Cherry qualifies for Olympic Trials (Running)

October 13, 2011

Jesse Cherry

A year after nearly calling it quits, Jesse Cherry of Eagle River could be on the verge of calling himself an Olympian.

The 25-year-old runner qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon after a strong performance at the recent Rock ‘n Roll San Jose Half Marathon. He finished the 13.1-miler in 1 hour, 4 minutes, 52 seconds – just inside the magical 1:05 mark required to qualify.

“I led almost the entire thing,” Cherry told me. “I had someone running beside me for like the first three miles; then I led the entire group. I ran the pace I needed to.”

Cherry, of Chugiak High fame, finished ninth after easing up a bit coming down the stretch.

“I was like, ‘Well, I could pick it up’ … but I was starting to get tight muscles and the last thing I wanted to do was tighten up, so I just held that pace. It doesn’t matter if you run 1:03 or 1:04.58. You just want to get that time. That’s what’s important.”

The Olympic Trails Marathon is Jan. 14 in Texas.

Cherry is a professional runner with ZAP Fitness based in Blowing Rock, N.C., close to where he ran in college at High Point University. In college he won five Big South titles in track and field and finished in the top 10 of the conference championships three times.

He still owns school records in the indoor 5K (14:02) and outdoor 10K (28:44).

After graduating last year, he was content to move to on to the real world.

“I moved to San Francisco and worked out there like a real person,” he said. “Except for some reason, or no reason at all, I still found myself waking up before 6 a.m. to get in 12 miles in the mornings and long runs on the weekends.”

Then he hooked up with local running club, and it was on like Donkey Kong.

“The first workout I was like, ‘Oh, man, I missed this,’ ” Cherry said.

From there he reached out to Pete Rea of the ZAP Fitness Foundation, a non-profit training center for Olympic hopeful distance runners sponsored by Reebok. Cherry interviewed in November and was hired by January.

His return hasn’t always gone smoothly.

“Things have been going rough since I joined back, which can happen, especially when you take time off and get out of the loop. There is a mental side that you can forget about,” Cherry said. “I have to give credit to Pete for constantly pushing me because after several bad races I was banging my head against the wall.

“But it worked out in San Jose.”

The ups and downs are part of the daily grind of being a professional athlete.

“None of us join this sport for monetary reasons. It’s running, you’re not going to get rich,” Cherry said with a laugh. “And if you join it to be the best, most likely you’re going to be disappointed. All I want is to progress, to get better every day. You gotta keep it in perspective.”