In her head, Blanca Fernandez is counting down the days.
Every day, the graduate senior is preparing for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, hoping to earn a spot in the worldwide competition that begins on Aug. 5 and be the first female athlete from Temple to qualify for the event.
“The Olympics are definitely on my mind. … I am nervous, but I am excited because it is getting here,” Fernandez said. “It’s weird because it’s the first time I’m experiencing this.”
The Léon, Spain native said she thought of the idea to undergo this journey about a year ago.
At the Spanish National Championships last August, Fernandez placed third in the 1,500-meter race, finishing just more than a half second behind the event’s winner. The race made her confident she could qualify for the Olympics.
In order to earn a spot in the Olympics, Fernandez must finish in the Top 3 in her event at the Spanish national meet this year and meet the time requirement set by the International Association of Athletics Federations.
Fernandez, who will be competing in the 5K, must run the event in 15 minutes, 24 seconds or faster.
If the time standard is not met, the athlete cannot attend the Olympics, regardless of their rank within his or her country.
After her most recent time trial, Fernandez was about a minute off the standard, though she knows she still has a few months to continue to train and improve, as she has many opportunities to hit the qualifying time even after the national meet.
“It depends on my shape, but if I can get in good shape, I am confident of winning the national championship in Spain,” said Fernandez, who is a graduate student in her last year of NCAA eligibility.
Fernandez said she is getting back into shape after suffering from tendonitis in her IT band, which left her unable to train and compete throughout the indoor season and part of the outdoor season.
Now, she is working with limited time to get back to where she used to be.
“This is a process,” coach Elvis Forde said. “It’s a process and you can’t overkill the process. It is going to still take patience. She’s lost a lot of time training, which means she’s not as fit as a distance runner of her caliber is going to be.”
Fernandez began training again seven weeks ago after being off for three months due to the injury. The injury has left her with less time than she would hope to prepare for the Olympics.
“I literally have to start from zero and then build up to get to the best shape in my life, Fernandez said. “I think I’ve never stopped for three months. Even when I was a kid, my holidays were two months, never three.”
None of her competitors in Spain in the 5K have reached the standard yet, either. A country can enter, at most, three athletes per event, but if no one reaches the qualifying time, none can compete in the Olympics.
Following the Owls’ track season, Fernandez will return home to Spain to resume training with her longtime coach, Jose Villacorta.
Villacorta, who was Fernandez’s gym teacher in school, convinced her to start running when she was 12 years old. He has been her coach ever since and will help prepare Fernandez for the qualifying meet at nationals.
“I don’t know what workouts I’ll be doing because he just tells me what to do and I do it,” Fernandez said. “I trust my coach with all my heart and that’s how it needs to be.”
While running in meets for Temple, success is based on points. Fernandez runs to earn points for the team, but not necessarily to achieve the best possible time. When she goes back to Spain, her running style will change to try and meet the IAFF standard.
“It’s completely different,” Fernandez said. “From the first meter, you need to be focused. You probably have someone telling you the times per lap, the paces, you look at your watch.”
“You cannot lose a second because if you lose a second, you will not get the time you want.”
Maura Razanauskas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.