Woerner’s World. In Step With Kerri Gallagher (Part 2)

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The below is the second installment of a two-part series chronicling Rockaway resident Kerri Gallagher’s journey to this year’s United States Track and Field Olympic Trials in the 1500-meter event. Part I appeared in last week’s issue of The Rockaway Times.

 A financially rewarding professional career in track and field is about as uncommon as the passing of a Green Line bus on Flatbush Avenue in the pouring rain. Upon Kerri Gallagher’s arrival in the nation’s capital in the fall of 2011 to join the New Balance Pacers Track Club, she was forced to babysit, tutor, and work the counter at a local running store to make ends meet. If you had told her a mere few months earlier that this would be the case, she would have scoffed (courteously) at the notion. Heck, it was only back in July that she was schlepping through the unforgiving Rockaway-to-Manhattan morning commute, destination Morgan Stanley headquarters, to stare at spreadsheets while longing for the stimulation of a meaningful race and the smell of the sun’s rays burning a rubber track.

When an individual dramatically changes their lifestyle in pursuit of a goal, the timing for the arrival of positive results is unpredictable. For Gallagher, it certainly did not happen right away. “The first year I came down here (to D.C.) mirrored my freshman year of college in many ways. A lot of mistakes, and a lot of learning.”

The mistakes and learning paid clear dividends from Year 1 to Year 2, however, when she won her first Army Ten-Miler  in October of 2012 – a little over a year after she left Rockaway. For her, that race was not a destination, but certainly a good sign of progress (she ran four minutes slower the year before). “That race was a good way to track development – it showed me that I was clearly getting stronger.”

Still, there is more than a fine line between winning a well-attended local 10 Mile Race and qualifying for the World Championship for the 1500 a few years later. That’s where you have to credit the coach, right?

 The two-workouts per day and the obscurity of her non-running occupations continued until the spring of 2015, when she finally began to receive at least some recognition on a national platform. The runner and her coach targeted the Penn Relays competitive Olympic Development Mile as an appropriate test against an international field. As the sun shined on the historic Franklin Field oval, Gallagher blitzed her counterparts, winning by nearly three seconds. In her wake were former Olympians, NCAA Champions, and a myriad of other athletes who routinely bested her in college.

The progress was to continue, albeit while continuing to fly under the radar (on the Penn Relays website featuring results and videos from her victorious race, they mysteriously chose to only list the runner-up’s post race quotes, not hers). Nonetheless, Gallagher shocked the generally “Revenge of the Nerds”-themed Track and Field fan-base when she took third later that summer in the USA Championships 1500.. With that Top 3 finish, she was eligible for the World Championship meet in Beijing - yet another key breakthrough.

Doors that seemed locked for years were now being blown open by a force reminiscent of those spring gusts that hampered daily boardwalk training runs with her sister Mary years ago. First, there was an appearance at the prestigious Diamond League series in Monaco where she placed 11th in a race that saw the 1500-meter world record set. Next, at the World Championships, she made it into the semi-final heat and even led it in the later stages before just missing the cut-off to advance to the finals. It was not long before a Nike sponsorship came calling. Gallagher has run with many insignias on her jersey over the years: New York Athletic Club, New Balance Pacers, Oisielle (a women’s fitness brand), but one would imagine having that patented Nike check-mark on the right shoulder really makes her feel like she was a priority invite to the Olympic Trials party this week.

Unfortunately, the recent lead up to the Trials was not without setback. After winning the Milrose Games Mile this past winter, Gallagher battled a minor health issue that forced her to stop running for a period just three months ago. In the lead up to an Olympic qualification, every day of training is precious. The process-oriented Gallagher recovered and kept pushing forward.

 “My faith is extremely important to me, and If this experience has taught me anything, it is to remind myself that I am not always in control of the plan,” she explains. “(These races) are all about managing situations, knowing your strengths, and using them to your advantage.”

Falling in the middle of the pack of the Gallagher family’s nine children, it is safe to say she knows a thing or two about “managing situations”.

Her extended family is offering full-fledged support as well. Her high school coach John Lovett, local track guru John Edwards and St. Francis de Sales CYO program stalwart Keith Goldberg are among the throng headed for Oregon to support the Rockaway native.

"I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.", Gallagher says of the support. "My coaches - Lovett, Dewey, and Centrowitz have all provided me with different resources to get me to this point."

An athlete's career can follow a countless number of trajectories. Some end in high school, others in college, and so few can say that they were once financially compensated for their athletic achievement. If a career is to be deemed a successful one, it usually features a pinnacle accomplishment that said athlete can always reference as the moment that made all of their personal sacrifice justifiable. For Gallagher, that moment will happen this week, where she enters unpredictable environs with a real chance to don the red, white and blue at next month's Olympics.

That would be quite the Rockaway story to tell. One that began on the boardwalk, and spanned a brief stay at a downtown Manhattan office, a new life in Washington, D.C., trips to Monaco and Beijing, with a culminating moment ahead in Eugene, Oregon.

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