Stephanie Reilly had no intention of competing at the elite level after the birth of her second child. But Bryant's head coach is in London as a member of the Irish National Team in the 3,000m steeplechase.
By Amy Farnum
Courtesy of NCAA.com
As a 34-year-old mother of two, Bryant's head track and field coach Stephanie Reilly had no intention of once again competing at an elite level.
But on July 27, she walked in the Opening Ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games in London as a member of the Irish National Team. She is scheduled to compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase on Aug. 4.
Reilly was born in Wicklow, Ireland, and is the daughter of a track coach, Noreen O'Reilly. She is a former three-time Irish National Champion in the 800m, 1500m and 3,000m. In 1997, she landed an athletic scholarship to Providence, and was a member of the Big East Conference Championship team that season. She rose to captain of the Indoor Track and Field team in 2000, and the Outdoor captain in 2001. Reilly graduated from Providence in 2001, and stayed at the college in Rhode Island to pursue her Master's degree.
In 2005, she married her college sweetheart and former teammate, Paul Reilly, also a native of Ireland. Soon after, Reilly gave birth to son Marcus in 2005, and two years later she had another son Dylan.
While she was growing her family, Reilly also began her coaching career an assistant at Bryant in Smithfield, R.I., where she was eventually named head coach in 2008.
With a full schedule between family and work, she did not plan to return to racing, but little by little, Reilly felt the urge to get back on the track.
"I always felt deep inside that I had so much unfinished business with my running," Reilly said. "I knew I never got anywhere close to my potential and this always stayed with me. This feeling was like my inner drive and determination. I wanted to prove to myself that I could achieve so much more. However, at the same time I had an amazing family and a dream career starting so I wanted to focus my energies to those places also. I knew I wanted to run in whatever capacity my lifestyle allowed. It blossomed from there."
After the birth of her second son, Reilly began jogging to regain her fitness level.
"I started running again purely for the love of it and to feel fit and healthy again," Reilly said. "I didn't run at all through both pregnancies. I just enjoyed some walking during this time. When I started jogging, I began to get fitter and fitter, and before I knew it I was getting that competitive edge back again, and then it took off and I began to win some local road races. I started a training plan and my husband started to coach me."
As she began getting more serious, she chose the steeplechase because it combined her love of distance running with hurdles, which she ran in high school.
Reilly qualified for the Irish National Team with a personal-best time of 9:42.91 at the New York Adidas League Grand Prix in June of last year, qualifying her for the 2011 World Championships in South Korea.
At the end of last month, she ran in the IAAF European Track and Field Championships in Helsinki, Finland, finishing sixth in the semifinals with a time of 9:44.15, and placing 12th in the finals after clocking in at 9:53.90.
Reilly gives her husband Paul a great amount of credit for her success in running today.
"We are a great team and are on the same page when it comes to training philosophies, and what works particularly well for me," Reilly said. "Sometimes, I think he knows me better than myself. Running takes a back seat to our family and careers but we have been able to successfully make all three work. It is the best partnership I could ask for."
The nurturing environment at Bryant has also helped Reilly go after her athletic dreams.
"I have great support from the administration, faculty, staff, and students," Reilly said. "The staff in the athletics department is great. We have a fantastic Athletic Director and my supervisor (Associate AD) Beth (Wandeyes) is so supportive of my personal and career goals. President Machtley will always take time to ask how my running is going and how the team is doing. It is a great place to work."
While Reilly prepares for the most thrilling moment of her athletic career, she knows her student-athletes will be especially interested in her path to the Olympics."Steph serves as a role model for all of our student-athletes at Bryant in the sense that I don't think there is anyone who works harder than she does," Athletics Director Bill Smith said. "She's constantly out there training and walking the walk and raising the bar for the kids to be the best they can be."
"I just hope my student-athletes can see how much I enjoy my running and how consistent I am year after year," Reilly said. "These two factors alone will go a long way to development and progression of their own ability and achievements. Also to know and understand nothing comes easy and you really have to work through the good and bad, listen to direction, make mistakes, learn from them, and go at it again."
"She's got an incredible competitive spirit," Smith said. "She's a fighter. She's constantly out there running and training. I think it is fantastic because it shows the student-athletes at Bryant what it takes to be successful … that you have to put in the work and the time."
Reilly competes in the preliminary round of the 3000-meter steeplechase Saturday, August 4 at Olympic Stadium. Fans can watch the race LIVE online at 6:35 a.m. EST on nbcolympics.com. NBC will air qualifying action of various track & field highlights Saturday from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. EST.
More on Bryant Olympian Steph Reilly:
Official Olympic Website
Get local Olympic TV schedule