5 Things You Should Know About Me: Julie Culley

March 09, 2012 at 10:30am EST | by Barbara Huebner

After graduating from Rutgers University in 2004, New Jersey native Julie Culley quit running and joined AmeriCorps. A short while later, however, she instead took a job as head coach of the new cross country program at Loyola College in Maryland, and a year later bumped into American University coach Matt Centrowitz. "Call me when you decide you want to run again," he said. By 2007 he was coaching her, and she made the U.S. team at 3000 meters for the 2008 IAAF World Indoor Championships. She built on that success in 2009, making the U.S. teams for the World Cross Country Championships and the World Championships at 5000 meters. Culley moved back to New Jersey in July 2010 to train with the New Jersey-New York Track Club under famed coach Frank Gagliano; she also handles the business side of the club. The 2011 national 5K champion and runner-up in the inaugural NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K, Culley is taking the semester off from her graphic-design courses at Raritan Valley Community College to focus on making the 2012 Olympic 5000-meter team. Now 30, she lives in Annandale, NJ—where she went to high school—and will make her half-marathon debut on March 18 at the NYC Half.

In high school, I sang in an a cappella group and took off the indoor track season to do the musicals Fiddler on the Roof, Hello Dolly, and West Side Story. We even performed in Germany at Neuschwanstein Castle.
The main reason I gave up competing after college was injury. I had been hurt so much. When I came back for a fifth year, I threw my back out on the first day of cross country practice and ended up in a brace. All winter I trained to come back, and then I hurt my foot in my first outdoor race. I needed a break.
I was only 22 when they hired me as head coach at Loyola, the same age as some of the athletes. I wondered, "How am I going to be an authority figure?' I kind of just wanted to go hang out with them. It was one of the biggest challenges I've ever faced.
In the spring of 2006, I was watching my Loyola team line up for a meet, and it suddenly clicked: "I want to be on that line.' But I'm so glad I coached for a few years. It gave me a perspective I needed: putting all that pressure on yourself to please others isn't necessary. As long as you've worked as hard as you can, at the end of the day your performance really only matters to yourself.
There is absolutely a marathon in my future. Everything points toward the longer distances being my strength. I was in the lead car for the ING New York City Marathon last fall, and it was definitely a very humbling experience. I went from "I can't wait—this is SO cool!" to "This is hard. I'm tired and I'm sitting on a truck."


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