The 2018 recipient of the Allan Steinfeld Development Grant is still growing its program, but its foundation includes a strong commitment to giving back to the community

The 2020 Olympics are still more than two years away, but for the athletes who will attempt to represent the U.S. and other countries at the Tokyo summer games, efforts to prepare and qualify are already underway.

That’s the case for elite athlete development teams like the Atlanta Track Club Elite, which work with talented post-collegiate athletes attempting to continue running at a high level. Last month, ATC Elite was awarded the Allan Steinfeld Development Award from Running USA. The $25,000 grant will support travel expenses for the team’s athletes as they work toward their 2020 goals.

As a relatively new program – ATC Elite was founded in 2014 – coaches Amy and Andrew Begley say they feel their program is now stable and maturing, with about 20 athletes aspiring to reach the Olympic level. Five runners have already qualified for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials.

“Once you get the right group, then you have to find what type of workouts really make the group click. We are just now getting into that phase. We have established our identity, and now it’s filling out the roster, so we can all work together as a team toward 2020. Nobody gets there alone. It’s coaches, therapists and athletes all working toward that big goal,” said Andrew Begley, who ran for the Oregon Project and Oregon Track Club before dedicating his time to coaching.

Every ATC Elite athlete has a personal story of how they decided to continue to pursue running at a very high level. Dedicating time to training and physical maintenance while also working is a challenge, and ATC Elite provides resources to its athletes that help with that.

Bridget Lyons, who has already qualified for the 2020 Olympic Trials in the marathon, is a dentist just starting out in her career. But she wasn’t ready to give up on her running dreams just yet. As a walk-on at the University of Georgia, Lyons earned a full scholarship as a distance athlete on the track. But post-college, finding the time to train seriously while working is a real challenge.

“Yes, it’s possible to run 8-10 miles at 5am before work, and 4-5 miles after work, but coming from someone who has tried to sustain this lifestyle: I very rarely had the time to stretch or foam roll, hydrating enough was an issue, there was no time in the day to prepare nutritious meals, and definitely sleeping and recovering enough was nonexistent. These little things make big differences in training,” said Lyons. Her current schedule allows her more flexibility, so only two or three days each week entail balancing two very different lives. Support from the elite program makes a big difference.

“The partnership with Mizuno has allowed us gear and shoes, to travel to races, and the Atlanta Track Club has an awesome facility for cross training and weights. Our coaches give us personalized training plans, and there’s always a good group of training buddies. I feel like we have been building something really good,” Lyons said.

Responding to questions from the team’s winter high altitude training camp in Albuquerque, Andrew Begley noted: “Training camp gives them a month to be completely focused on training. Instead of rushing off to work after a workout, they can take the time to stretch, foam roll and recover. Atlanta Track Club funds this trip, so they can focus on running, and don’t have to worry about money as they train.”

Back at home, ATC Elite has made it a priority to also have their athletes involved with the many races and youth fitness events that are part of the Atlanta Track Club’s schedule each year.

“The team volunteers with every program and event that Atlanta Track Club puts on. The team works with the In-Training for Peachtree program, Kilometer Kids, races, Kid’s Zone at race expos and the Youth Team,” said Amy (Yoder) Begley, who represented the U.S. in the 10,000m at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

The young runners benefit from experienced athletes who become role models, but there is return on investment for the team as well.

“The main focus is giving back to the club and community. The other big part is creating excitement about the team and attracting fans. It is much easier going to a big meet knowing that you represent more than yourself. You have a club and members who are cheering you on at home,” Amy Begley said.

Best of luck to the ATC Elite athletes leading into the 2020 Olympic Games!