Six months ago, Colleen Quigley sat in her doctor’s office, figuring out a way to continue to train for the Olympic Trials despite an injury in her right hip. She fought through weakness and doubt and tapped an inner level of grit she didn’t know existed. Competing in the 2016 Summer Olympics was a dream come true. She raced against the best and delivered a top-10 finish in the women’s Steeplechase. Reflecting on overcoming an injury and the power of perseverance and camaraderie, the freshly minted Olympian and TeamHOTSHOT ambassador shares what it took to make her dream become a reality, and where she sees herself in 2017.
What was it like to compete in the Olympics?
Competing in my first Olympic Games was an incredible experience for me and for my family. Wearing that beautiful blue USA jersey in front of the whole world gave me such a sense of pride in myself and in my country. My teammates and I kept pinching ourselves, whispering to each other periodically, “We are Olympians!”
What was going through your mind the night before the big race?
I was surprisingly calm going into finals day. I was more nervous for the prelims because I knew that if everything went well that I would make the final, but that is a big “if” at this level. Once I made the final, I felt more confident that I could achieve my goal. At times like that I really like to push away any thoughts of doubt and instead focus my energy on going over my race plan and the advice my coaches have told me, making sure I know everything backwards and forwards.
How important is camaraderie in the sport? How do you and your teammates support each other?
Track and Field is such a special sport. What other sport do you race your heart out, fighting for every second, and then as soon as you cross the line, reach out to a competitor for a hug or a hand shake? This is what all runners do the moment they finish a race and it is such an amazing display of camaraderie. You respect what your competitors did out there and recognize that they wanted it just as bad as you did. Whether it was her day or yours, you respect that. After the prelim, I warmed down with women from about three or four different countries. We all ended up jogging together around the practice track and chatting as if we had known each other well, even though we pretty much barely knew each other’s names. That was a really cool moment for me at the Games.
What are some of the most crucial lessons your coach, Jerry Schumacher, has taught you about perseverance and racing?
In the past year, Jerry has put me through the toughest workouts I have ever heard of let alone attempted in my career. Those grueling workouts are perfect opportunities for us to practice our grit when it comes to race time when you have to be really mentally tough. There have been multiple times when I thought a long workout was finally over just to hear that we have another rep… and we somehow always do it. I think back to those days when I am in a race and feel like I can’t push myself any more. There’s always something left in the tank. I have learned that lesson this year from my new coach.
What did you learn about yourself in your journey to Rio?
Wow. I learned so much about myself when I spent months and months injured, unable to run, and spending endless hours cross-training in the pool, on the spin bike, and on the elliptical. I was putting in 2-3 hours a day for months with no running. That’s a lot of time to be in your head just thinking about everything: Why am I doing this? Am I doing it for myself? Am I doing it for the money? For the title? Is it worth it? Why don’t I just quit? I am so proud of myself for sticking through all that despair and coming out on the other side victorious. I found a whole other layer of perseverance I had no idea existed inside of me. I leaned on my boyfriend and my parents like I never had in the past, and I think in the end, it actually strengthened those relationships, which is an awesome silver lining. It was a tough Road to Rio, but looking back I don’t think I would have wanted it any other way.
What was it like to have your family and friends watch you in Rio?
Just knowing they were there as I walked out of the stadium onto the track on race day gave me pride, confidence, and purpose. My brother and boyfriend snagged seats on the finish line, and they were the first ones to greet me as I walked off the track. The next day we explored Rio a bit, took a trip to Sugarloaf Mountain, and just enjoyed hanging out at the Olympic Games together- something we never imagined we would get to do as a family.
What was the most enjoyable part after the Olympics for you?
After Rio, I headed straight for Europe to rest, recover, and prepare for a couple more races. First, I trained in Leuven, Belgium for a few days with Evan to acclimate to the time change and just regroup after the Games. Then I went to Paris to race the steeple and shaved another second off my PR. After Paris I went straight to Zurich for another steeple a couple days later to end my season. It was definitely tough to come off the high of being at the Olympic Games, but I had a ton of fun traveling and hanging out with some of my BTC (Bowerman Track Club) teammates like Evan and lots of other athletes who were also traveling around to the same races. In Zurich, after my race, I skipped dinner and went straight for the dessert table to feast on some of the most amazing Swiss treats to cap of my season!
What are you doing in the off-season? Where will we see you race next?
I am healthy and getting in some really good training with the other BTC women! I have been traveling some, too, and even made it out to Sweden for Evan Jager’s beautiful wedding to his Swedish Bride, Sofia. As for races, I’m not for sure at the moment. The only thing locked down on my schedule is USA Championships next summer for the opportunity to make the Worlds team again.
What are your goals for 2017?
In 2017, I would love to have a solid base in me from training all fall and winter (which I didn’t have last year) and have that turn into a really strong track season. I ended the 2016 season with a steeple PR of 9:20.00; so for 2017 I want to break into the teens, even under 9:15. I’ll be training and competing alongside my new training partner and steeple buddy, Courtney; so I know we will push each other to that goal. I also would love to make the World Championship team and go to London next summer.
MORE ON THE HOTSHOT BLOG
8 Questions with Dan Fitzgerald: Co-founder of Heartbreak Hill Running Co. and coach of the Heartbreakers.
Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan: The dynamic duo talk about the importance of camaraderie in the sport of running. Read on.
Colleen Quigley: Read more about her road to Rio.