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Nike was trying to offer me less than what they offered me when I came out of college. To me, it was just a slap in the face. I was like, ‘I’ve made the Olympic team. I’m pretty much, you know, not to sound cocky, but like I’m probably going to make another Olympic team. I’ve made five USA teams since I graduated. How could I possibly be worth less than I was when I came out of college?’ They were able to come up a little bit when I was just straight up, like, ‘No. That’s not a starting point.’ And they came up a little bit, but I’m still making almost three times what that was, with the same bonus structure, with the same incentives and no reductions. So now I don’t have to worry about ‘Oh you didn’t race ten races this year.’ Yeah like I’ve raced eight. Who really cares? I didn’t make it up by doing things like the local turkey trot to get my tenth race. Lululemon isn’t ticky tacky and counting every little thing. They want me to be happy. They want me to live the values that their brand holds to be important, which I also believe in and stand behind. They want to be a good ambassador for their brand, which I always felt like I did for Nike. I always felt like I was a good ambassador for their brand, but it just was never enough.”
Colleen Quigley was a previous guest on this show back in February 2018. Now, she’s back with some BIG news. After five years of training with the Nike Bowerman Track Club, she announced she was leaving the team in January. Under coach Jerry Schumacher and Pascal Dobert, the FSU grad became one of the best U.S. female steeplechasers and has made every U.S. national team since the 2015 world championships. She’s the 3rd fastest U.S. steeplechaser ever with a 9:10.27 PR. She’s run 4:03.02 for 1,500m & 4:20 for the mile. She is now coached by Portland State’s Josh Steitz and will be running for Lululemon. That’s the big news. That’s her new sponsor. You’ll hear all about that decision and more.
This interview was recorded in late April.
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Colleen Quigley: It’s actually so wild. When I decided not to take the offer from Nike, we went back and forth and they made their best and final offer. I just said, you know, it’s not enough and just decided to walk away. That was at the end of December/beginning of January. At that time, I was walking away knowing that I didn’t have anything else in hand. It wasn’t like, ‘OK, I’m walking away and saying no to this and I’m saying yes to this other offer.’ I was just trusting that something else was going to be there. It was scary. I felt good about it in a lot of ways but also thought ‘I hope I’m not making a huge mistake right now.’
Quigley: I think mostly it just means a lot to me that people care enough to ask and wonder. They send me DMs all the time, like, ‘What’s your new sponsor’ Do you really I’m going to spill the beans to you over a DM? (Laughs) But no, it’s just really sweet that people care and are excited about it. I made a big deal about leaving the Bowerman Track Club – not necessarily a big deal about leaving Nike – but about leaving my team, my coach and my training partners. That to me was that was the only hard part of it. That was my community and my support system. I’ve had a lot of success there. I’ve trusted my career to Jerry Schumacher and Pascal Dobert and then Shalane. I helped build the Bowerman Babes. I was one of the founding Bowerman Babes and helped kind of build that brand in that team and stuff. That part was really hard. But, it was really cool to see that I got so much positive feedback. I wrote an open letter to the team. It didn’t really explain a ton about why I was leaving, but that this was the best thing for me and yada yada. The support that I got from that, like all the positive ‘We’re with you wherever you go from here’ messages felt really good and made me feel like, ‘OK, they care about me as a person and my journey.’
Quigley: If I had to pick a time to make this change, it would not be six months before the Olympic Trials and the Olympics. I think Alexi Pappas told me this: When change is happening, you don’t get to choose when that next big move happens. And if you say, ‘OK, I’m not ready for this big change right now or I don’t want it to happen right now. I’m going to wait.’ Well, then the opportunity is going to pass you by. And when you’re ready for it, it’s not there anymore. It’s not an option anymore. You have to make a decision like, ‘OK, Am I going to do it just before I’m ready?’ or do I kind of wait and stay in my comfort zone and let it pass me by. But then, you’ll always wonder, ‘What if I like taking that leap?’ That’s kind of how it happened.
