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Longtime dream of Olympic glory runs in family

An East Lake couple will share from home the joy of Olympic competition as their daughter and her husband run in Sydney.


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000

EAST LAKE -- Twenty-eight years ago this summer, Susan Wille watched the Olympics in Munich, West Germany, and couldn't help but be impressed by gold-medal swimmer Shane Gould of Australia.

Shane, she thought, would be a nice name for a girl. The following year, when her daughter was born, she named her Shayne.

This week, Susan and Dean Wille will watch the Olympics again, only this time they will be watching for their own daughter, Shayne Culpepper, and their son-in-law, Alan Culpepper.

The Culpeppers live in Boulder, Colo., where Shayne, 26, trains for the 1,500-meter women's race and Alan, 28, trains for the men's 10,000 meters. The Willes have lived in East Lake for three years.

Dean Wille, a runner who has participated in two Boston Marathons and scores of 10K races, is happy that his daughter can devote her life to running.

"I sure would like to be in her shoes right now," said Wille, 49, who works for NetLook Auto Paper.

Until recently, Shayne Culpepper thought she would be attending the Olympics as an alternate, likely sitting in the stands watching her husband run.

Her fate seemed sealed at the U.S. Olympic trials in Sacramento, Calif., in July, when she placed fourth in the 1,500-meter race. "I knew that when the race was over it would be the best of times or the worst of times," said Mrs. Wille, 47, who is a labor and delivery nurse at Mease Dunedin Hospital. "It was the worst of times."

Shayne lost her chance to join the Olympic team to third-place finisher Marla Runyan, who is legally blind. She missed making the team by 1.94 seconds.

After the race, the Willes watched helplessly as their daughter clung to her husband, sobbing uncontrollably in his arms.

So she traveled to Sydney, Australia, as an alternate -- without her spikes.

That's when she learned an important lesson: Never leave your spikes at home.

Top-ranked runner Regina Jacobs had to drop out of the Games due to complications from a severe respiratory infection.

Shayne Culpepper was in. She found out Sept. 8 and called her parents, crying, from a training camp in Brisbane, Australia, at 9:45 p.m.

"She was really surprised," Mrs. Wille said. She had resigned herself to "this was not going to happen."

Shayne Culpepper has been surprising herself and others with her athletic ability her whole life. When her parents attended the University of Colorado in Boulder, the family lived in family student housing.

"She was walking at 10 months. She could ride a two-wheeler when she was 3 years old," Dean Wille said. "She would ride around the student housing and amaze everybody."

The family moved to the couple's home state of Pennsylvania. Shayne Culpepper and her sister, Erin, now 23, actively competed in gymnastics and other sports for 10 years.

"Up to eighth or ninth grade, she could beat the boys in any sport," Mrs. Wille said.

Shayne enrolled in Haverford High School, ran cross country and won a scholarship to the University of Vermont. By her sophomore year, she earned the top spot on the team.

But she did not like Vermont, so she went to Boulder, took a year off and worked at a dude ranch to establish residency so she could attend her parents' alma mater.

Once she was enrolled, she joined the University of Colorado track team as a walk-on and met Alan Culpepper, a 6-foot-1, 130-pound long-distance runner, whom her parents credit with encouraging her to give 100 percent to the sport.

The couple married three years ago, about the same time Susan and Dean Wille moved to the Ridgemoor subdivision. They don't train together in Boulder. Shayne Culpepper usually runs 60 to 70 miles per week alone, her mother said.

Adidas, their sponsor, takes care of their living and travel expenses. Thanks to the company, Shayne Culpepper's little brother, Josh, a freshman at the University of Central Florida, has at least 30 pairs of running shoes in his dorm closet.

Mrs. Wille said the couple have only one complaint when they come to visit: There is no place for them to run. They avoid running on pavement, so neighborhood streets and even the Pinellas Trail are out.

But they found a solution. They use a spongy all-weather track at the University of South Florida's Tampa campus.

The Willes plan to invite friends over to watch Shayne and Alan Culpepper compete. It was just too expensive to travel to Australia to be there in person, and, "I can view it better on TV at home," Dean Wille said.

Plus, her mother said: "She's busy. I would only be able to see her for about an hour a day."

- Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4229 or

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