Illinois track now just a memory for ‘Shoes’

Gakologelwang Masheto is a long name. ‘Shoes’ is much shorter, and is the nickname that Masheto went by during his three years on the Illinois men’s track and field team. Contrary to popular belief, it is a nickname with no track and field affiliations.

Masheto was first called ‘Shoes’ while he attended grade school in his home country of Botswana, when the only sport he played was soccer. “There was this great player from South Africa (nicknamed Shoes). My coach just believed we had something in common. Since then the name has stuck with me,” Masheto said.

Various people have guessed where the six-time Big Ten Champion and two-time All-American got the name. Some have been closer than others. “Sometimes people just ask me ‘Where is this name coming from? Is it because you used to run barefooted or something like that?'” Masheto chuckled.

After a summer class Tuesday, Masheto practiced on the Illinois track under instruction by Illinois men’s track and field head coach Wayne Angel. Though everything seemed like business as usual, he was training exclusively for international competition. For Masheto, it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that his collegiate career has ended.

“It feels like there’s no difference, because (this time) last year I was training here by myself,” Masheto said. “The only difference —linebreak—(is), I’m not going to run for Illinois anymore. I don’t know, maybe I’ll feel that difference as time goes on.”

A difference that Masheto left out was that on Tuesday, he wasn’t training alone. Andrew Riley of Jamaica also has an international season ahead of him. Like Masheto, Riley made an immediate impact during his first year as an Illini. And during his talented freshman season, Riley watched ‘Shoes’ very carefully to learn all he could.

“One thing I observe about him, he takes this track thing very seriously,” Riley said. “I remember at nationals when he didn’t do good, I mean, I felt it for him. It just gave me motivation to just go out there and do my best for Illinois.”

“He’s a guy that has really worked hard in training, I see that and I just look at him and just apply it. I mean, if a guy can come here and do (as) well as Shoes, I mean why not study his types of techniques and his style of training?”

According to Angel, Shoes was always a team player and still is. However, his teammates are no longer Illinois athletes, but members of the Botswana 4×400-meter relay, who hope to make it to this years’ World Championships in Berlin, Germany.

“He’s got to help Botswana qualify on the 4×400, and he also has to qualify in his individual event,” Angel said. “Those are the key things that he’s got to take care of right now. Just … helping out his country and then, whatever he wants to do for himself individually, that’ll be up to him. But he’s a team player, so he’s going to do what Botswana asks him.”

Tuesday was Masheto’s first practice since his collegiate season ended with injury. According to Angel, Masheto has spent the time since the injury “resting from a long season. Getting revived mentally, physically, so that he can start up again.”

The earliest Masheto will compete again is July 18th in Nigeria.

“The catch word right now is ‘train’,” Angel said. “Just get ready, and I think I can have him ready by the time that he needs to go (to Nigeria).”

The coming months are critical for Masheto, who has yet to decide if running is something he wants to continue doing after college, which the Kinesiology major will finish up this fall.

“I just want to finish (school) and see if I’m going to continue with running after that,” Masheto said. “It depends on how I run this year. If I run the way I want to run, I’m going to continue running even after college.”

The 24-year-old still has things he has yet to accomplish. If he does not accomplish them now, there might not be many chances left.

“I’ve been running for many years, now it’s time to see if I can reach certain goals. If I can reach those certain goals, I’m going to run. If not, I don’t think there’s anytime that I’m going to reach them if I don’t do it now, because I’m 24 … I’m getting old.”

Masheto keeps what exactly those goals are to himself.

“The way I set my goals, I don’t tell people that ‘I want to do this’,” Masheto said. “It’s just a personal thing.”

No matter what the future has in store, practicing on the track at Illinois will always bring out memories of ‘Shoes’ time as an Illini.

“When you mention Illinois track, I’m just thinking about all those memories when I was here representing Illinois,” Masheto said. “It (felt) kind of special to put on (those) orange and blue colors to represent this school, you know. This is an opportunity that I’m going to miss a lot. That’s the past now, (I) need to focus on the future.”