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Life as Courtney Frerichs knew it just 10 days ago is no more.
And she’s OK with that.
Thanks to a nice 9-minute, 20-second run she went on in Eugene, Ore., on July 7, the former University of New Mexico runner has discovered her name has grown longer — she’s now getting introduced as U.S. Olympian Courtney Frerichs — and her waits in line have grown shorter.
“I had a crack on my windshield I had to go get fixed this week and missed the appointment,” Frerichs said. “I sort of told them, ‘I’m sorry, but I missed it because I was flying back from the Olympic Trials.’ They were like, ‘Oh, it’s OK. Come on in.’ And everything was OK.”
It was the first taste of how dropping her newly obtained Olympian card might be. And it probably won’t be her last.
The 23-year-old graduate transfer from Missouri, who wasn’t even enrolled at UNM at this time last year, certainly left her mark on the Lobos track and field program last month, winning an NCAA national title in collegiate record-setting time in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
One month later, on the same track in Eugene, Ore., her personal best time in the finals of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials punched her ticket for Rio de Janeiro, where she will compete with the best in the world next month.
“A little bit of chaos, but in a good way,” Frerichs described how things have been since her triumph July 7. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind since the trials. I took a few days down in training — took a few days off from the race. Doing two races that close together is pretty hard on your body.”
That brief rest — not to mention a celebratory post-race cheat meal of pizza with old Missouri friend and new Olympic teammate Colleen Quigley — didn’t last long.
“Then the next morning we went to team processing, which was amazing,” Frerichs said. “We got to try on the (Olympic team) uniforms and everything. That’s when it started to get real. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. I’m going to the Olympics.'”
Already signed with the professional Bowerman Track Club, Frerichs is now back at work training in Albuquerque and leaves for Brazil on Aug. 7.
She’s says she is not overly concerned, though by no means uneducated, about safety and Zika virus concerns surrounding the games. After briefings, Frerichs said she won’t drink or brush her teeth with the water, she’ll eat only the food shipped in for the team and she’ll wear the bug spray she’s given. Ultimately, she’ll let the U.S. Olympic Committee focus on ensuring athlete safety so the athletes can focus on competing.
The preliminary heats for the 3,000-meter steeplechase are Aug. 13. The finals Aug. 15.
“The first goal will be to get to the final,” Frerichs said. “I’ll have to put together a really good race to get on. From there, if I get to the final, just to challenge myself. I think I got a good taste of a championship-style race at the trials and ended up handling it OK. So if it’s that style of race, anything can happen on the day (of the race).”
And beyond that?
“Barring injury and other things like that, if I can stay healthy and keep on the path, what’s happened this year will prep me even better for four years down the road,” said Frerichs, who has loftier goals for the 2020 games in Tokyo. “This experience will help me to stay engaged and remember that it can happen and, hopefully help me to maybe be in the hunt for a medal in four years or with a realistic opportunity for that.”
Medal talk four years from now hardly seems far fetched considering the path Frerichs took to get here. From finishing 54th — seriously, 54th — in her state high school cross-country championship in the only season she competed with the team after growing up with Olympic dreams in gymnastics.
As a freshman at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, her coach — Eldorado High School graduate James Butler — told her the Olympics were realistic. Last summer, when Butler took a job back in Albuquerque at UNM, and with her having earned her degree from UMKC, she ultimately decided to follow him and join the Lobos.
“It was the perfect move for me,” she said. “Not only just having my coach here, but Joe (Franklin) is a wonderful coach as well and really provided me a lot of resources necessary and the team here was exactly what I needed to push me to the next level.”