As a long distance runner, Juliet Bottorff's career has followed the same pattern as the races she runs—start out strong, persevere through the trying halfway point and finish with everything left in the tank.
Bottorff will look to complete the final part of the sequence when she competes for her second national title in the 10,000 meters Thursday night at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. But three years separate Bottorff from her last title, and climbing her way back atop the podium has not been an easy task.
As a sophomore, Bottorff exceeded all expectations as she took the national championship in the 10,000 meters, surprising the field and coaches alike. With a national title in just her second year of collegiate competition, a repeat seemed to be in the cards. But sometimes, as Bottorff found out, one's body has other plans.
"I got injured right after I won nationals in the 10k my sophomore year," she said. "I went home for the summer, took some time off and started building up for the next year and got injured in the end of July, beginning of August going into my junior year.... That injury just got out-of-hand and it was really hard to pinpoint what was going to make it better. So I rehabbed for months and I've never gone through something so miserable in my life."
The injury—doctors found her hip had begun to develop tendonitis— forced her to miss both the cross country and indoor track seasons of her junior year, meaning any training for a repeat in the outdoor title would have to wait. Though she did race during the outdoor season, Bottorff said it was more of an opportunity to get back in shape than a competitive effort to win races.
If one was looking to trace the arc of her comeback, this would be the starting point. For the next two years, all Bottorff could think about was getting back to the top of the podium. She would eventually make the decision to redshirt her senior outdoor season in order to prepare for one final chance at recapturing her title. But this time, she would do so as a graduate student.
"Stopping [before the outdoor season] was just not an option for me," Bottorff said. "I knew I wanted to use that extra eligibility. I felt like I hadn't accomplished everything I wanted to during my time at Duke. I love the program here, I love the coaches, my teammates, the school and Durham, so I was really happy to stick around."
Running as a graduate student proved to be a fruitful decision for Bottorff, who has only gotten better in her fifth year of competition as a Blue Devil. The hard work paid off at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational May 4, where Bottorff did something no Duke runner had accomplished since 1986.
For the past 28 years, Ellen Reynolds had owned the 10,000-meter school record with a time of 32:40.70. That was before Bottorff—who has been running the race since she stepped onto Duke's campus—shattered the mark by more than 15 seconds, posting a 32:25.69. Although it was not the second national championship she craves, Bottorff was still very excited about running her way into the Duke record books.
"I've been eyeing that record for quite a while now," Bottorff said. "[Breaking it] was very nice. Really, since my sophomore year, after I won the national title, I've seen that record and wanted it. It's hard to get in a really fast 10k, just because with championship races, like nationals and ACCs, the races just aren't usually that fast."
But the good news did not stop there. Just days after breaking the record, Bottorff was notified that she, along with teammate Tanner Anderson and former football player Perry Simmons, would all receive NCAA post-grad scholarships to fund any form of graduate-level education of their choosing.
Bottorff called the scholarship "a little extra motivation to go back to school." But a sixth year of college education will have to wait, as she will fulfill her dream of running at the professional level following the NCAA Championships.
"I'm in a pretty good place right now," she said. "I am thinking about running professionally next year. I've been talking to a lot of different coaches and agents. That process obviously will pick up after NCAAs because I can't do anything big before NCAAs are over or I lose my eligibility. But that's that plan right now. After that, I want to get a Ph.D."
Despite the seemingly unlimited options Bottorff has as a national champion runner with numerous All-ACC and All-American honors, an undergraduate degree in neuroscience and now an MBA, she has not lost track of the main reason she went through so much trouble to redshirt her senior season.
Bottorff wants another national championship before she calls it quits as a Blue Devil.
"I want to win nationals. I want that more than any goal I've had so far here," she said. "I'm extremely grateful for all that I've accomplished and I'm very proud of that, but I've had this on my mind since I won my sophomore year. At this point, I've proven that that wasn't a fluke.... I've had some ups-and-downs since then, especially getting injured right after that, but I really, really want to win."