Imagine running full-speed right at a giant hurdle. There is a pool of water waiting on the other side. You are in the middle of a pack of aggressive runners. You sail over the hurdle, hit the water and continue sprinting without ever breaking stride.
Colleen Quigley has made a career — and history — out of running this track event, officially called steeplechase. While running the steeplechase in college, Quigley was nine-time All American, 2015 National Champion (with the third-fastest time in NCAA history) and was named 2015 Women’s Outdoor Track Performer of the Year. This past August, she represented the U.S. in the IAAF World Championships in Beijing.
At its most basic, the steeplechase is an obstacle course.
But with 28 barriers and seven water jumps, it’s more than that: it’s an extremely physically and mentally challenging race. It also demands a fearless attitude.
“I think that’s just kind of my personality, to go head first and just dive right in,” Quigley said.
But for someone who it seems was born to run the steeplechase, she says, “It became a passion of mine by accident.”
Fearing she would be cut from the soccer team her freshman year of high school, Quigley joined the track and field team, knowing they had no cuts. What started as a low-key and fun way to be active soon became an obvious natural talent: she won Missouri state titles in the long distance 1600 and 3200 races, as well as sweeping both events at the famed Kansas Relays, and capping off her high school career by being named Missouri Gatorade Runner of the Year.
But it wasn’t until a Florida State University coach approached her that Quigley considered running steeplechase.
“It’s not even an event in the state of Missouri in high school,” said Quigley. “But Coach [Karen] Harvey [FSU’s women’s cross country and distance coach] said from day one, ‘I want you to come to Florida State, I’m giving you a full ride, and I want you to run steeplechase.’ It was her plan from day one.”
While she admits that the event was slightly intimidating, Quigley quickly caught on thanks to a dedicated coaching staff and her own fearlessness.
“I just fell in love with it; it’s something I’m just naturally good at,” said Quigley. “I was never afraid of it, never afraid of the water hurdles and for a lot of people that’s hard to just get over the fear. You have to run at it full speed.”
Quigley’s race hasn’t ended yet: she is running professionally for the Nike Bowerman Track Club in Portland, OR and is training to make Team USA for the Rio 2016 Olympics. She has already qualified for the Olympic Trials next June.
“I attribute my dad’s coaching and Coach Harvey’s coaching throughout high school and college that I made it this far,” said Quigley. “That I was able to not hate running when I’m 22, and I can do it as a profession. It’s still a passion and a love.”