Southwest High grad competes at Olympic trials

Jamie Cheever trains at the University of Washington. Submitted photo

Southwest High School graduate Jamie Cheever raced in the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore. in July.

Cheever, who can run a five-minute mile pace, competed in the 3,000-meter Steeplechase.

Although her race time didn’t take her to the Olympics, she’s earned cheers from local friends and family who helped support her training. Cheever typically kept part-time jobs to make ends meet while running professionally, and instead relied on savings and a GoFundMe drive this year to focus on training. She overcame chronic heel pain and trained to match her personal record after surgery on a labral tear in her hip.

“Even though I’m not an Olympian, I am so thankful I was able to go after my dreams,” she said in an email. “I had a hard time believing my high school coach, Ben Zhao, when he told me I had the ability to run well at the college and professional level. Running at a city school was wonderful for many reasons, but one of them was that I didn’t get caught up in a lot of the problems that can plague high school over-achievers such as eating disorder and over-training, partly because I didn’t even understand they existed.”

Jamie Cheever 2
Jamie Cheever trains at the Southwest High School weight room while home for the winter holidays. Submitted photo

On the school’s website, the first sentence of Zhao’s Cross Country coaching philosophy is: “Winning is not the most important goal.”

Zhao coaches Cross Country and teaches art and ceramics. He said in an interview that he’s not a typical coach, because he’s careful not to burn out young athletes.

“Everything in life is a process,” he said. “I help people realize their life is a piece of artwork. That’s why I’m an art teacher.”

Jamie said that throughout her athletic journey, she’s most proud that she’s given it her all without cheating.

“Unfortunately, cheating through drugs or under-eating is too prevalent at the professional level  (under-eating is common in all levels), and I am so grateful I was taught and mentored to have a holistic mind, body, spirit approach to running that has helped me to approach running in a healthy way,” she said.

Cheever’s dad, Michael, said it’s been fun to see many of Jamie’s Gopher teammates compete in Eugene. Former Gophers Ben Blankenship and South High School graduate Hassan Mead made the Olympic team. In 2014, Mead set a personal-best time of 13:02.80 in the 5,000-meter, according to Team USA, which ranked No. 10 all-time in the U.S. at that distance.

Now that the trials are over, alcohol and sugar can re-enter Jamie’s diet after a 10-month hiatus. She’s currently spending the summer racing and traveling in Europe.

Michael said Jamie is engaged and plans to return to Minnesota for grad school to finish a degree in social work. She has a master’s degree in criminal justice, and she’s volunteered with first responders in Seattle and helped women who were victims of abuse.

“So how do you get past a hugely disappointing race without having any big issues to concentrate on or fix?  I’m not entirely sure,” Jamie writes in her blog. “But each day is getting better as I remind myself my failure was not a reflection of the worth of my person and as I find new goals to focus on. … I am not an Olympian, but I can still try my best to be a badass.”