Track Star Colleen Quigley: 'I Was Heartbroken The Day I Found Out The Olympics Were Postponed'

Yes, there was ice cream, pizza, and Netflix. And wine. I’d just found out the event I’d been working toward for almost four years was (at the time) indefinitely postponed.

But let me back up…I’m an Olympic athlete for Team USA. I live in Portland, Oregon and train with a Nike-sponsored group called the Bowerman Track Club. I specialize in an event called the steeplechase, which is essentially an obstacle course on the track where runners jump over 28 wooden barriers and leap over a pit of water seven times during a 3,000 meter race. It’s crazy, but I love it! I’m proud to have represented Team USA in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio where I finished 8th.

I grew up dancing and playing soccer and didn’t start focusing on running until my freshman year of high school. I never dreamed of going to the Olympics as a little girl, but pretty much as soon as my first Games were over, I started working towards my new goal: earning a medal in Tokyo.

For athletes like me, the Games are everything. As a track and field competitor, I have World Championships every other year, but the Olympics only happen every four years, which makes it extra special. It’s a time when the world really tunes into the sport. So, when the International Olympics Committee officially postponed the games last week?

I’ll just come out and say it: I was devastated.

I waited four years for Tokyo 2020 and to have it pushed to next summer because of COVID-19 breaks my heart.

At first, when people started talking about the Games being postponed I wasn’t that worried, thinking of how much time we still had until August. Then about a week before the announcement, I was on a Zoom call with Team USA athletes from all different sports and I heard about the severe disruptions in training many of them were going through—with no end in sight.

At that point I started to recognize that a postponement might actually be the best and only option.

Although I am a very emotional person, I know this is the right thing to do for our country and for our world.

That helps me maintain a healthy perspective and lessens the sting. In the weeks leading up to the decision by the IOC to delay the games, it became apparent to me that this was the only logical and safe choice.

And I feel lucky. While I can still go outside for all of my training runs and do most of my strength-training routine in my living room, there are athletes in sports like swimming, soccer, pole vaulting, and more who can’t practice their sport at all right now, or for the foreseeable future.

I think about all of the athletes sitting at home, just…waiting. Fortunately, I can just pop in my headphones and go for an hour run outside. Practicing social distancing, of course. Yes, running is something I would usually share with my 11 other teammates, but at least I can still do it!

I am no stranger to the painful feelings of disappointment, helplessness, fear, frustration, and even anger that arise during setbacks in my career.

I’ve been through a few major injuries during my time as a pro athlete, and each one has been uniquely challenging. In the past, when I’ve been injured and had to sit on the sidelines and watch my teammates compete, I felt extremely alone and even a little ashamed.

I felt responsibility for the mistakes I had made along the way—like pushing through pain I shouldn’t have ignored until the damage was so severe that time off was the only option left—that resulted in me being sidelined. I always focused on learning from those mistakes so that I could be a better athlete going forward.

This time is different because I’m not the only one “injured.” This is happening to everyone. But I can imagine athletes everywhere are dealing with their individual setbacks in different ways. Personally, I’m focused on finding the lessons in this experience. How can I make myself better? What is to be learned here?

I’m not entirely sure yet how to answer those questions, but I know that I am tempted to feel sorry for myself, spend my days lost in a Netflix black hole, stocking up on ice cream and not putting a dent in my to-do lists.

I fully own it that my boyfriend and I ordered pizza, drank wine, and had Ben and Jerry’s the day the news broke. Sometimes you just need to…comfort yourself.

But then I realized… I’ve been training for this! All those injuries that strengthened my mental muscles are finally coming in handy. I know how to take a few hits, get back to work, and wait for my turn in the spotlight.

It didn’t take me long to flip the script and see this situation in a more positive light.

I have decided that I’m going to take this extra year as more time to prepare holistically. [Editor’s note: The IOC announced that the Games have been moved to July 23, 2021.]Time to get stronger by extending my base phase of training—which I usually do only in the fall—without the pressure of racing. Time to work on my weaknesses—hi right hip mobility!—by doing my rehab exercises religiously. Time to up my mental game by working with my psych coach on a regular basis over FaceTime. All of this extra time provides a perfect opportunity to practice myresilience. There will be no room for excuses come summer 2021.

Instead of being injured on the sidelines watching everyone else compete, feeling like I’m losing time and fitness, I have this amazing opportunity to work for another year and move myself forward.

That’s a huge win! There are a lot of unknowns out there right now and admittedly, that is frightening. But when Tokyo comes around in July 2021, I will be a force to be reckoned with. That I know for sure.

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