Photo by John O’BoyleKerri Gallagher, FCRH ’11, figured her track career was finished in late May 2011. She’d been a star runner at Fordham, but the Belle Harbor, New York, native wasn’t among the nation’s elite. With a degree in math, she landed a job at Morgan Stanley. By August, though, she had a change of heart—and a chance to train with former Olympian Matt Centrowitz, head coach at American University. She quit the financial sector and moved to Washington, D.C., eventually becoming an assistant coach at American.
Four years later, her leap of faith paid off. She surprised track fans this past summer by earning a spot on the U.S. national team at the world championships in Beijing. Now she’s training for next July’s Olympic trials—one big step closer to her dream of competing at the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil.
How did your family respond to your career move?
We’re all pretty practical people, my family, and we’re all very close. When I told my dad, he sat me down in the living room and reminded me that I’d be giving up a salary, benefits, and a pretty clear path forward. He wanted me to know that it was going to take a lot of work [to make it as a pro runner], and it was a very long shot that it would turn into anything. Once I made up my mind, though, my family was supportive. They didn’t give me any pressure not to run.
How did it go at first?
We were entering an Olympic year, London 2012, and my big goal was to make trials. Most people talk about the Olympics—I knew that was not realistic at that point. I needed an eight-second jump in my personal best time to reach 4:12.9, the qualifying standard for the 1500-meter race. I had made big jumps, but at a certain point they get really hard to make. Not getting on the line at trials was a big wake-up call. It wasn’t the definition of a smart goal.
You made a big jump this year, bringing your time down to 4:03.56. How do you account for that?
I don’t want to say I was undertrained or underdeveloped, but I am kind of a late bloomer in the sport. Every year in college, I dropped almost 10 seconds, mostly because my initial times were unimpressive. But I had no idea there was a 4:03 in me at that point. If you had told me, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Is getting to the Olympics a smart goal now?
The dream didn’t become real until this year, when I made the world championships team. Now that I know I’m capable of it, it’s a very real goal for me. I want to get to the final and be among the top three at the Olympic trials.
Did you ever doubt that you did the right thing leaving Morgan Stanley?
That came up quite a bit, particularly after not making the trials in 2012. I ended up getting sick at the end of that year because I was training over my head. I considered moving on, but I had made a decision and wanted to see it through.
What compels you to run?
That competitive nature that athletes have—that’s what kept me engaged in the beginning. I wasn’t really fast at the start. Every time you get to a new level, there’s more work to do. That can sound demoralizing, but it’s more motivating for me than anything else. As long as I can rise to each challenge, I’ll see how high I can go.
—Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Ryan Stellabotte.