BILLINGS — Two weeks ago, Dani Aragon was on the starting line of a 1,500-meter race in Nashville, Tennessee.
“I knew I was ready for a good time, but it’s so hard to put it together sometimes — you have to have the right opportunity and you never know how the race is going to go — so when it actually comes together it’s just like, ‘Ah, thank goodness,’” Aragon said this week from Eugene, Oregon.
Her winning time then of 4 minutes, 5.46 seconds was a new personal best and qualified her to run in the US Olympic Team Trials in track and field. She will line up Friday at 5:03 p.m. (MDT) at Hayward Field against some of the same competitors.
“It feels like we’ve been working a really long time to get to this point so it’s kind of nice to just be here and be like ‘well, you’ve done everything you can so now it’s just time to race,’” Aragon said.
Billings' Aragon will race in the second heat of the women’s 1,500 meters Friday evening. The top six from each heat and top six times will advance to the semifinals on Saturday. Then the top five finishers and top two times from the semifinals will make the Monday final. The top three athletes from that final will have the opportunity to make Team USA for the Tokyo Olympics.
It will be Aragon's first time competing at the Olympic Trials, but not her first time at the event.
“I feel like I’ve been lucky because I’ve been able to watch both my sisters compete at really high levels and handle the pressure,” Aragon said. “I think it definitely probably was helpful that I got to come and watch Christina run in 2016 and sort of see that from an outsider’s perspective and just be cheering her on.”
Each of the Aragon sisters — Alexa, Dani and then Christina — wrote their names all over the Billings Senior and MHSA record books before each going on to outstanding collegiate careers. Christina went to Stanford, but Alexa and Dani went to Notre Dame where Dani earned multiple all-conference honors and qualified for the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round three times.
Once she graduated, she moved to New York to train. She competed with the New Jersey New York Track Club for the past three years before structure and sponsor changes caused Aragon and some of her teammates to transition to the Empire Elite Track Club over the past year.
“It’s been a long and crazy year, but all in all it’s been OK and I kind of figured out how to manage,” Aragon said.
COVID restrictions in New York prevented regular training during much of 2020, but while living with teammates in the same house, they were allowed to continue to run together as members of the same household.
“I feel like I got a new appreciation for running when it was one of the only times when I left the house,” Aragon said.
After recovering from a partially torn plantar and some knee injuries, Aragon was finally able to return fully to racing in May 2021. However, that came with an extra set of pressure to run a qualifying time with the Olympic Trials looming.
“When I was healthy and fit, I ended up racing three weeks in a row and got some personal bests and am feeling like the healthiest and most well prepared I’ve ever felt for a championship race,” Aragon said. “So I’m feeling very fortunate to have had a pretty solid year of training and to have things going well at the right time.
“At this point in my career, I understand how hard it is to actually make it to this point in the season healthy and to have things going. So I’m nervous, but I’m trying to keep it in perspective that ‘Wow, I’m so grateful to be here’ and at the end of the day I just have to go out and compete.”
With her coaches as well as her whole family in attendance to help support her, Aragon is focused on taking the rounds one race at a time and not looking too far ahead.
“I think I’m a mix of nervousness, but I’m also calm and like ‘Ok, wow. This is what I’ve been working for for this long. I made it,’” Aragon said. “I’m just going to do my best and I feel like I’ll be proud of that no matter how it goes.”
And even though she’s been racing all over the country, she still considers Montana home.
“I’ve really appreciated all the support that I’ve gotten from Montana over the years,” Aragon said.
No matter what happens, she already has plans for after to look forward to. There are plans for a road trip with her sisters in the works, time catching up with family after a long time apart and possibly even some time spent back to Montana.
But first it's time to race.
NOTES: Toyota is sponsoring Good Luck Boulevard that athletes see in the staging areas before they compete. Fans can send good luck messages to athletes competing in the Olympic Trials at toyotagoodluckblvd.com ... The television broadcast Friday is scheduled to run on NBCSN from 5-8 p.m. (MDT) and on 8-9 p.m. on NBC.