When Jenny Simpson was an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, on her way to getting a degree in economics and political science and winning five NCAA titles, she would at times bump into a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, world-class musician or one of the myriad endurance athletes living here.
Such is the essence of Boulder, and it is a spirit that Simpson, the defending world champion over 1,500 meters, missed when she moved to Colorado Springs after finishing up at CU and signing a professional contract with New Balance.
Now, Simpson, a two-time Olympian and the U.S. record holder for the 3,000-meter steeplechase, has moved back to Boulder, in part because of the spirit of constant "striving" and fulfillment she and her husband, Jason, find in town.
"There really is a culture of excellence here," said Simpson, 26. "There is a desire to be always curious and striving for something better than before. You can be at a random dinner party and find a common theme of people trying to do something great, new and fulfilling to them."
Count Simpson, a CU volunteer assistant coach, among those pursuing excellence. After a decent 2012 track season -- when she made her second U.S. Olympic team -- she reunited with her college coaches, Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs, beginning in early December.
The move has gone well, Simpson said in a recent interview at the Balch Fieldhouse, after finishing an easy run with the just-graduated Buff Pac-12 steeple champ Aric Van Halen and CU Olympic steeplechaser Shalaya Kipp.
"I feel really good," Simpson said. "I feel confident about the training, and my racing confidence is back. There is an element of strength and confidence that is back, and that I feel good about. There is a bit of excitement and a spark about the season."
Simpson showed that spark Sunday night when she unleashed her characteristic strong "kick," or finishing sprint, to win a tactical 5,000 meters at the U.S. national championships in Des Moines, Iowa. She will defend her gold medal at the 2013 World Championships that begin Aug. 10 in Moscow.
In planning out training and racing plans, "Mark and Heather are craftsmen," Simpson said. "They see something in each of us. If you come to CU and build little by little, by the time you leave you will have a great year. Every day I show up and do the workout, and (since December) I have been able to train hard and be really consistent."
It is clear in talking with Simpson that she is buoyed by a close-knit team. In addition to Wetmore and Burroughs, there is her sponsor, New Balance -- "who they are as a company matches who I am as a person" -- and her training partners, who include two-time NCAA steeplechase champ Emma Coburn and Billy Nelson, a CU assistant coach as well as an Olympic steeplechaser.
Atop the list of key elements of Simpson's success, however, is her husband. When Jason Simpson, a graphic designer at SketchFolio in Louisville, accompanies his wife to Moscow, he will likely take his work with him. He is able to travel with her, most recently to a Diamond League meet in Rome, because, according to Jenny Simpson, "his boss is amazing, incredibly accommodating."
With Jason working a full load when the two are on the road, Simpson said her days have a structure and normalcy that are calming and settling.
"The biggest way that (Jason) is a part of my success is that he is just my husband. He doesn't coach me or try to be my doctor. He is incredibly supportive. ...
"I always have an advocate. Whether it is a little bit of an injury or I am excited for a race, he is there to empathize and listen and to problem-solve. I feel I always have someone on my side and someone looking out for me."
And then, of course, there is Boulder, full of many people who are on her side and which remains a "huge" part of Simpson's optimism heading into Moscow.
"It is such a special town and special environment. Not only the professional athletes here, but people in the grocery store; they understand running and your life, and it motivates me.
"When I come home Sunday after a long, hard run, I am tired. Then I see hundreds of people running along the creek, and it is validation that what I am doing is important to someone."
Simpson's website is trackjenny.com.
Contact Mike Sandrock at firstname.lastname@example.org.