But honestly, the other thing that made it possible and that made me believe I can actually do this is: If I had to go work with a coach that I’d never worked with before. Someone who didn’t know me…maybe didn’t know the steeple…maybe didn’t live in Portland so I had to work remotely with that person or move to a new place…that would have probably helped me over the edge of. Like, that’s too scary. The lucky thing was I had an opportunity to work with someone who I know, who has coached me before, who I work really well with and who has stayed in contact with coach [Josh] Seitz ever since I graduated. He moved to Portland right after I graduated. He was coaching me. Coach Seitz was coaching me my senior year at Florida State. He took over when Coach Harvey, who coached me the three years before that, stepped down. We worked together really well. That last year, I won the national title and he coached me when I went to Beijing. He was coaching at Portland State. I volunteered to be his assistant coach for the past five years. It just felt like that that was so natural to go back to working with him. He’s always been there whenever I’ve gotten injured and I needed someone to talk about training with or talk about why this injury might have happened or whatever. He’s always been there. That made it a lot less scary and a lot less like ‘Everything’s new, everything’s different.’
I think the other piece of the puzzle is just having a sponsor that you feel has got your back…It’s a new sponsor. But if it almost someone that I was afraid of or I felt like I had to like, really work to please or like if I don’t make this team, it’s going to be like the end of everything. That’s not really the case here. They see me as a whole person and they’re brought in for the whole journey so it doesn’t feel like as much pressure there either.
Quigley: And in January. I went to altitude camp with them. I was in the middle of altitude camp and they made their best and final offer. I turned it down and the next day I got an email from them saying you no longer can train with the team. You can’t have access to the coaches. Can’t have access to training, treatment, trainers or budget funds. Luckily, I wasn’t staying with the team. (My boyfriend) Kevin and I had a separate housing arrangement. The team wasn’t paying for my housing at altitude or else that would have been pulled right away.
But I was prepared for that. I knew that they were going to play it like that. It’s just how they operate. I prepared for this and it’s time to move on. I had been thinking about the whole year at the end of 2019. I had started thinking: Do I want to keep doing this? And I was in negotiations.
The agent that I had used coming out of college I ended up firing him a couple of years later because we just didn’t see eye-to-eye on my value and my value outside of running and what my potential was outside of just a shoe contract. I always thought I could do more. I can do more. I can do more. Traditional track agents are like, “We’ll get you a shoe deal and then we’ll chill out for a while. I’ll collect my money and do my thing.” I was like, no, no, no, no, no. That’s not how this works. We ended up parting ways. I’ve just been representing myself. I was negotiating with Nike directly myself. Pre-pandemic, everything was like, ‘Alright, going to sign up for another four years at the same rate I’m at. Just run it back.’ I was cool with that. I’m going to keep doing the same. I’ve earned bonuses throughout the last four years and you kind of accrue a new base rate. I thought I’m just going to stay there and keep growing. Like, I can do that.
I was having a really interesting conversation with Coach Blue. He was one of the Nike running club coaches. I was in L.A. a couple of weeks ago and he also is not with Nike anymore. I had this moment with him where I was like, ‘Honestly, this is kind of embarrassing to say. But like, if it hadn’t happened and if that whole negotiation that we were having hadn’t gotten completely derailed because of COVID, I would have just signed on for another four or five years…Let’s go around the merry-go-round again without really thinking about ‘Is this truly what I want? Is this making me happy? Is this the best choice for me?’ I would have just kept going.
Quigley: The other lucky thing was just the timing with Lululemon. They decided this was their chance or this was the right time for them to start investing in our sport. They’ve never sponsored anyone like me. I think for them to come in and be like: This is a big move for us. The stars kind of aligned in that regard. Shout out to Pat Jeffers for DMing on Instagram to tell me that Lululemon was making that kind of move. We had talked to them back in December and they’re like ‘We do these like local ambassadors and we’re not into it right now.’ I do more than just run.
