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The Race to Beijing

The Race to BeijingRecovered from a string of injuries, Tufts graduate and track star Jen Toomey is lacing up her sneakers in the hopes of earning a trip to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.28.08] In the span of a few short years, Jen Toomey went from winning national and world running titles to barely being able to run a mile, hobbled by injuries. But the 1994 Tufts graduate, who narrowly missed a spot in the 2004 Olympic Games, is recovered and racing with an eye on the upcoming Games in Beijing.

"In the back of my mind, I still feel there's some unfinished business," Toomey told The Salem News.

At the Boston Indoor Games this past weekend, Toomey finished eighth in the women's mile with a time of 4:36:27. While it's not earth-shattering, it's a start, and that's good enough for Toomey. And no matter what her time, the biggest victory is her health.

"That's the one blessing. I wake up in the morning and I don't have any pain," the 36-year-old Toomey told The Boston Globe. "I've learned through experience who can get to the line healthiest is who is going to win."

Toomey came relatively late to the sport. She hadn't run since her freshman year in high school, but a co-worker's $100 bet got her running in the Boston Marathon at age 25. She outran him, and from there, her career took off.

The Tufts graduate won the 800 meter and 1500 meter indoor national titles in 2004, becoming the first male or female athlete to win both events in the same year. She missed out on a trip to Athens despite a second place finish in the 1500 at the Olympic trials that year.

Subsequent victories followed, but injuries also began catching up to Toomey, including stress fractures in both of her feet, a pulled groin muscle and a torn meniscus in her left knee. The injuries made Toomey reevaluate her commitment to the sport.

"I thought, 'What am I doing?' I want to have a family some day. I was wondering if I ever wanted to run again," she told The New York Times. "But I realized I had to see it through or I'll regret it the rest of my life. What will I tell my kids?"

For Toomey, who had been living and training in Arizona, coming back home to Salem, Mass., was just what the doctor ordered.

"It's funny: When you're out of your element, stress plays a real factor," she told the Associated Press. "Since I've been back, I haven't had one single issue."

To mount her comeback, Toomey reconnected with her husband's high school track coach, Tom McDermott, who she trained with during her second run in the Boston Marathon.

"You always think that you need something different. I realized I needed someone who cared about me and knew me really well," she told the Associated Press. "Even though he's not a world-class coach, he's the best coach for me."

Even today, Toomey still feels the jitters that prompted her to quit the track team as a high school freshman. But she's learned to embrace them.

"As a kid, you can't process those feelings. You don't understand they're totally normal," Toomey told the Associated Press. "You come to realize that the nerves are the same nerves that help you compete your best."

Toomey told the Associated Press she is considering running the 1500 or 1800 meter races at the Olympic trials in June, in the hopes of earning a trip to China. Against the odds? Maybe. But Toomey is up to the challenge.

"I'm 36 now, and people say you reach your peak in your late 20s or whatever," she told The Salem News. "But I'm still reaching milestones at my age. I can't believe that I'm over the hill."

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