In celebration of International Women’s Day, we asked Olympian Colleen Quigley, a pro steeplechaser and Vital Athlete, to share her experience as an elite female athlete. Read our interview below, then check back on Livelyto get the scoop on her training, nutrition and (of course) her favorite ways to incorporate Vital Proteins® collagen into her daily wellness routine.
Lively: As a female in sports, what barriers do you feel like you had to/still have to overcome?
Colleen Quigley: One obstacle that female athletes still face is the expectation that women need to not only perform well in their sport, but we are expected to always look flawless, beautiful, effortless, and put-together while doing it. Of course we all want to “look good, feel good” but when the commentary on TV is about body shape or size, our hairstyles, uniforms, etc., these comments really take the focus away from the badass things that women are accomplishing in sports every day all over the world.
This is seen at the professional level, but then trickles down to the collegiate level and even affects high school athletes. The expectation that women are supposed to “do it all” in their careers and personal lives is an expectation that crosses over to the sports world as well, and is unhealthy and sets women up for failure.
L: How do you work to overcome these barriers?
CQ: I try to always be as real as possible on my social media channels and in conversations with media and with friends and my mentees. I share the good, bad, and the ugly to let other women know that no matter how it may look on the outside, no one has it completely figured out, no one is perfect, and everyone struggles along the way to their goals. The myth that it should be easy or flawless is so harmful to all of us.
L: How do you set boundaries for yourself to ensure mental & physical health?
CQ: I have to prioritize my mental health by setting aside time for meditation and breathing exercises every day, yoga every week, and just quiet time to take care of my to do list. Working out is my job, but so is recovering so that I can perform at my best for workouts and races.
As I’ve gotten older, I can really appreciate how physical and mental health are so intertwined, each one affecting the other in ways that we can only begin to understand.
L: What has it been like for you to branch out & be your own manager?
Empowering! When I fired my agent a few years ago I was pretty sure I could handle it all by myself, but honestly I’m so proud of the way that I have managed my own career since then, handling everything from booking flights and accommodations to negotiating numerous new long-term partnerships with brands I am proud to work with. Now, I find myself giving advice to other athletes who are looking to do the same and I tell them all, “You can do it! If you have an interest in business at all and like to have something to do outside of training, you can totally take this on and represent yourself.”
Empowering other people to take control of their careers and lives has been such a cool experience for me and even makes me think that it could be a career for me one day!
L: As a female, it can be hard to stand up for yourself. What advice do you have for others to advocate for themselves?
CQ: Absolutely. In the past, I've felt undervalued as an athlete during business negotiations. I've even been asked to smile in a contract negotiation. In those situations, I've had to force myself to stay calm. I don't put up with the disrespect—I let people know when they are being extremely inappropriate. I didn’t yell or cry or get emotional. I was proud of the way I stood my ground in a very stressful situation.
My advice to anyone in a situation like that would be simply to know your value. Know what you bring to the table and stay firm on that even in the face of someone telling you they don’t see that value. Not everyone will understand, but not everyone has to. Only the right people who are the right fit to work with will see what you bring to the table and will respect and honor it. Those are the people you spend your time and energy on.
L: You dedicated your race at the Prickly Pear Invitational to Achieving My Purpose, do you have plans to continue to lift up organizations that support women through your platform?
Achieving My Purpose (AMP) is an awesome organization here in Arizona that I am still connected with today, especially now that I have a house in Arizona and live here half of the year. Girls On The Run (GOTR) is another organization I am involved with regularly and support in many different ways.
Voice In Sport (VIS) is an organization I got involved with a few years ago and have been helping to grow as a mentor and part of the VIS community. VIS is a community of girls and women in sport and does so much advocacy work for females in sport.
These are all ongoing relationships that I know will be in my life for many many years to come.
L: How did you start #fastbraidfriday and how do you use that to connect with other athletes?
CQ: #FastBraidFriday is a fun social media movement that I kind of started on accident a few years ago. I wear my hair in braids a lot and all of a sudden realized that something as simple as hair could be a way to create community and connect all kind of different athletes around the world. FBF is all about doing something on the outside (like hair) that gives us some extra confidence, mojo, or pep in our step when we go to do something challenging or scary. It’s also a way to connect with and support others who are doing the same! So I say “braid it up and ball out!”
L: How do you hope to inspire future generations of female athletes?
CQ: My message is that while we all have big goals and dreams and that’s awesome, but it’s important to remember that no amount of medals or trophies or accolades will ever be what makes us feel happy and fulfilled. We need to focus on being happy and feeling secure in our lives and our relationships while we work our butts off toward our big goals. Achieving goals should be a bonus, but it should never feel like the reason we have value or the reason we are important as human beings. All that “stuff” is fleeting and will disappear eventually. So I’m focusing on how I live my life every day, how I can be a role model for young female athletes and enjoying the process as much as humanly possible.
Lively Note: If anyone wants to know more about how Colleen fuels, or wants some beginner running workouts and more you can check out her website and sign up for her (FREE) newsletter that she send out monthly with all kinds of updates about her racing schedule and what she’s cooking, reading, watching and listening to. Check it out!