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Oviedo star Jenny Simpson back in Orlando seeking new heights at Olympic marathon trials

Jenny Barringer Simpson has done a lot of things.

The former Oviedo track and cross country star won eight state championships in high school.

At the University of Colorado she won four NCAA championships.

She has won United States and world championships in the 1,500 meters.

She earned a bronze medal in the 1,500 in the 2016 Olympic Games.

She was the American record-holder in the 1,500.

But … there is one thing she has never done. Saturday, Simpson will compete in her first marathon, and it’s on a huge stage in the U.S. Olympic team trials in Orlando, starting and finishing downtown at Lake Eola.

“I couldn’t have written a better story myself,” Simpson said. “It just feels so amazing to be back home and to be able to run in front of so many people who have supported my running career for so long.”

Saturday plans in downtown Orlando? Good luck – unless you’re planning for the Olympic trials

The 37-year-old Simpson has carved out quite an impressive career, with championships at every level at which she has competed. It’s a career that has spanned more than 25 years, and she’s had plenty of help from people along the way, many of whom will be on hand Saturday.

“From friends that I’ve known at Track Shack since I was a middle-schooler to high school coaches and my family will be there,” Simpson said. “It’s gonna be kinda wild. There will be so many people from so many different stages of my life.

“This is like the ultimate coming back to race in front of all of them.”

Orlando’s Track Shack is where Simpson purchased her first pair of running shoes, and she’s happy to have the business still in her corner.

“I’ve prepared for so many big championships in my career, and for the most part it feels very professional. It’s a lot of pressure,” Simpson said, “but having Track Shack involved in this race, for me, brings some familiarity that feels so peaceful and just so lovely to have people you know and trust running the show.

“It’s a really wonderful and unique experience.”

Simpson moved to Colorado from Oviedo in 2005 to start her college career, and she and husband Jason Simpson remain residents in Boulder, where she trains year-round. She said she has never really aspired to be a marathon runner. Jason, however, ran in the 2020 U.S. marathon qualifying in Atlanta. He did not make the Olympic team, but Jenny was impressed and inspired.

“That was such an inspiring experience for me as a fan and a spectator, to watch him have his own Olympic trials experience,” Simpson said. “So that probably, initially planted the seed. Then …. after COVID … just like a lot of the rest of the world, I’m kind of looking at my life with this kind of forced pause and I’m thinking, ‘What do I want when my career is over?’

“And I thought, ‘You know what? I want to experience the marathon before this is over.’ ”

Jenny Simpson usually goes into each competition as one of the favorites to win. This time, however, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen in her marathon debut.

“I am used to coming in with the most experience and the most expertise,” Simpson said, “but this time I’m coming into an Olympic trials and this is the first time I’m ever running the distance. So that’s new and a little bit scary.

“But I also know I have a lot of experience as a competitor that’s going to lift me up when it matters.”

Injuries during the past few years have held her back from making her marathon debut earlier and she said it was not the plan for the U.S. qualifying to be her first race at the 26.2-mile distance, but she said that it is what it is.

“I would not say that this was the ideal scenario,” Simpson said. “But, you know, in life you never know what’s gonna happen.”

She’s nervous, but that’s nothing new for Simpson, who said it’s a normal thing for any competitive runner.

“I think if you care about what you do, you never grow out of being nervous,” Simpson said. “I’ve raced at the highest stages of the sport and I still, when I lace up my spikes … I get a little bit nervous. The nerves are always there, I think it’s a permanent part of the experience.”

Though she has been successful at every turn, Simpson said it certainly has not always been fun.

“I think I have a special drive all on my own,” Simpson said. “But I certainly don’t love it every day. I don’t love the training and the regimen of it every day, and those are the days when it is so helpful to have such an incredible team around me.”

Now that the time is here, Simpson is ready to get going.

“It’s feels like it’s such a waiting game,” Simpson said. “It’s so hard to just sit in the hotel and watch the hours click by. I’m so eager to just get the show on the road.”

The show will be rolling at 10:20 a.m., with the beginning of the women’s race. The men’s race is slated for the starter’s gun to go off at 10:10 a.m., and the participants will meander around Orlando.

Simpson also said this first marathon is, in no way, marking the end of her career.

“My career is certainly closer to the end than the beginning,” Simpson said. “I’m aware of that and I’m starting to try and wrap my mind around what the next chapter after being an athlete might look like, but I have no intentions of this being the last time I lace up racing shoes.”

Chris Hays covers high school and college football and college football recruiting. He can be found on X @OS_ChrisHays or on Instagram @OS_ChrisHays. He can be reached vis email at chays@orlandosentinel.com.