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Before Julie Culley became a professional runner and Olympic finalist in track and field with an athletic apparel and shoe sponsor, she was a recent Rutgers University graduate just hoping to run faster than she did in college.
For the first year of her professional running career around 2006, she ran unattached and did not represent a brand or any teams, even if the logo on her clothes indicated otherwise. To feel slightly more legitimate, she had reached out to a friend working as a sales rep for Brooks Running, and, as a favor, he hooked her up with a singlet and shoes for free.
“It just gave me a little bit of purpose, feeling like I wasn’t just ordering a high school jersey,” Culley says. “It gave me a little bit more validation that it was worth pursuing, and I’ll never forget that … I don’t know if anyone [at Brooks] even had any idea. It was just a nice gesture from one of their reps.”
Starting Monday, Culley will be able to give the same sense of support for other aspiring pro runners. Last month, she resigned as Georgetown University’s director of track and field and cross-country after four years in the role to take a job as a sports marketing manager at Brooks. It’ll be a new venture for the longtime coach who served as one of the few female directors of an NCAA Division I running program.
As reported in Runner’s World, the move came as a bit of a shock and disappointment for advocates of women in coaching, and Culley knows it. But the past six months have given Culley, who recently turned 39, a rare chance to hit pause on her busy life. Being at home due to the pandemic made her realize just how much she had been away from her young sons, 4-year-old James and 2-year-old Paul.
Two days before giving birth to James on Aug. 30, 2016, Culley had accepted a promotion to become the director of track and field and cross-country at Georgetown after two years as an assistant coach, and two weeks after that, she was at practice with the team.
Life has been “go, go, go since that moment,” Culley explains.
In her first year as director, she traveled 35 weekends out of the year for recruiting and to be with the team. Culley and her husband, Chris Farley, co-owners of the Pacers Running stores, planned Paul’s birth for the summer so she would not miss the collegiate cross-country, indoor track, and outdoor track seasons spanning from August to the following June.
“It was kind of an epic journey those four years and I enjoyed it,” Culley says. “I loved it. I really did. I think COVID, coming home and really spending a lot of time with my family, a lot of time at home, just made me realize that I wanted to have maybe a little bit more balance with my family.”
In late February, Culley and Farley traveled to Atlanta to watch the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. While there, Culley reconnected with people at Brooks, and in their conversations, she learned that the sports marketing manager job would be opening up.
The team at Brooks followed up with Culley several months later, around the same time as she was finishing up her master’s degree in integrated marketing communications from Georgetown, and she started the interview process in July. She officially accepted the offer on Aug. 18 and informed her team and staff a day later.
The timing of Culley’s departure also coincides with several collegiate athletic departments cutting non-revenue sports like cross-country and track and field as a cost-saving measure due to the pandemic-related loss of revenue. The University of Akron announced it would be cutting men’s cross-country in May, and just this week, the University of Minnesota became the first public university in a Power Five conference to drop its men’s indoor and outdoor track and field programs.
Culley understands the precariousness of non-revenue programs during uncertain times but insists that wasn’t the reason she left Georgetown.
“It wasn’t like, oh gosh, I’m nervous about the future of college sports or I’m nervous about the future of Georgetown,” she says. “I don’t have any of those nervous feelings about that or any reservations about the commitment to the sport [at Georgetown]. So this was kind of an independent decision. But I think COVID certainly made me realize, like it made me pause. And I think a lot of people are pausing in their life right now just saying, like, ‘Am I on the path that I want to be on? And what are the things that I want moving forward?’ If you’ve been healthy enough and stable enough to continue working through this time period, I think it’s given everybody a little bit of perspective.”
The new role marries many things Culley is passionate about: elite running, marketing and storytelling, and athlete promotion. She’ll scout runners coming out of college and manage athlete contracts, working alongside Danny Mackey, the head coach of the Brooks Beasts Track Club in Seattle, and the coaches at the Hanson-Brooks Original Distance Project in Michigan. Part of the job requires overseeing the Brooks PR Invitational meet for some of the fastest high school runners in the country, and the company’s booster and coaching programs. Culley expects to be in Seattle, where the company is based, about one week every month, while the majority of her work will be remote.
“They have exceptional teams and exceptional programs already. So I think part of my job is to not screw it up, but maybe bring a different perspective on just coming from experience on the retail side, experience on D1 coaching, and kind of a different experience in marketing,” she says. “There’s just so many pieces of this role where I’m just like, wow, this is me … which is why I got so excited about it and it moved me to at least pursue it.”