It takes lots of guts to give up a new career at one of the country’s largest financial institutions in pursuit of an Olympic dream, but that’s exactly what Irish American Kerri Gallagher did in 2011 when she said goodbye to Morgan Stanley, and hello to a potential slot in next year’s Summer Games in Rio.

Gallagher, a native of Belle Harbor in the Rockaways and a standout competitive runner during her years at Bishop Kearney High School and Fordham University, felt she had unfinished business on the track, and when the opportunity presented itself to train on at a facility in Washington, D.C. under the tutelage of one of the country’s top track coaches, she grabbed it.

“I hadn't considered running as an option when I graduated Fordham in 2011 and so the normal next step for me was to start work. I had a great opportunity offered to me at Morgan Stanley so I took it,” Gallagher, 26, told the Irish Voice.

“I had lunch with my high school coach after graduating and he let me know of this opportunity to train in D.C. At that point I decided to go for it.”

The move seems to have been a wise one. Gallagher recently finished third in the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships in her signature race, the 1,500 meters. The placement has put her on a faster track to Rio, and she’s also traveling to Beijing at the end of August to compete in the IAAF World Championships.

“I still have a way to go but I’m excited, very excited,” said Gallagher, the oldest girl of nine children.

She trains under Matt Centrowitz, head coach of the cross country and track programs at American University in Washington, D.C. Gallagher wasn’t always a runner and didn’t start competing until her sophomore year at Bishop Kearney in Brooklyn.

“I had been playing basketball prior to that, and to be honest did not have much of a future in that sport. It was my mom who suggested I try cross country. I took to running pretty quickly and ran three years at Bishop Kearney followed by four at Fordham University,” Gallagher says.

Success came quickly for Gallagher at Fordham, where she starred for the Rams track and field team and set several records. When she graduated in 2011 she took a job as a financial planer at Morgan Stanley, but her heart remained on the track. She stayed at her desk job for a few months, but then made the move with the full support of her family.

She was hopeful of making the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2012, the year the Olympics were held in London, but that goal eluded her.

“That was an important year for me in learning how tough it can be but how rewarding as well even when you do come up short,” Gallagher said.

She’s been competing throughout the U.S. ever since, gradually improving her times and running style. The recent third place finish was a validation of her choice to pursue the Olympics not to achieve superstardom, but to just do it for herself.

“It's a lifestyle that you have to want and commit to. It's been a continuous learning process,” said Gallagher of her rigorous training regimen. (When she’s not training she works as Centrowitz’s assistant at American University).

“I've been blessed to have a great support system throughout my career.”

Gallagher’s large Irish American family has its roots in County Mayo. Irish identity was always a huge part of her life, and it took on new meaning when she hosted the popular, long-running Fordham University radio show Ceol na nGael on Sunday afternoons.

“I just loved doing that,” says Gallagher. “My family is very Irish and the show was always on in our house. We like to celebrate our Irishness whenever we can.”

Gallagher and her family are looking forward to more success stories on the track. She’s not looking to be a superstar like any of America’s famous golden girls. She just wants to be the best she can be.

“Having made the World Championship team his year, I think I have a very real chance at an Olympic team next year. After that it's really just a step at a time,” Gallagher said.