern Hall of Fame inductee who set (and still holds) a couple of Northeastern and CAA records during her career, which ended in 2009. After a whirlwind year, she is only now just starting to get a chance to reminisce about her journey, which started as a volunteer assistant to give back to the program she loved.
“I started full-time coaching with the idea this would be a short-term plan and get a little bit more exposure coaching and have some fun, while I got to continue being educated. I had some other opportunities but in my heart it felt like [coaching] was where I needed to stay and ten years later almost I find myself still here,” Shaw said.
In 2011, Shaw abruptly took charge of the program on a temporary basis after a coaching departure, albeit with very different results. There was no NCAA All-American, no eighth place finisher at the 2018 USA Track & Field Outdoor Championship, no New England Championships for both men and women, no CAA championships for both the men and women (a program first) and no Coach of the Year award in 2011. Shaw admits that she wasn’t ready at the time for the step up, and while the program didn’t necessarily suffer, she said she wasn’t staying true to herself the first time around.
“My mindset then was ‘OK, just stay afloat. If no one dies, if the place doesn’t burn to the ground, you’re OK,’” Shaw said. “This time around was much different. We took some risks and I really decided to own it. I was going to do things the way I wanted to do them and in that moment, not thinking about ‘Is this going to help secure a future job? Is this going to set me up for failure?’”
Senior women’s track and field captain Amy Piccolo believes that since Shaw has already made a significant impact.
“Before we were just a bunch of different groups that were very isolated from each other,” Piccolo said. “But Coach has really done a nice job bringing us all together as one team. She has brought in an amazing and diverse staff that together will build what I think will be the best track and field athletes that our program has ever seen.”
Moreover, Piccolo noted that Shaw puts an emphasis on inspiring her team and helping her team to be the best they can be.
“Coach Shaw is one of those coaches who is always willing to listen, on and off the track. Whether I’m racing a 23-minute 6K or a 12-second 100m, she has the innate ability to calm me down and give any of her athletes the confidence boost they need,” Piccolo said. “She reminded me how to believe in myself. I think that’s something she strives to do with all of her athletes.”
Shaw credits her ability to connect and inspire her athletes to her youthfulness and her own personal Northeastern experiences.
“When they’re having anxiety, when they’re having self-doubts, I’m able to go back and speak directly to those moments where I experienced the same things,” said Shaw. “When they’re having some struggles in classes or with schoolwork, I’m able to speak to some tricks, some tools that I may have used.”
Even though she graduated less than ten years ago, a lot has changed for Shaw. She notes that the track and field program now gets department-issued gear. There is no longer a brick wall separating the training room from the weight room. And they no longer have to do their own laundry. But what hasn’t changed about Shaw is the commitment and pride she holds for her program.
“What makes this doubly special is not only do I have the opportunity to coach at my alma mater, be a female coach at my alma mater, be a female coach of a men’s and a women’s sport, but it really solidifies that I made the right choice,” Shaw said. “To be part of something, to be part of a legacy, to be part of the fabric of your university. It’s something that’s super special and I enjoy it everyday. Part of the reason I chose to coach, and coach here particularly, is because it feels like an extension of my life.”
Featured image by Brian Bae.