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From the outside, deciding to pursue pro running might seem like a simple endeavor, especially for a decorated NCAA star. Maybe hire an agent. Decide on a coach. Shop around your talents and trophies to all the major shoe brands. Sign a contract, and you’re on your way.
But for Dani Jones, a four-time NCAA champion from the University of Colorado, and others who made the move to post-collegiate careers this year, the process wasn’t as smooth or expeditious as it might have been. The COVID-19 crisis pushed emerging elite athletes to make choices about remaining eligibility—many, including Jones, left some on the table as the indoor and outdoor track and cross-country seasons were canceled—and making the leap to a new training group amid a pandemic is also a little strange.
Jones, 24, who has been a standout middle distance runner since her high school years at Desert Vista in Phoenix, ultimately put all the pieces together since deciding in May to move on from CU. She signed with Hawi Management and is represented by Merhawi Keflezighi. She joined the Bosshard training group, coached by Joe Bosshard, in Boulder, Colorado. And on Monday, Jones announced that she’ll be sponsored by New Balance, the same brand her now-teammate Emma Coburn, world champion steeplechaser, has represented throughout her career.
“It just took a little more patience than normal,” Jones said on Sunday during a phone interview with Women’s Running. “Not every company was in a position to sign athletes. And normally I have a lot of people who have been through this process before who are really supportive, but nobody has been through this in a pandemic, so that was unique to me.”
While athletes are looking for the most financially advantageous deals, Jones said that wasn’t the only factor in making a decision. She was encouraged by Bosshard to also consider the brand’s commitment to shoe technology—a hot topic in recent years as each company has increased efforts to engineer the most performance-boosting shoes on the market.
“That was probably the best advice I’ve gotten,” Jones said. “I understand how important it is and how frustrating it can be if you don’t have the same opportunities as your competitors.”
She also gives credit to the female athletes, including Allyson Felix, Alysia Montaño, and Kara Goucher, for speaking out about the lack of protections in contracts for pro runners who go through pregnancies during their careers. While it’s not an issue Jones assumes she’ll need to think about anytime soon, she appreciates that it’s something that is now part of the conversation for her generation.
“For me, that’s something that is far away, but it’s something I still tried to think about and consider because these women have brought it to everyone’s attention,” Jones said.
She’s emerged from the University of Colorado with NCAA titles in the indoor 3,000 meters, the outdoor 5,000 meters, and cross-country. She also won the 2018 Prefontaine Classic national women’s 1500 meters in 4:07.74. Given her range of talent, she isn’t quite sure yet what event will be her focus in 2021. For now, she’s negotiating her transition to professional athlete, upping her volume to about 85 miles per week and coming to terms with recovery time after living the hectic life of a student-athlete for five years.
“I have a lot to learn about conducting myself as a professional athlete,” Jones said. “But being surrounded by really experienced people and a really accomplished group of people, I think is going to propel me into pro running.”
The Bosshard group includes Coburn, Aisha Leer (Jamaican steeplechase Olympian), Laura Thweatt (fifth at the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials), and fellow New Balance 1500-meter specialist Cory McGee. The group spends a lot of time at “super altitude” in Crested Butte, Colorado, where track workouts are done at 8,000 feet.
“You have to really pay attention to sleep and nutrition when you’re up there,” she said. “Being young, I’ve been watching how my teammates conduct themselves, not only at practice but throughout the entire day. It’s been a little difficult to tell myself to just chill and remain horizontal when I really feel like I should be doing something. That’s the trickiest thing, I’d say.”
Aside from training—and hopefully racing when more opportunities are available—Jones also wants to consider how else she can use a growing platform for good. She hasn’t quite figured out that part yet, but knows she’ll leverage her new opportunities for causes and issues she believes in.
“I think it’s important to give back to your community and find opportunities to do things for others,” she said. “I have that goal…I want to compete on the world stage and maximize my career in that way, but I also don’t want to to settle for just trying to make teams.”