Flagstaff's Janet Cherobon-Bawcom is one of 530 American athletes who will be chasing their Olympic dreams in London later this month.
Make that 529 American athletes because, for her, Olympic glory was never something she dreamed about.
"I don't know if I can call it a dream," Cherobon-Bawcom said, "because I've never even dreamt of going to the Olympics. If you had asked me that about a year ago I would have said 'you are out of your mind.'"
You'll have to excuse Cherobon-Bawcom for having had other dreams.
After growing up in a small Kenyan village, she dreamed of going to a university, but her family was unable to afford the tuition. However, a chance meeting with Kenyan gold medalist Peter Rono (she was hitchhiking; he offered her a ride) changed all that.
Rono offered to coach her so that she could get a scholarship to an American university. Two years later, Cherobon-Bawcom had her scholarship to Harding University in Arkansas, where she became an eight-time NCAA All-American, a three-time Division II national champion and graduated in 2005 with a degree in health care management.
"I don't think I ever really became interested (in running)," Cherobon-Bawcom said. "I ran to get a scholarship so that I could get my education. My goal was to come here, learn as much as I can, and then go back. So if you had asked me my goal then -- that was my goal."
After graduation, Cherobon-Bawcom and husband Jay Bawcom, whom she met while in college, moved to Rome, Ga., where she enrolled at Georgia Highlands to get her R.N. license.
She began winning road races throughout the Southeast and began moving on to bigger and bigger races, including winning some marathons and half-marathons, all over the eastern states.
"I like to work hard and be competitive," Cherobon-Bawcom said, "and so I think those things played a big role in (my success). But I never even thought of being in the Olympics."
"I think God has a plan," she continued, "and I think this is His plan -- my plan was different. But it's been through His guidance and the help of my family that I got to where I am today."
TOP ROAD RACER
Where Cherobon-Bawcom is today is among the top women's road racers in the world. Since gaining her U.S. citizenship in 2010, she has been tearing up the national road racing circuit. She won the USA 20-km championship last September, and followed that with wins in the USA 10-mile championship and the USA 10-km championship, which led to her being named as the women's champion of the 2011 USA Running Circuit.
She continued her torrid pace this spring with a win at the USA 15-km road championships and set a new American record in winning the USA 25 km road championships in 1:24:36.
But Cherobon-Bawcom still wasn't convinced that she was Olympic material until her fifth-place finish in the U.S. Marathon trials.
"I thought, 'huh, maybe I have a chance,'" she said.
In April, Cherobon-Bawcom entered the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational at Stanford, her first race on a track in seven years, and ran a 31:33 10K to eclipse the Olympic "A" standard of 31:45. She entered the U.S. Olympic trials as one of only four runners in the women's 10-km race who had the "A" standard, and so when third-place finisher Shalane Flanagan opted to run the marathon at the Olympics, for which she had also qualified, Cherobon-Bawcom was in.
"It was a win-win situation for me, because if (Flanagan) chose the 10K, then I was going (to the Olympics) in the marathon, which I like better. But I knew that whatever she chooses, I'm still going to be in it."
LOVES THE TRAILS
Cherobon-Bawcom moved to Flagstaff a year ago with husband Jay, although the couple still maintains their home in Georgia. Jay is enrolled at NAU, while Janet has assimilated into the local running community.
"I love to do my training on the trails a lot, so that's the big thing," Cherobon-Bawcom said. "And I'm getting to know a lot of people from Team Run Flagstaff, a lot of very nice people. I get to run with different people every day, and there are some guys who help me out with my workout."
Cherobon-Bawcom also gets long-distance coaching expertise from Jack Daniels, with whom she has worked for the last year and a half. She says that Daniels hasn't drastically changed her workout routine, just added a couple of components to what she was already doing.
"He calls it tempo runs," she said. "He just sends me my program with the exact times I have to get, and they would range from 8 miles to 16 miles, and maybe 15 seconds (per mile) slower than my racing pace."
Jay also helps her with her workouts, on a bicycle, "since I don't have a group to run with or a running buddy every day that could do what I'm doing," she said. "Going 25 miles alone and carrying your own bottles wouldn't be a good idea, but he's been really great at doing things like that."
They leave Flagstaff July 24 and will fly directly to London, where Janet will participate in the Olympic Opening Ceremony on July 27. Then they will stay in the Olympic village until Janet races in the 10-km final on Aug. 3.
"It's very exciting for sure," Cherobon-Bawcom said. "I had not run any track races in the past seven years (before Stanford), so this is like a new territory for me. But I went to Stanford and got the A standard, so it gave me a little hope."