It was the first day of a week-long backpacking trip to Patagonia last January, a trip where Shannon Eliot and eight of her classmates were finally going to test lessons learned in their Extreme Leadership class at Berkeley Haas.
Their goal was to reach Cordillera Arturo Prat, a mountain peak just outside Torres Del Paine National Park, but not long after leaving base camp, Eliot, EWMBA 20, slipped on a log and fell backwards into a muddy swamp, twisting her knee on the forest floor. “I thought I would have to be airlifted out of Chile,” she said as she lay on her back looking up at the Chilean sky. “I asked myself, ‘Why did I come?’”
That question could have led her to abandon the trek. But as she would several times during her final year at Haas, Eliot blocked the pain from her mind and moved forward with the help of her Haas friends, including two of her close classmates, Terrell Baptiste, EWMBA 20, and Brian Bell, MBA 20. “They told me that I was stronger than I thought I was and that I could do it,” Eliot said.
They told me that I was stronger than I thought I was and that I could do it.
“A million tiny knives”
For her grit, determination, and her role as EWMBA Association’s VP of Philanthropy, Eliot, a senior communications manager for Blue Shield of California, will receive the Beyond Yourself award at graduation Friday. It’s one of four Defining Leadership Principles awards given to students who embody the spirit of Haas and have made a lasting impact on the community. Eliot is being honored for leading ethically and responsibly and putting larger interests above her own.
Just months before the Patagonia trek, Eliot was almost convinced the trip would not be possible. Three days after her birthday in August, Eliot awoke from an afternoon nap unable to stand with a feeling of “a million tiny knives stabbing me in the back,” she said.
Doctors diagnosed Eliot with rhabdomyolysis, a breakdown of muscle tissue that causes myoglobin, or muscle protein, to enter the bloodstream. This “freak accident,” she said, was a rare side effect of a prescribed medication she took.
For five months, Eliot, who is also a part-time Pilates instructor, tapped into her training to restore the muscles in her lower back. By December, Eliot had gained enough strength to walk on a treadmill with a 25-pound backpack — just enough weight to convince herself that she could make it to Patagonia.
An athlete’s recovery
Anyone who knows Eliot wouldn’t have been surprised to learn how determined she was to restore her physical health. From being an elite soccer player as a teen to racing for UC San Diego’s collegiate cycling team to teaching Pilates, Eliot has always been a lifelong athlete who has pushed her body to the max.
That fitness level and mental perseverance ultimately helped her to complete the Patagonia trek.
After her knee injury, Eliot got back on her feet and marched forward. For six days, she hiked on a sprained knee for 10 hours carrying a 52-pound backpack and camping atop of an icy mountain in high winds.
“Despite spraining her knee, Shannon was still able to keep a positive attitude and motivate our team to finish the trip,” Baptiste said. “She has a lot of grit.”
Eliot is working towards a role in management consulting following graduation. She’d also like to launch an online Pilates studio to help people remain physically fit in the age of the coronavirus.
“I’m so excited for the future and I have Haas—and especially my Haas family—to thank for it,” Eliot said. “Their unwavering support and endless encouragement are the secret sauce to my success.”