Toomey hoping to propel comeback at Boston Indoor meet

Updated: January 24, 2008, 6:03 PM ET
Associated Press

BOSTON -- Jen Toomey didn't last long on her high school's freshman track team before the nausea and insomnia got to her.

"I would get so nervous I ended up quitting. As a kid, you can't process those feelings. You don't understand they're totally normal," she said Thursday as she prepared for the Boston Indoor Games. "Now I understand.

"You come to realize that the nerves are the same nerves than help you compete your best."

Toomey eventually got used to the nerves and returned to the track, winning American indoor titles in 2004 and '05. But when some less psychological injuries kept her out for most of the last two years, she started thinking about giving up the sport a second time.

"I said, 'What the heck am I doing? I'm an adult and I want to have a family some day and I'm sitting here on a bike four or five hours a day.

"But it's a gift that I was given. I would have quit just like I quit in high school, and I don't want to tell my kids that."

Toomey's comeback brings her back to the state where she went to high school and the track where she became the first athlete -- male or female -- to win the 800- and 1,500-meter indoor national titles in 2004. She will run the mile in the Boston Indoor Games on Saturday at the Reggie Lewis track, but she is considering whether to run the 1,500 or the 800 at the Olympic trials.

"The 1,500 for the women is wide open. There are a lot of girls who run in that (qualifying) range," she said. "There will be a lot more speed out there and the 800 will be back on the table."

Others scheduled to compete in Boston are Carolina Kluft, the winner of the heptathlon gold medal at the 2004 Olympics; Galen Rupp, who led Oregon to the NCAA cross country title; American pole vault record-holder Jenn Stuczynski; long-distance world record-holders Meseret Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia.

Toomey, now 36, quit running after her freshman year in high school and didn't get back on the road until a co-worker dared her -- bet her $100, actually -- to run the Boston Marathon. After just six weeks of half-hearted training, she watched saw the unregistered and somewhat more carefree runners go by her.

"I was beaten by a giraffe and a transvestite," she said with a laugh.

But she finished in a respectable 3 hours, 45 minutes and beat the co-worker. She decided to run again, but she needed a coach; the only name she had was her husband's high school coach, Tom McDermott, who did the job part-time while working as an engineer.

A decade later, she wasn't just beating the people dressed like giraffes, she was beating everybody.

Toomey followed her twin indoor titles in 2004 with a fourth at the world indoors in the 800 and a second-place finish in the 1,500 at the Olympic trials. She won the U.S. indoor championship and finished second at nationals outdoors in the 1,500 in '05.

Then she started breaking down.

While training in Flagstaff, Ariz., with professional coach Jack Daniels, she sustained stress fractures in both feet, a pulled groin muscle and a torn meniscus in her left knee after someone stepped on her foot and tripped her. With a long rehab ahead of her, she thought about what it would take to come back.

"It was at a point in my life I had been hurt so much I had to decide whether I wanted to do it any more," she said. "Talking to my current coach, I decided, 'How can you not give it one more try?"

Instead of trying in Arizona, she moved back to the Salem, Mass., and got back in touch with McDermott. "My husband is very happy because of the Dunkin' Donuts, which they don't have out in Arizona," Toomey said.

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

And the injuries have gone away.

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

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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