Colleen Quigley wasn’t supposed to be here. It was 2015, and Quigley was winding down her collegiate career at Florida State, where she competed in the 1,500-meter, mile, steeplechase and relay events. She earned nine All-American honors while in college but nevertheless assumed a professional career was out of reach. Instead, she honed in on becoming a certified dietician.
But others were quick to pick up on her success and, following graduation, Quigley was offered a contract by and signed with Bowerman Track Club. The following year, she ran the 3000-meter steeplechase in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Brazil. Now she’s gearing up for outdoor track season, with a particular focus on July’s USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships and, hopefully, September’s World Championships in Qatar.
For her part, Quigley is quick to distribute credit for her success, beginning with the brand that allows her to focus full-time on her sport.
“I’m lucky enough I joined a group of training partners who are supported by Nike,” Quigley said. “They support us so we don’t have to barista and can just focus on working and recovering hard.”
Perhaps the biggest support Nike provides Quigley is her coach, Bowerman’s Jerry Schumacher, as well as the elite training facilities at the Nike headquarters in Portland, Oregon, where she lives. Nike also includes Quigley in their brand messaging. She recently spent a weekend in Los Angeles for a photo shoot for a new line, which will then use her image in stores and billboards. It was a natural fit for Quigley, who nearly chose a path of modeling following high school and has had shoots with Nordstrom, JCPenney, Glamour and Seventeen.
“They use real athletes for Nike promotions, that’s nice publicity,” she said. “That’s huge for my brand, obviously.”
Quigley has taken a strong interest in her personal brand over the past four years, sharing her story before she even knew what it really meant. She recognized the budding power of social media and felt she could help inspire and push others in their lives. Early on, she says she was occasionally teased by other athletes who didn’t quite understand the value of personal brands in the digital age. It paid off. Today, brands reach out to her and fans recognize her in public.
“Now that I’ve been able to build a better following and have more people when we go places say something and recognize me over teammates that have accolades I don’t, they’re seeing there’s plusses to building that brand,” Quigley said. “It is a rather new thing, so even though I know who I am, now it’s, ‘How do I show that to the world in an interesting way?’”
That strong social media presence is anchored by Quigley’s #FastBraidFriday, a campaign in which she posts a photo of herself in braids every Friday and curates and shares fans photos.
“It was silly at first and didn’t mean that much, but then it started growing,” Quigley said. “Braids are like armor, an extra little confidence boost when I take on a challenge, and it’s become a way to connect with fans and show something they did and make a statement here.”
A similar connection with fans has been made through Quigley’s monthly newsletter. Each edition contains an assortment of information curated by Quigley, including recipes, questions and answers with nutritionists, and workout circuits. She also tries to be transparent about struggles in her own life, such as battling injuries.
“Everybody gets injured but not a whole lot of people talk about it,” she said. “It’s not forever. It’s temporary and I think people really appreciate it.”
When it comes to brand partners, Quigley believes one of her greater challenges to be determining whether a company sending a product just to be featured once or if they genuinely desire a larger relationship. She prefers to develop an authentic partnership with products she genuinely uses and then explore what can be done for promotion.
There’s a lot of inbound brand interest to work Quigley, said Director of Talent at Pro Client Group Sean Read, who co-reps Quigley’s marketing endeavors with Maury Di Mauro of Innovative Artists. With Quigley’s sights firmly set on making the 2020 Olympic team and then hopefully medaling, the marketing team is already in talks with brands that fit within her life.
“Colleen is a true star,” Reed said. “She is not only a champion athlete but also a beautiful person inside and out, and an incredible role model for women in sport, making her an extremely rare commodity. We look for long-term relationships with partners that align naturally with Colleen and her lifestyle as opposed to one-off projects.”
Quigley’s priority within running is to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but she is optimistic about her running career possibly stretching as far as the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. However long her career ultimately lasts, though, she’s already begun to think about the many places running can take her now that her original career path is no longer in the cards. She’s building a network of different brands that align with her values and priorities as she makes the most of her professional running life. There’s also potential she builds out her gRUNola brand granola into a commercial operation.
“I don’t know when this gravy train stops,” Quigley said with a laugh. “I don’t see myself being a certified dietician, but there’s lots of opportunities in the field to be involved. I could certainly see staying involved in sports.
“We’ll just have to see, but hopefully, we’re a good long ways away.”