Jamie Cheever was going so quickly that her father, standing beside the track that April day, giving her splits during the 3,000-meter steeplechase, wanted to be sure she knew the pace.
“Are you sure you want to be running that fast?” he asked.
It was quicker than she had gone before, but she felt good. She kept going.
“I was able to pick it up from there,” Cheever said about her race at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif. “I knew I would run a good time, but I didn’t expect it to be as good as it was.”
Cheever, a former Gophers standout and current Team USA Minnesota member, finished the race in 9 minutes, 29.13 seconds, more than 22 seconds faster than her personal best.
That gives her the top time among steeplechasers at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships this week in Des Moines, and a chance to fulfill a long-standing dream and make the American team for the world championships.
Cheever’s parents, Mike and Tammi, ran track in college. And though their daughter preferred team sports growing up, they hoped that one day she would reconsider.
“People would ask me and my wife what we thought she was better at, soccer or hockey,” Mike Cheever. “We’d say, ‘She might turn out to be a runner.’ ”
In the spring of her freshman year at Minneapolis Southwest High School, she was persuaded to give track a try. The potential her parents saw quickly took form. Cheever was all-state as a freshman, and finished second in the Class 2A 1,600 at the state meet as a senior.
Cheever was used to running shorter distances in high school. But when she joined the Gophers, she did so behind current professional runners Gabriele Anderson and Heather (Dorniden) Kampf, who excelled at her very same events.
So Cheever, drawing on the athleticism acquired from the variety of sports she played growing up, picked a new one.
“[The steeplechase] is a little bit of a different event because of the barriers,” Team USA Minnesota coach Dennis Barker said. “You would think with her personality, she would do something like that.”
Cheever player soccer for the Gophers before concentrating on track and cross-country. She set records and earned All-America honors three times, but when she graduated in December 2009, Cheever said she was burned out. She took several months off, but found she couldn’t stay away from the track.
In the fall of 2010 she began training with Barker, and by the following winter she joined Team USA Minnesota.
Now, running is the focus of her career. And just like any young professional, her eyes are set on moving up. For Cheever, that would mean making it to world championships. She met the “A” standard and must finish in the top three of Saturday’s steeplechase final to qualify for the world championships, which will be held in Moscow in August.
Cheever made the final of the steeplechase at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials but fell short of making the Olympic team, finishing 12th in 9:56.51, more than 23 seconds behind winner Emma Coburn.
Since then, Barker says Cheever has increased her weekly mileage and competed in distance events to build strength. The improvements led her to the No. 1 seed heading into Thursday’s preliminaries.
“She had gotten to the point where she could make a final in a big meet, but not gotten to the point where she could make a team,” Barker said. “From last year to this year, she made those changes.”
He’s hoping it’ll be enough to help Cheever clear her biggest hurdle.