Butler assistant track coach Mason Cathey posted a fourth-place finish in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Oct. 28.
Now Cathey is chasing a more difficult dream: gaining a spot on Team USA for the 2012 Olympics in London, England.
Cathey’s connection to Butler developed in 2008. A few years after graduating from the University of Florida, Cathey made her way to Indianapolis to train with the Indiana Invaders running club.
In addition to training, Cathey said she wanted to make sure she was well rounded here in the city.
“I thought, ‘What am I going to do besides train?’” Cathey said. “I knew I’d drive myself crazy if that’s all I had to do.”
Cathey was unable to find a position on the Butler staff because the Bulldogs already had a full coaching staff, according to coach Matt Roe.
“At the time, we already had one female coach,” Roe said. “It wasn’t a matter of lack of interest. It was a matter of the spot already being filled.”
Cathey said she thought it may be the last she would hear from the school.
But after working at a local running store for a couple of years, Cathey ran in multiple races with Butler athletes and continued to get to know the Butler coaches.
As the team’s staff changed, Roe asked Cathey if she was still interested in coaching.
“We stayed in contact,” Roe said. “[Cathey] had a considerable amount of coaching experience, which was quite refreshing. She understood the NCAA system, not only as a coach, but as an athlete too.
“I felt that there was a need for a female assistant, just as a mentor to the women. At that point, she was ready to make a move, and it worked out pretty well.”
Given the opportunity, Cathey was able not only to coach part time but also train with the Butler women’s team.
“Of course, I said yes,” Cathey said. “I was pretty much done with the Invaders—ready to do something else.
“I wanted to get back into coaching,” she said. “I had coached at Duke and really enjoyed the small, private-school setting. I figured Butler would be pretty similar.”
Since then, Cathey has been balancing training, coaching and working on campus while still setting her sights on an Olympic bid – something that was not in the cards until recently.
“Back at Duke I had coached a girl who was a pretty good steepler,” Cathey said. “I took her to the national championships, and I realized that the Pan Ams were a pretty reasonable goal.
“I didn’t have this dead aim focus on it, but I was thinking I could close in on that.”
She got her chance last fall.
Despite a strong eighth-place finish at the United States Championships, she missed getting an invitation to the Pan American meet.
Lady Luck swooped in right on time for Cathey, though.
One runner who finished ahead of Cathey did not accept the invitation, and another was hampered by a stress fracture.
That left one spot open for the Pan American meet.
Cathey placed fourth at the international event, covering 3,000 barrier-laden meters in a time of 10:19.10.
Now she is looking at a year full of even greater opportunities.
“It’s scary as can be to say I’m training for the Olympics,” Cathey said. “The first time I said it out loud, I wondered if anyone would believe me.
“When you grow up, [the Olympics are] a dashing hope. But it’s really becoming a reality.”