The race started with a small gap between two frontrunners. By the fifth lap of the 5,000-meter race, the gap had closed. A couple of minutes later, Colleen Bryant made her move and went flying past her competitor, ready to tackle the six remaining laps and greet the Special Olympics USA Games gold medal that was waiting for her at the finish.
“I felt very good getting out there and crossing the finish line,” Bryant said after the race. “There are times when it’s tough and times when it’s easy. It depends on the day and the distance.”
Bryant didn’t always like to run. Diagnosed with autism at a young age, her athletic career started with avoiding gym class in middle school and morphed into participating in sprinting and field events for the Special Olympics team at her high school. It was a chance viewing of the Boston Marathon that really changed her perspective about running. “When I first watched a marathon, the Boston Marathon, on live TV, that’s when I decided I wanted to run a marathon and started running,” Bryant said. She began training with Coach Ed Haywood to prepare for the Seattle Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon in 2010 and went on to run seven additional marathons, shaving nearly an hour off her marathon time in the process to set a personal best of 3:31:55.
“When Colleen got going with the running, she was in sensory therapy, and running took over the place of sensory therapy,” said Bonnie Bryant-Moore, Bryant’s mother. “It made a huge difference in her life. She decided she wanted to run a marathon, she set it in her mind and she started just going for it.”
Fast forward to earlier this year, when Brooks Running signed on as a sponsor of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, Wash., and was toying with the idea of sponsoring its own small team of athletes. Bryant’s was one of two names that consistently surfaced in discussions of potential sponsorships. (Read about Andy Bryant, Brooks’ other sponsored athlete who bears no relation to Colleen, here.) “Colleen has never lost in Washington. She’s up and coming,” said Steve DeKoker, sports marketing manager at Brooks Running. “As [we] saw today, she won pretty resoundingly.”
After announcing that they had signed Bryant earlier this year, Brooks invited her to train at altitude with the Brooks Beasts in Albuquerque, N.M. “It was like a big family,” Bryant said of training with the other athletes. “I felt part of it. They just help me get to the next level by pushing me and supporting me and telling me I can do it.”
“Our pro athletes came back and said they were so happy we brought Andy and Colleen to altitude camp, because they were really inspired by the two of them,” DeKoker said. “This is a bunch of people who are on the top of the world in what they do. They saw how hard Andy and Colleen work, and it challenged them to go out and give a little extra the next day. We all need a little of that.”
Bryant’s 5,000m race was one of the first track and field events held on July 2, the date that launched all competitions at this year’s Games. Though Bryant’s time of 21:59.91 didn’t earn her a PR, her dominating performance—during which she lapped both of her competitors—suggests that she’s in a good position to shoot for a PR in the 1,500m she’s scheduled to run tomorrow. It’s also great training for Bryant’s ninth marathon, which she’ll check off her list at the Victoria Marathon in British Columbia this October. In the years ahead, Bryant hopes to run the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon—in that order. But first, she has some specific time goals she wants to conquer. “My marathon training goal is to get underneath 3:30. And my 1500, I want to see if I can get five minutes,” Bryant said.
Bryant proves every single day that she’s a dedicated and talented athlete, something that races like her 5,000m at the Special Olympics USA Games reinforce. But Bryant is so much more than the times and distances she logs throughout her training and races. “I’m really energetic and friendly and a really good athlete,” Bryant said when asked what she wants the world to know about her. And running? “It’s something I’m always excited about.”