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Visualizing Success

Visualizing SuccessJen Toomey, elite runner and recipient of the Tufts' 2008 Distinguished Achievement Award, reflects on her career and discusses her future.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.02.08] In the weeks leading up to a race, Jen Toomey says it is all about visualization.

"By the time I get to the race, I've actually rehearsed it so many times [in my mind] that I just go into a routine without really trying to think too much."

Through focus and determination, the USA Indoor and Outdoor Champion runner has seen success after success on the track, but never visualized herself winning the Tufts Athletics Department's Distinguished Achievement Award, established to recognize individuals with Tufts and/or New England connections who have made exceptional contributions to sports.

Produced by Steve Eliopoulos (A'89), Gravity Film Video & Digital Media

"It really was just amazing that I received [the award]," says Toomey, who was honored at a ceremony on Sept. 26 to kick off Tufts' Homecoming weekend. Past recipients include the late Boston Celtics legend Red Auerbach and New England Patriots and Revolution owner Robert Kraft. "It blew my mind, actually. So many great people had received it...and to win an award that they've won is truly a huge honor for me. I hope that I did something extraordinary enough to merit it."

"Extraordinary" is one way to describe Toomey's running career. Although she did not begin to train seriously until she was 25 years old, Toomey soon became an international success in middle distance events. The year 2000 marked the first of three Olympic trials, and from 2001 to 2005 she was ranked top three in the U.S. in the 800- and 1,500-meter events. In 2004, she became the first U.S. athlete to win national titles for these races, and in the same year she was able to show her skills before a Boston home crowd, winning two national championship titles.

"Winning such a big race in front of all people that you know was really incredible," Toomey says. "To this day, I still can't even believe it. It was a really special moment for me, to be able to share that with all the people that have helped me throughout the years."

Aside from inspiring friends, family and coaches, Toomey credits Tufts as a community that helped shape her success.

"Tufts really opened up a lot of things for me, and it really helped me make connections and understand that life and its possibilities are pretty much endless," she explains. "I think that the teachers there, the professors and even the coaches, are really great at conveying that message. I hope that maybe I can just send the message to other people [and] inspire them to do something that they think that they can't do."

In her work coaching groups and clinics, Toomey makes sure to pass on technical tips she has learned over the years with a key message in mind.

"I think that where a lot of athletes make the mistake is that they think it's about the sport," she explains. "[But] the sport is really about life. It's really just a vehicle for teaching lessons about life."

Though she continues to help talented youth reach their potential, Toomey-now a marketing and event manager at Salem State College's Enterprise Center-recently made the tough decision to retire from professional running. The choice comes on the heels of some tough injuries and one last attempt to qualify for most recent Olympics in Beijing.

"It was really difficult, because I had been doing it for a long time," she says. "But my body was not holding up anymore, things weren't flowing for me. I had to move
on."

Moving on, however, seems like it will be a gradual process. Toomey, who still runs for fun at a local club, recently ran a personal record time in a 5K race.

"I guess I'm not totally retired, although I'm trying to be retired," Toomey laughs. "I couldn't describe really why I love running so much, but I always have. I love all aspects of it. It's just an amazing, exhilarating thrill."

Profile by Molly Frizzell (A'09)

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