Even with years of race wins and success under her belt, numbers are only half the story for Olympian and Queen’s alum Julie-Anne Staehli.
Hailing from Lucknow, Ont., Staehli ran cross country and track for Queen’s from 2012 – 16.
Despite completing her degree in Health Studies, she was in a class all of her own as far as her performances were concerned.
Throughout her tenure as a Gael, Staehli became the first Queen’s athlete to receive five consecutive U Sports All-Canadian honors. In her first season, she was named U Sports Rookie of the Year, and she was also an OUA All-Star for each of her five seasons in the Golden Gael Jersey.
No stranger to medals, Staehli stood on the podium 12 times at both the OUA and National levels in her five years as a student athlete. In 2013, she won U Sports MVP after placing first overall at the National Championship.
Reflecting on her Queen’s career in an interview with The Journal, Staehli said it was a time when she could make mistakes and learn the hard lessons of her sport—she looks back on those years humbly and fondly.
“I think it is pretty unique to have that time in your life where you’re around 18 to 24 year[s] old [and] you get to travel on weekends and go to races,” she said.
“I just soaked that all up.”
From a developmental standpoint, Queen’s was the launch point for Staehli’s running career. Her success as a Gael planted the seed for a what became at first a figurative and then literal run at the Olympics.
“In university, of course, that’s when you start to meet more elite athletes and you get opportunities to travel and train and go to different places,” she said.
“That sort of opens these doors.”
After completing her undergrad, Staehli followed her passion for education and obtained a Masters in Sport Psychology from the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s.
Her research focused on how university coaches can orchestrate the success of a student athlete, a domain she had first-hand experience in and something she hopes to continue exploring in her future career.
“I think a big piece of it coming away was just resources and support, and how we manage the stresses of that student-athlete lifestyle,” she explained.
Much of Staehli’s own success was shaped by Steve Boyd, Queen’s former cross-country head coach and Staehli’s decade-running personal mentor.
Looking back, she recalls a piece of advice Boyd gave her years ago that resonates with her to this day.
“I think, maybe my third year or fourth year, he had said to me, ‘I just want you to be healthy and happy, and then running fast. In that order,’” she said.
“I think it just saved me at that point.”
Those same words inform Staehli’s own piece of advice for others hoping to run at an elite level.
“I think the big takeaway is just enjoying it before success,” she said. “If you’re enjoying what you’re doing, the success will follow.”
Turning to the Olympics, Staehli said she was on a path to Tokyo 2020 rather unexpectedly during her post-collegiate career.
“It was always this thought I had of ‘Okay, it is possible, but there’s certainly a lot of things that have to fall into place in order for that to happen.’”
After running the 5,000 meters under the Olympic standard three times, Staehli found out from Athletics Canada that she had been selected to compete in Tokyo from an Instagram post, of all things.
“It was just a wave of emotion because I think all have that nervousness and adrenaline and excitement and this build up, all of that had just sort of left me,” she said on finding out about her selection.
At the Olympics, Staehli raced the 5,000 meters and came 17th in her heat, placing just shy of the top 15 who advance to the finals. Staehli said it was tough walking away from the stadium that day, but she remained proud of her effort.
“When I stepped off that track, I was proud of how I performed on that day. It wasn’t my best moment, but it was the best [experience] that [I’d ever] had.”
“One of my roommates had given me really good advice. She said, ‘Just enter into the stadium before you get onto the start. Take a moment to take it all in, because you won’t remember anything from the race. But you’re going to remember that moment of just stepping into that stadium.’”
Evidently, lessons learned from running have spilled over into other aspects of Staehli’s life. Not only has running taught her how to work hard, maintain consistency, and have conviction, but also how to keep her head above water when things get difficult.
“That’s the essence of running. You go out and you run and then tomorrow you do the same thing and then the next day you go out again, and it continues and it’s getting through and figuring out how you’re going to be able to do that,” she explained.
“I think that translates to any craft, any career.”
Staehli, who has been sponsored by New Balance for the past five years, signed her first professional running contract with a Boston-based team immediately following this year’s Summer Games. She is currently training with them in the US as she sets her sights on Paris in 2024.
Being immersed in the world of elite running, Staehli emphasized how crucial it is to see worth and value outside of what’s being done on the track—to have other pieces of life to love and lean on, especially when navigating injury or mental setbacks.
“No matter your performance, your value as a person does not change your worth […] At the end of the day, it’s who you are as a person and that’s nothing to do with the numbers.”
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