No shade but people on the Bowerman Track Club have made fun of me or tease me – you know, sometimes in a loving way, mostly in a loving way – about what I do on social media. But I think a lot of them, I’ve noticed, have been like, ‘Oh! I kind of should probably maybe start thinking about marketing myself a little bit.’ Now you see some of them have a protein sponsor or whatever and they’re starting to post. They’re asking our team photographer to take pictures of them with their new CBD sponsor and stuff. And I’m like, “Ah. Now you think I think it’s important.’ But I think if track and field athletes are going to support themselves and stay relevant, they’re going to have to figure out how to do some of that stuff outside of just run. Just shut up and run and do your sport and win. If you’re just successful on the track, that’s not enough anymore. You have to do more than that. You have to be a full person. You have to show your personality and be someone that people are interested in following and being a fan of. Otherwise, you’re not selling anything. You’re doing awesome stuff, but your value to a brand is just not as high, which is fine you can do it that way, but you’re just not going to you’re not going to be as lucrative. You can probably still get like a basic shoe deal but that’s probably not going to be as much as it was in the past. You’re not going to be able to get anything on top of that. But I think people are getting it now. I don’t know. It seems like people are kind of OK. I’m going to figure out how to market myself a little better.
Quigley: Nike was trying to offer me less than what they offered me when I came out of college. To me, it was just a slap in the face. I was like, ‘I’ve made the Olympic team. I’m pretty much, you know, like not to sound cocky, but like I’m probably going to make another Olympic team. I’ve made five USA teams since I graduated. How could I possibly be worth less than I was when I came out of college?’ They were able to come up a little bit when I was just straight up, like, ‘No. That’s not a starting point.’ And they came up a little bit, but I’m still making almost three times what that was, with the same bonus structure, with the same incentives and no reductions. So now I don’t have to worry about ‘Oh you didn’t race ten races this year.’ Yeah like I’ve raced eight. Who really cares? I didn’t make it up by doing things like the local turkey trot to get my tenth race. Lululemon isn’t ticky tacky and counting every little thing. They want me to be happy. They want me to live the values that their brand holds to be important, which I also believe in and stand behind. They want to be a good ambassador for their brand, which I always felt like I did for Nike. I always felt like I was a good ambassador for their brand, but it just was never enough. It’s not enough. So yeah, it was just like if I’m not going to be with Nike, I have to do something outside of the box and something that is female-focused, something that’s really true to me and in my own brand and what I care about and is more focused on me as a whole person and not just focused on performance, performance, performance.
Quigley: They were great for me when I was a young athlete and I didn’t have any credibility myself. I have no regrets about going there. The team was amazing. I can’t reiterate enough how much I am grateful for the experience that I had there with the Bowerman Track Club and Jerry and Shalane and Pascal. And that helped me grow as an athlete so much like I was just following Emily Infeld and Shalane Flanagan around my first year when I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn’t have asked for a better setup. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction and how to be a pro athlete when I was just out of college. Now I’m 28 and I know myself. I know what I care about. I don’t want to just say the right things anymore. I want to be able to do the right things and really make an impact hopefully on our whole sport. Hopefully be able to say, ‘Hey, that doesn’t have to be this way. We can do it another way if we want to.’ Just kind of chipping away at it. That’s kind of what Allyson (Felix) did. And hopefully, I can help just chip away at some of this old method of doing things that just doesn’t work for everyone and try and figure out other ways to do it.
I still have all the same performance goals. I would just say none of the performance fears anymore. Like, none of the ‘If you don’t do this, you won’t have a livelihood anymore.’ I still have the same desires. I sound like I’m on The Bachelor right now or The Bachelorette but I’m doing it for the right reasons.
It’s true though. You don’t want to be afraid when you get on the starting line that if I don’t rank in the top 10 in the world this year, I’m going to be reduced and I won’t be able to afford my life anymore. That’s no way to live. I don’t think you get the most out of yourself performance-wise racing and thinking like that. You make bad decisions about your health or your racing schedule or your training. It’s not backing off when maybe you’re starting to battle an injury and you’re like, ’But I can’t back off because I have to get gear up for this race because if I don’t my livelihood is at stake.’ I think it’s just a healthier way to approach training and life choices.
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