Rocky Point High product Salerno runs against odds in 1,500

Rocky Point runner Melissa Salerno during practice at

Rocky Point runner Melissa Salerno during practice at Rocky Point High School. (March 24, 2004) (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

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EUGENE, Ore.

Twenty-eight women on the USA Olympic trials entry list have run the 1,500 meters faster than Melissa Salerno's 4:12.82.

Safe to say, few of those 28 need to fit their training and racing around major responsibilities in the real world.

Safer still to say, few work 40-hour weeks.

More than likely, only one of them pours her heart and soul into the cutting-edge field of advanced breast cancer-fighting research analysis at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Meet Melissa Salerno.

The 25-year-old graduate of Rocky Point High School and Fordham University has overcome long odds to earn her place in the trials, where she'll duke it out with the nation's best, with the top three gaining tickets to the London Olympics.

Qualifying rounds of the women's 1,500 take place Thursday. The final is Sunday.

Does she have any chance of beating out such notables as Morgan Uceny, Jennifer Simpson or Alice Schmidt?

Uceny, a Cornell grad, was the top-ranked 1,500-meter woman in the world in 2011; Simpson is the American steeplechase record-holder who has made a successful switch to racing on the flat and took the 1,500 gold at the 2011 World Championships, and Schmidt is a former University of North Carolina star who was one of the most honored collegiate runners in recent years.

Uceny has run the 1,500, the so-called Metric Mile, in 4:01.59. Simpson has clocked a 4:03.55, Schmidt a 4:05.64.

On paper, that would put them 60 to 70 meters ahead of Salerno. They'd be reaching the finish line as Salerno would be rounding the final turn.

"I don't care about any of that," Salerno said before the trials began. "I just know that I've worked pretty darn hard to get here and I've earned my place.

"And, know what? Once you're there and the gun goes off, anything can happen."

She has been running competitively since eighth grade, then was a solid runner (both track and cross country) at Rocky Point and Fordham, but few ever considered her an Olympic trials candidate.

At Fordham, under coach Tom Dewey, she excelled at everything from 4 x 400 relay legs to the challenging hills and dales of Van Cortlandt Park.

Obviously, it's been a long, tough road.

Twice she's announced her retirement. She simply couldn't find training hours in a typically intense daily schedule.

She first said goodbye to the running game after earning her Fordham degree in psychology. Her second farewell came after acquiring her master's from Fordham.

"Dad, I've hung up my spikes," she told her father, Richard, the first time. "There's no way I can continue in the sport. I'd been running for 12 years, one way or another. That was enough."

As it turned out, though, enough was not enough.

She actually found windows of time in her workday routine. She discovered that she missed the sport badly.

So she started back up again, first as a member of the Central Park Track Club, then as an independent runner training under NYU coach Nick McDonough. "I'm putting in more mileage than I've ever done before, and everything is more intense," she said.

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