Two races stand between Dawn Cromer and history.
At the Olympic trials this summer, she must make it through the semifinals, then land a top spot in the finals to qualify for a truly unique field—the first women to compete for Olympic gold in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
Although men have been running the steeplechase in the Olympics for more than a century, Beijing will see the event’s debut for women.
Cromer (Col ’02, Grad ’03) was an All-American at UVA, and visions of standing on the winners’ podium at the Olympics bring a smile to her face.
“It’s easy to think about making the Olympic team, but I have to be very realistic with myself about my goals. Saying and doing are two different things,” she says.
The reality is that she has a chunk of time to shave off her personal record before she can expect to win one of three tickets to Beijing. Her best is 9 minutes 59 seconds; she needs to get below 9:35.
To be among the best, she’s been training four hours a day—lifting weights, doing mobility drills—and running 80 miles a week. More important, she’s been training her mind to tune out the thousand distractions born of pressure.
“I’m like my own worst enemy when it comes to pressure,” she says.
A volunteer coach with the UVA track and crosscountry teams, she gets lots of support from students in her training group. Her husband, Damond Cromer (Col ’00), also joins her for long runs on weekends, and she got an extra boost from Dana Coons (Col ’01) while Coons was training for the Olympic marathon trials.
“Making an Olympic team is never easy, but I know Dawn is doing everything she can this year to put herself in position to be competitive this summer,” Coons says. “She’s put in a lot of work, not only with actual running, but also in doing all of the ‘little things’ that really make a difference.”
Even if her wildest dream comes true, Cromer intends to hang up her shoes after this summer. A career as a real estate agent in Charlottesville and more family time beckon.
“I sacrifice a lot of opportunities to live the lifestyle that I lead,” she says. “I feel content with myself that I’ve given it five good years after college of training at an elite level.”
That contentment includes knowing that she will give every race an Olympian effort. “I want to toe the line knowing that I’ve done everything I can to prepare, and I want to walk off the track knowing I’ve given 100 percent of myself in that race.”