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0 Comments | Jun 26, 2020

Going the Distance: Rose Monday

Rose Cover PhotoA few months back—before words like coronavirus and Covid19 became a part of everyone’s vernacular and daily life—I had the pleasure of interviewing Rose Monday for this issue of The Dominion magazine. Indeed, by late February I had managed to get a few articles ahead on interviews, which turned out to be a good thing, what with the social distancing that became the norm starting in mid-March. What Rose and I did not yet realize at that time—though it was certainly becoming at least a plausible possibility—was that the 2020 Olympic Games, originally scheduled for this July, would end up being postponed, along with every other sporting event we’ve come to take for granted. That’s a pretty big piece of a context for this story, seeing as how Rose is the head coach of the USA Women’s Track & Field team and was planning on being in Tokyo this summer to lead the American women to what everyone hoped would be a large cache of medals. Needless to say, those plans are now on hold.

Rose Monday lives with her husband John here in The Dominion, and her story is a compelling and inspirational one, particularly for young aspiring athletes. She is a lifelong runner and was, for many years, one of the fastest American female runners, ranked in the top ten in the country in the 800m in the late eighties, and missed making the USA Olympic team three times in the 800m. Since ending her competitive days she has been a coach of world-class athletes both privately and for university teams, and was selected by USA Track & Field (USATF) to serve as head coach of the 2020 Women’s Track & Field Olympic Team. But getting to that level in this, or any, endeavor requires a long history of drive, dedication, and achievement.

Rose grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley, the second oldest of six children. And it was apparent from her earliest days that she was very athletic and very fast.

“I loved any sport that didn’t involve a ball,” she says. “Ice skating, biking, swimming, running. But from the start, running was always my favorite.”

The first sign that Rose might possess some special ability was when she began regularly beating the local high school boys—all of them. Her mother enrolled her in sports programs from an early age, partly to expose Rose and her siblings to athletics, and partly to keep them out of trouble. However, having always been an extremely shy child, Rose was not especially keen on being signed up for formal sporting programs, refusing at first to run in front of others.

“The first time I showed up to run for a prospective coach I was thirteen and wearing hand-me-down clothes from the girl who lived across the street. All the club coach said was ‘Let’s see you run.’”

And run she did. By ninth grade she was in Catholic school and starting up a girl’s track team. She recalls needing to bribe her best friend Lori with Dr Pepper after practice to get her to join the team so that they would have four girls for the 4 x 100m relay event. Her mother and father were supportive of her efforts, having recognized her skills very early on. But the parents each had their own views.

“My dad thought the track thing was pretty cool. Mom, on the other hand, was more inclined to see me get involved in cheerleading, student body politics, that sort of thing. Regardless, being essentially forced into running had the positive effect of getting me out of my shell and forcing me to interact with others. Also, participating in track got me out of having to do dishes and housework at home.”

And though a lot of kids participate in sports in junior high and high school, most do not go on to become world class athletes. Was there any special moment when Rose knew this was the path she would pursue?

“Oh absolutely. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was nine years old watching the 1968 Mexico City Olympics the day that Bob Beamon crushed the world record in the long jump. (Quick sidebar for those who do not follow track and field closely. The long jump is a sport in which, much like other track and field events, records are broken by fractions of a millimeter or second. On that day—October 18th—Beamon shattered the long jump record by a full fifty-five centimeters—nearly two feet—with a performance that stood as the world record until 1991 and still stands to this day as the Olympic record.)

“I cried over that achievement. After watching it, I was jumping over everything I could find—fences, whatever. I saw the way the crowd reacted to his performance and I just knew that was what I wanted from life.”

In addition to beginning the pursuit of her athletic career, Rose also spent a good deal of time caring for her five siblings at home, cooking, ironing school uniforms, and even learning to drive at age eleven. She got her first job at age fifteen, making pies for Marie Callender’s, a position she continued as manager all through high school and much of college.

“My siblings and I switched back and forth between pubic and parochial schools several times, but I always found it more peaceful attending parochial school versus the chaos of public school. But my father felt that the public school system would provide better opportunities for my track pursuits.”

As Rose neared the end of high school, the time came to figure out what would come next in her life.

“I went into Brother Mark’s office and asked about attending college. His response was ‘You’re not smart enough to go to college,’ an opinion that, needless to say, was less than encouraging. Luckily, my Spanish teacher Art Venegas (one of the world’s great throws coaches, who has coached several Olympians and gold medalists) recognized my athletic ability and was a big supporter of mine. He helped get me a scholarship to Cal State Northridge.”

In college Rose started out studying English, but quickly transitioned to political science. She found that she loved international relations and different cultures. It was a prescient decision, given the amount of international travel and exposure that would fill her future years. She, of course, ran a great deal while in college, focusing mainly on relay teams (4 x 400m and 4 x 800m).

