EUGENE, Ore. -- Dominique Darden is a nightclub hostess by night very, very late at night.
When the sun comes up, she takes off her high heels and puts on her spikes. By day, Darden is an aspiring Olympian.
She runs around the clock, but in two different worlds. When shes not working 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. at Dream in South Beach or at King of Diamonds in Miami, shes training at the University of Miami track. Or grabbing a nap.
The grueling schedule has paid off for Darden in one of the sports most grueling events: the 400-meter hurdles. Darden finished with the fifth-best semifinal time (55.77 seconds) on Friday at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. Shes an unlikely finalist, but if she finishes in the top three Sunday she will make the team for the London Olympics.
Eighteen months ago, Darden skidded across an oily patch on a Gainesville street and crashed her scooter. She gashed open her right knee.
It looked like a shark attack, she said, and a photo on her Twitter account confirms that gory description.
Darden, a 2006 UM graduate who was ranked in the worlds top 20, had to take a year off and lost her sponsorship. She needed a job, and she got one in Miami Beach at Dream, the latest hot spot on Washington Avenue.
I had no income but I wanted to keep running, she said. Its good money on South Beach, much more than I could make in a 9-to-5 job. Its graveyard hours, though, and its been a rough adjustment.
Darden is a VIP hostess. She books table reservations, greets guests at the door and handles their special requests.
Such as designer birthday cakes, said John Donato, Dreams director of operations. She is a sweet person who goes out of her way to make it special. We do a lot of business with athletes, so she fits in perfectly. You never know who is coming into town and she communicates with them. She knows Willis McGahee, Andre Johnson, Santana Moss and Bryant McKinney from her UM days.
Darden was even workg Friday, taking reservations long distance for Michael Vicks Saturday party. Employees at the club were sending her messages of encouragement and congratulations all day.
She is such a sweet girl never tired, Donato said. We tease her and ask her when shes going to race us.
Darden isnt a performer but she hangs with a racy crowd, particularly at King of Diamonds, a popular gentlemans club that offers an aphrodisiac for everyones wet appetite, advertises full friction, full liquor, full nudity and boasts a provocative roster of over 300 dancers on its website. The club holds Seductive Boxing Matches, Erotic Reggae Sundays and Naked Hustle Wednesdays.
They call me rover girl because I have to do a little bit of everything, Darden said.
Among her colleagues and pals is Miamis most acrobatic stripper, Tip Drill, who was injured in February performing her famous pole-sliding trick.
Somehow, Darden slips seamlessly from the wee-hours world of DJs, exotic dancers, champagne-swilling club mavens and wealthy hedonists to the dog-eat-dog world of track and field, where hard bodies, not luscious ones, are necessary for success.
Her motto on her Twitter page is a quote from Andy Warhol: You have to do stuff average people dont understand because those are the only good things.
Darden returned to Miami not only to work but to train with Amy Deem, coach at UM, coach of a group of pros and coach of the 2012 womens Olympic track and field team. Deem does not approve of Dardens employment choice or hours.
If she wasnt one of my ex-athletes I would not have agreed to coach her, Deem said. There have been some Saturday practices where I had to carry her off the track she was so tired. But the 400 hurdles is not a lucrative event. Shes got to make a living. Its not like shes out partying. She is working and juggling her track career. She is one tough woman.
Deem said Darden snapped back quickly from her knee injury. She did a 31-inch vertical leap right after she resumed training, Deem said. She is a very gifted athlete.
Darden also has had the benefit of training with TErea Brown, who qualified in 55.13 seconds Friday, Thandi Stewart, who finished 13th, and Lauryn Williams, who didnt advance to the 200 final. Tiffany Williams also advanced to the 400 hurdles final, which means three Miami women will be running against each other.
Miamis Bershawn Batman Jackson advanced to the final of the mens 400 hurdles with the second-fastest time, 48.83.
Sanya Richards-Ross looked smooth in winning her heat of the 200. She intends to run the 400-200 double in London.
As for Darden, she was thrilled to make the final. Maybe its time for a celebration at Dream with her teammates and coach.
I have never been to those clubs, Deem said. Not even when I was 23 years old.