Given her accomplishments even before she graduated from the University of Colorado, Jenny Simpson has always been smart enough to realize one Hall of Fame or another probably would give her a call eventually.
Still, she figured that day would arrive long after she hung up her running spikes. Not while she was still taking aim at her fourth appearance in the Olympic games.
Yet that’s exactly what occurred as Simpson, a volunteer coach with the Colorado track and cross country programs as she trains with coach Mark Wetmore for a spot in the 2020 games, will lead the latest contingent of Olympic sport athletes to be inducted into the Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame Thursday night at CU.
Simpson (Jenny Barringer during her competitive days at CU) is the fourth CU Hall of Famer to be elected in their first year of eligibility.
“I’ve been honored in a lot of different ways through my career, but this one feels really special,” Simpson said. “CU has been a family for me since the day I set foot on campus in 2005. And this feels like a celebration of all those years.
“I totally didn’t expect to be inducted until after I retired. But maybe it’s a compliment — they look at my career and think she may never retire. But all kidding aside, it’s a really sweet thing to experience and be surrounded by people that are supporting you so much going into the Olympic year. If I make the 2020 Olympics it will be my fourth one, and that’s a really huge goal of mine. And also it feels a tiny bit like going full circle, because I made my first Olympic team wearing the Colorado uniform.”
At CU, Simpson was a seven-time All-American and won four NCAA individual national titles — three in the steeplechase, and one in the indoor 3,000-meter run. Those four individual titles are tied for the most by any CU athlete in any sport. As a professional, Simpson won the 2011 World Championship in the 1,500-meter run and was the runner-up in that event in 2013 and 2017. In 2016, she became the first U.S. woman to earn an Olympic medal in the 1,500 at the Rio Games when she finished third.
Simpson’s influence still is felt within CU’s running programs, as her role of volunteer assistant coach has allowed her to lend a hand in the development of athletes like Dani Jones, who won the 2018 NCAA cross country title and added a national title in the 5,000 last spring at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships.
“When I first came back to CU in 2013 it kind of felt like a place where I could really belong for the next phase of my career. I can be surrounded by all the things that I know and all the people that got me to my professional career in the first place,” Simpson said. “But there’s really been a shift in probably the last year or so that I started to realize this is an opportunity for me not just to pass the torch, but to have some control on who that torch goes to. Having the opportunity to be around the CU athletes, both the men and the women, I really feel this unique opportunity that while my career is still going on, while they can still watch me in the everyday grind and kind of reaching the mountaintop at the end of the experience, I can also help mold what the future of the 1,500-meter looks like and what the future of middle distance in track can look like.
“I do feel like for me when the time comes to hang up my spikes, I know who’s going to be at the forefront of the sport and that I played a small part in that.”
A look at the other Olympic sport inductees for the 2019 CU Athletic Hall of Fame class:
Gamble had the distinction of racing for four national championship ski teams in four seasons, and he did much of the heavy lifting for those title teams. Gamble was a three-time All-American for legendary coach Bill Marolt and posted top-five finishes at three consecutive NCAA championships, finishing third in the giant slalom in 1976, fifth in the giant slalom in 1977, and second in the slalom in 1978. Gamble is just one of seven CU skiers to compete for four national championship teams and earn at least three All-American honors. His influence at CU didn’t end with his racing career, as Gamble remains an active donor for the ski program as well as the Buff Club. Gamble and his wife Becky were named the CU athletics donors of the year in 1997.
Long before CU became synonymous in collegiate track and field circles with the steeplechase, there was Reese. Though he was born in Salt Lake City, Reese grew up in Colorado (a Wheat Ridge graduate) and had never run the steeplechase until early in his CU career in 1983. The 1987 Big Eight Conference champion, Reese went on to compete at 12 USA Track & Field championships in the steeplechase while racing in the US Olympic Trials in 1988, 1992, and 1996. Reese was a member of 12 US National Teams and posted two top-five finishes in the Pan American Games, placing fifth in 1991 and third in 1995.
A case almost could be made for Rehemaa’s Hall of Fame credentials based on her coaching career alone with the CU ski team, as she has helped mentor 12 individual NCAA champions and 18 Nordic skiers that have won a earned a combined 49 All-American honors. Yet Rehemaa was a standout competitor in her own right for the Buffs, earning five first team All-American honors while posting 23 top-five finishes and 27 top-10 finishes. Rehemaa swept the Nordic Freestyle and Classical regional titles and national championships in 2006, when she was the captain of CU’s national championships squad.
A trailblazer in CU athletics administration, Wahl took the point in the 1970s as Title IX legislation sparked the metamorphosis of CU’s women’s teams from club activities to varsity programs. Wahl was named the first Women’s Athletic Director in school history and helped secure CU’s membership in the AIAW, a women’s sports precursor to the NCAA, and she helped quadruple the budget for CU’s women’s sports in the four years leading up to those programs launching as full varsity squads. In 2013, she won the Sportswomen of Colorado’s Dorothy Mauk Pioneer Award. Every year one CU women’s basketball player is honored with the Jane Wahl Legacy Award, which is given to the player who brings “honor and recognition to the university and CU athletics.”