It's been a dream of hers since the 1990s.

In a matter of days, those dreams will come true.

Jamestown native Katie Conlon has qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials scheduled to be held at Centennial Olympic Park on Feb. 29 in Atlanta.

"The first Olympic Games I remember watching on TV was Atlanta in 1996 when I was 6 years old," Conlon said. "Looking back, that is probably when the dream began, and that dream has intensified with each Olympics since then. It seems pretty fitting that my Olympic Trials race will be back in the city that hosted the first Games that first inspired me."

Conlon crossed the 26.2-mile mark with a personal best of 2 hours and 42 minutes -- a time she ran at the Cadbury Marathon held in Tasmania's capital city of Hobart on Jan. 12. Conlon said in an interview with Tasmania newspaper The Mercury her goal was to run under 2 hours and 45 minutes. The University of Jamestown alum began preparing for the 42.2-kilometer run last fall.

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"I started focusing on marathon training in November, with the ultimate goal of running in the Trials," Conlon said. "At that point, there was no guarantee that I would be able to compete in the Trials because I hadn't run the qualifying time yet.

"I honestly don't have any idea of what sort of time I will be able to run in Atlanta. The goal is always to run a personal best, but I will be happy with whatever time I get as long as I know that I left it all out on the course."

Jamestown native Katie Conlon competes in the 37th Annual Cadbury Marathon in Hobart, Tasmania on Jan. 12.
Jamestown native Katie Conlon competes in the 37th Annual Cadbury Marathon in Hobart, Tasmania on Jan. 12.

The potential U.S. Olympic team member has been running since grade school with her parents -- former Jamestown High School track and field coaches Frank and Diane Conlon -- paving the way for the ambitious tyke.

"As a family, we've been going to the Olympic Trials since 1984," Frank said. "She's always been with us since she was a little girl and I think she kind of had some dreams back then."

Dreams of all sizes were brewing in Conlon's head from a young age, starting with the desire to be the Blue Jay at the front of the flock.

"I've been running competitively for as long as I can remember," Conlon said. "I've always been competitive by nature and I remember asking my Dad to coach me in elementary school because I didn't want the boys to beat me in our physical fitness tests in gym class."

The hard work as a Blue Jay paid off and after graduating from the nest Conlon took her running career to the next level at the University of Jamestown. Conlon ran for three seasons for her head coach -- and uncle -- Jim Clark.

"She was an eleven-time NAIA All-American in cross country and track and field," Frank said of Conlon's time at UJ. "She was the 2011 National Cross Country Champion in the Steeplechase and the year before (Conlon's sophomore season) she finished second."

After her time as a Jimmie, Conlon moved west to the University of Oregon to pursue her master's degree. With a season of college athletics eligibility still in hand, Conlon took to the course for the Ducks. While a part of the 2012 National cross country and track and field champion teams, Conlon was named an NCAA All-American.

"She's a hard worker," Frank said. "She set goals a long time ago and she works hard to achieve them. Good happens if you don't give up -- if you persevere. She's pretty good at persevering through pretty hard stuff."

Conlon has overcome a slew of injuries that have set her back months in training. The first and most significant injury was related to Conlon's hip, which had bothered the runner sporadically from 2013 until Sept. 2015 when Conlon went in for surgery. The procedure took the marathoner out of the running for a chance to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials.

Conlon still had the dream of traveling to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics. In an effort to qualify for the Track and Field Olympic trials Conlon rushed recovery of her hip procedure. As a result, she developed a hernia that was operated on in Sept. 2016. In the two years following the hernia repair, the former Jimmie sustained several lower leg and foot injuries that benched Conlon for 1-3 months of training.

"2019 was the first year in six or more years that I hadn't dealt with any significant injuries," Conlon said. "Now, and over the last 14 or so months, my body is the healthiest it has been in ages.

"As a result, I've been able to string together week after week and month after month of consistent training. That consistency is what has gotten me into the shape I'm in now and it is certainly what got me the Trials qualifying standard this time around."

Conlon added that while injuries set her back in the past, they have also contributed to her perseverance on the course and in the race of life.

"The injuries I have dealt with over the better half of the last decade have made me much more resilient as a person," Conlon said. "They've taught me a lot about myself and have motivated me to get back into doing the thing that I love time and time again, all the while knowing that another injury could be right around the corner."

Conlon continued:

"My time away from running due to injuries has always made me want more out of myself and out of the sport. Quitting the sport altogether would have been the easy option, but it's not one that I am willing to take. The best advice I can give to aspiring runners is simply to enjoy it. Never take for granted a day that you can run. Work hard, stay focused and chase your goals, but never lose sight of the fact that running is a wonderful gift."

Conlon smiles with her fiancé Ben after finishing the Cadbury Marathon in Hobart, Tasmania at a time of 2 hours and 42 minutes. Submitted photo: Katie Conlon
Conlon smiles with her fiancé Ben after finishing the Cadbury Marathon in Hobart, Tasmania at a time of 2 hours and 42 minutes. Submitted photo: Katie Conlon