Dispatching from Rio: Colleen Quigley, US 3000-Meter Steeplechaser

by Grace Masback

Colleen Quigley is an aspiring dietitian passionate about food and the 3000-meter steeplechase. She was a nine-time NCAA All-American runner, finished 12th in the 2015 World Track & Field Championships in Beijing, and recently finished 8th in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio as a representative of Team USA. But Quigley didn’t always plan on being a runner. She danced competitively for nine years and then transitioned to playing soccer, only joining the track team as a way to stay in shape. During high school, she also pursued an international modeling career, traveling the world for photo shoots with Nordstrom, JC Penney, and Seventeen magazine. Although after high school she had planned to move to New York and work as a model full time, she ultimately decided to take a running scholarship at Florida State University, trading the catwalk for the track. As an Olympian and rising star, her decision seems to have been the right one. School of Doodle recently had the chance to sit down with Quigley and get to know a little bit more about who she is, what she stands for, and her athletic ambitions.

SOD: What were your goals and expectations for yourself in Rio? Were you happy with the outcome?

Colleen Quigley: Rio was my second international competition, my first being at the World Championships in Beijing last year, where I made it to the final and finished 12th. I had hoped to better that finish this year….and I did, finishing in 8th. Now that I’m healthy again, I’m excited to see how my fitness translates in a competitive race scenarios after the Olympics!

SOD: What is your pre-competition ritual (if you have one)?

CQ: Don’t have much of one, but I like to spend a lot of time before the race just hanging out, watching TV or race videos from other competitions in the past to get hyped up.

SOD: What was your greatest failure in your track and field career? What did you learn from it?

CQ: My junior year in college I got a stress reaction in my right foot, diagnosed about 10 days before the NCAA Regionals. I had pain for a couple weeks but was ignoring and pushing through it until I couldn’t anymore. It ended my season and put my goal of becoming an NCAA champ on hold. I spent that summer in a boot and was out of commission for running for 6 weeks. During that time I realized even more deeply my love for running and decided I would seriously consider going pro after graduation.

SOD: Due to a lingering injury, you had only run one race prior to the Olympic Trials — how did you prepare mentally to try to make the Olympic team given your lack of racing in the outdoor season?

CQ: I had a surprising amount of confidence when I stepped on that line at the Olympic Trials final. I knew and believed in the race plan that my coaches Jerry Schumacher and Pascal Dobert and I had come up with. I knew if I followed the plan, executed exactly what they said, and didn’t back down from the fight when it got really tough, that I would have a great shot at making the team. I trusted the strong base that I had built with my coaches at Florida State too. Terry Long taught me how to hurdle from day one and I knew that those skills were still in my body and it wouldn’t take much to remember it again. I also took confidence in my past experiences at championship events where I stayed calm and executed. Mental toughness is often a make it or break it factor for athletes, so my main focus was on staying mentally strong before and during that race.

SOD: How did you remain positive about the Olympic season when you were injured from August to April?

CQ: It grew increasingly difficult to keep a positive attitude after getting hit with injuries and not being able to recover from them. My coach, Pascal Dobert, never let me feel like I was on that road alone. He would constantly be checking in on me and reminding me that I wouldn’t always be healthy and that even when we only had 10 weeks to go before the Trials that it was still possible to make that team! My teammates were also my lifeline, giving me emotional and mental support, telling me their injury stories and how they recovered. My parents and my boyfriend probably took the brunt of the difficulty — I would come to them with my frustration, anger, and fear. There were lots of tearful phone calls home. I would come back to my apartment after a frustrating day of cross training and be able to vent to my boyfriend. They all helped scoop me up when I felt like the dream was slipping away and helped me build a strong support system so that when I was weak they could lift me up!

SOD: Who is your role model and why?

CQ: Shalane Flanagan is one of the most decorated female American distance runners. She is also my teammate! I got to know her personally this past year and she quickly became a mentor, friend, and role model for me. Shalane is one of the most dedicated people I know. She loves the sport and works tirelessly every day to be excellent, sacrificing anything necessary to reach her goals. Then, once the goal is reached, she takes a short time to revel in it before setting the next goal, constantly striving to improve.

SOD: What is your favorite thing to do when you are not running?

CQ: I love to eat, cook, and go out to dinner for amazing food. I studied dietetics in school, which is all about health and nutrition. I love exploring new foods and new ways of eating foods.

SOD: What sport were you most excited to see in Rio other than track?

CQ: Gymnastics, men or women. They are so beautiful and so powerful, I am in awe of their bodies and their grace.

SOD: What advice do you have for your high school self? What advice do you have for other aspiring female athletes?

CQ: I would tell myself to just keep striving to better myself, but also to continue to have fun with the sport and with life, staying involved in many activities outside of running. Luckily I didn’t get obsessed with any one thing at a young age so I got to try out a bunch of sports and other activities, which makes for a more well-rounded adult. I danced for nine years and played soccer until high school. I was involved in clubs and community service both in high school and college. I feel it gave me better perspective and more rich experiences.

SOD: Was it difficult to transition from being a college athlete to being a professional athlete?

CQ: My coach in college prepared me well for the pro lifestyle because she taught us how to be very organized, plan ahead, and take control of our careers and our lives. The transition to college from high school was more difficult for me because of all the things that were new. New city, new school, all new friends, new team, new coach, new competitors, etc. I was running a ton more miles than in high school and the quality of workouts was much higher. Running got a little tougher after graduation, but I was ready for that change and embraced the challenge.

SOD: What were your sightseeing activities in Rio?

CQ: I stayed a couple days after my competition and spent some time hanging out and exploring Rio with my family (Mom, Dad, brother, sister, boyfriend, aunt, and uncle). We saw Sugarloaf and Christ the Redeemer and some other sites!

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