On Sunday, Brian Shrader, a relative unknown, won the US National 12K Championship in Washington D.C., for which he earned a $20,000 prize. It's a big purse for running, but Shrader may not see a nickel of it. Why? Because of the NCAA.

Shrader, 23, is a fifth-year senior at Northern Arizona University. After two years at the University of Oregon and the last two at NAU, the only eligibility he has left in his final year is an indoor season this winter. He's spent the fall training with his cross country teammates and watching from the sidelines as they race. A surprise fourth-place finish at the USA 5K Championship in Providence on Sept. 21 meant his travel expenses would be covered for the 12K Championship, which acts as the de facto road running circuit championship.

And now Shrader, who has to step out of his Monday morning class to speak with me, faces a tough decision: If he takes the money, his collegiate running days are over. He can turn down the money and run a final indoor track season, or take the money and start running as a pro.

"A $20,000 check is something I've never seen in my life," he says. "There's very few opportunities in the sport to get a decent amount of money. It's pretty hard to have to turn it down."

Shrader says his heart is still with his team and finishing out his final collegiate racing season, especially since he's never had the success on the track that he expected. But his win on Sunday is making past disappointments hard to remember.

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"If I do want to stay in this sport, that kind of money can go a long way," he says. "It's life-changing in that it gives you another year to really go for your dreams."

Shrader doesn't have to decide immediately—mandatory drug testing after the championship means that he won't be awarded the check for another five weeks, he says, and the indoor season doesn't start until after Christmas break. In the meantime, he plans on talking to his coach, his family, and his friends about his choice to stay with the NCAA or move on to what's next.

"It's a situation I never thought I'd really be in," he says. "Everything's on the table now."

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Photo: NAU Athletics