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Jessica Fry, Then & Now

In 1993, Rogers junior Jessica Fry finished second in the state 3,200 meters. (File/The Spokesman-Review)
In 1993, Rogers junior Jessica Fry finished second in the state 3,200 meters. (File/The Spokesman-Review)

Former Rogers star fills time working, running, raising family

Jessica (Fry) Chatten-Brown signed up for the Boston Marathon on Monday morning.

For such an accomplished runner that’s just “me” time.

“I love (marathons),” the former Rogers distance star explained as she fed her children, son Sebastian, 20 months, and daughter Devyn, 6 weeks, breakfast. “It’s so different than anything I’ve experienced. I get 26 miles to pretty much do what I want and I don’t have to run terribly fast if I don’t want to.”

Fast is certainly what Chatten-Brown was as a Pirate, with some of the best times in Greater Spokane League history. That led to a scholarship at Alabama, where she earned multiple All-America honors before transferring to Stanford. She ran second on the 1996 Cardinal team that won the NCAA cross country championship, helped by her 16th-place finish.

Now she worries about getting enough miles in to run the Sacramento Marathon in December.

“With two kids it takes quite an effort to get downstairs and get on the treadmill,” she said.

There isn’t much doubt she’ll get it done. She always has.

“I’m pretty confident,” she said. “I’m confident in what I’m doing, where I’ve been and where I’m going. I think that has a lot to do with running. You had to have that. I had to have that both in high school and college.”

“Being at Stanford wasn’t easy. Balancing academics and athletics is something that takes a lot of effort. I laid that path in high school because I had to do the same. … I always had to be prepared. That level of preparation helped me as I moved on.”

After a moment to get Sebastian another pancake, she added, “It helps me now. I’m balancing two kids and a husband who’s at the hospital often. We’re just trying to figure it out.”

Chatten-Brown and her husband live in Vallejo, Calif., north of San Francisco on the way to wine country. It’s close to their jobs, Justin’s as an emergency room doctor in Martinez, where he did his residency, and Woodland. Yes, he has two jobs.

“He has it all together, to say the least,” his just-as-together wife said. “He’s so fantastic at what he does.”

After several career changes, Chatten-Brown, 34, is a labor and delivery room nurse at North Bay Medical Center in Fairfield.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “It’s so different than anything else. The happiest place in the hospital is usually labor and delivery.”

This career is quite a change from her original plan. After graduating from Stanford in 1999 she lived in San Francisco six months before becoming a college recruiter for a software firm in Austin, Texas.

“I loved it,” she said. “But as is common in the software industry, it went under.”

Looking for adventure she went to South Korea to teach English, but only lasted six months before she came to Spokane to contemplate her future.

“I lived with mom and dad for a couple of weeks,” she said. “I decided I wanted to move to Santa Monica because it’s warm and sunny and South Korea was cold and dreary. So pretty much on a whim I picked up and moved to Santa Monica.”

She got a job as a recruiter for the Art Institute of Los Angeles. She met a USC medical student and took a few classes at UCLA while he was finishing up. When Justin started his residency in Martinez she got her masters in nursing at Sonoma State.

A couple of defining moments helped her reach her state of happiness now.

After the Cardinal won the 1996 championship, Chatten-Brown used up her eligibility in the training room.

“I still was at a fantastic school with wonderful people learning more than I would have anywhere else,” she said. “Also, being hurt taught me a lot, like how to be a normal person. … It taught me what to do with all my time.”

Before that there was her fantastic high school career.

When she graduated in 1994 she was the second-fastest Spokane runner and No. 6 in state history in the 3,200 meters at 10-minutes, 28.4-seconds, but she didn’t win a state title. Sarna Renfro of Bellarmine Prep, who graduated the same year and eventually was a teammate at Stanford, was No. 2 on the list. It was similar at 1,600 meters, where her GSL regular- season record of 4:58.3 just fell to Katie Knight of North Central last spring.

“I never thought of it then, that’s just the way it was,” Chatten-Brown said. “We had a pretty competitive state, obviously. It made me hungry for more. I just kept going. As they say, ‘Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and do it again.’

“More than anything it taught me you’re not always going to win. … Most don’t even get to experience being second in state or go on. I had all the support, like coaching. (Ron) Challender and (Steve) Kiesel (at Rogers) were so fantastic. I was so fortunate. It’s really the people who pick you back up and tell you ‘second place isn’t who you are, you’ll figure it out.’”

She did.