“We competed in the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) because women weren’t allowed to compete in NCAA events until 1980, which was my junior year. We beat everybody those years. The team won the AIAW National Division 1 Championship during my freshman and sophomore years, and I won All American honors in the 4 x 400m and 4 x 800m. Eighty percent of my college team made the USA Olympic team (unfortunately not including me, as I spent a lot of my junior and senior years injured), but they ended up not being able to go because of the boycott that happened that year.”

And, because life just wasn’t complicated enough with college studies and the pursuit of an athletic career, Rose met John during her junior year at Cal State and the couple were married shortly thereafter.

“I was just nineteen. We met while working as phone operators for the local telephone company. John was attending Cal State L.A. and we were in the same year. My grandfather was a lifelong AT&T employee and he hooked me up with a summer job with Pacific Bell. Then a mutual friend introduced John and I. I knew right away that he was the guy I was going to marry (though he didn’t know it yet!). He was smart, athletic, handsome, and funny. And he understood and accepted that my track came first. We talked about putting off marriage until after we were done with college. But then we decided, why wait? ‘They’ said we were too young and it would never last, but this August we will celebrate our 40th anniversary.”

After graduating from college in 1983, Rose became a professional runner, coached by Skip Stolley with the Puma Energizer Club. She spent thirteen years running with Skip, including participating in meets all over the world.

“Professional track and field effectively becomes your job, including having an agent who arranges meets and signs up sponsors to pay for travel, equipment, etc. Most professional athletes, however, have other full-time jobs. I got to travel the world for free and got paid to do it,” Rose says. “You can’t beat that as a lifestyle.”

Of the many events on the annual track and field circuit, the indoor and outdoor national championships are among the most prestigious. In Olympic years these events become the Olympic trials. Originally scheduled for late June of this year in Eugene, Oregon, this year’s event would have determined who made the USA Track & Field Olympic team. Rose competed in these trials in 1984, 1988, and 1992.

“I ran a 2:05 (800m) at the Modesto Relays in 1984, then a 2:04 at the Jenner Invitational. When the Olympic trials came around, I did a 2:03 and missed the final by one spot. Even though I was ninth in the US, I cried at not making the team that year. When your goal is to make the Olympic team, you become so passionate about it that it’s easy to lose sight of your accomplishments. It’s possible I never appreciated how well I was running while I was doing it. But participating in three Olympic trials is a pretty significant accomplishment.”

It was only toward the end of her competitive career that a coach suggested that she consider becoming a coach.

“At that point I had no interest in coaching, had never even considered it. I always assumed that when I was done running I’d go back to school and attend law school. I’d also put off starting a family until I was done running, so that became a factor in my decisions around that time. A friend of mine told me that a local high school needed a cross-country coach and that they would pay me $2000. At first, only three or four girls showed up. I had to bribe them with varsity jackets in order to get more to join.”

Rose and John have two children: Mary (26) who attended Texas A&M and now lives in Albuquerque, and Jack (24) who was a runner at West Point and is now a Lieutenant in the US Army. After the children were born, Rose began training again, partly as a way of losing weight and partly because she was considering trying out once again for the 1996 Olympic team. Though she did not make that team, she competed in the Masters that year and won three bronze medals.

By 2000, John was VP of Construction and Engineering for SBC, and the couple moved to San Antonio so that he could work at SBC headquarters. Once settled down here, Rose inquired about using the UTSA track to train.

“Before I started running there, my California track coach offered a word of advice. Whatever you do, don’t go out there and start beating all those college runners. They’ll be suicidal if you do.”

Shortly thereafter, UTSA offered her a position as cross-country assistant coach, and then, the following year, head coach of cross-country and assistant coach for middle distance. She held these positions for seven years, then decided to coach only post-collegiate professional athletes so she could spend more time with her family.

“The beauty of coaching post-collegiate athletes is that I’m no longer stuck with a Monday, Wednesday, Thursday schedule. I can coach them based to my own schedule, how they recover, and their individual work schedules.”

In the years following Rose’s time at UTSA, she was named to various coaching positions for the Olympics (2012 and 2016 for middle and distance runners) and the Pan American games (2015). Applicants for these positions require a history of coaching elite athletes and university teams. When it came time to begin the vetting and selection process for the 2020 Olympic Games, she was strongly encouraged to apply for the head coaching position, a lengthy and rigorous process that Rose embraced with her usual passion and discipline.

“Once the coaches’ applications are vetted for experience and qualifications, there are nominations, voting, and selection. Then the USATF Board of Directors vets the selections and sends them off to the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) for final approval. Only after all of these steps are the final selections publicly announced.

“I was at the annual USATF conference in Columbus, Ohio, at a playbook meeting for the upcoming World Championships to be held in Doha, and the selection committee was meeting just across the hall. I saw them all leave the room but no one would make eye contact with me. One of the committee members, though, offered a subtle smile with just his eyes and I kind of had a feeling from that point on. Of course, I didn’t officially find out I’d been selected until I received the notification email from USATF later that fall. Once the official email came and the official press release went out, that was a very special moment.”

So what does the job of Olympic head coach entail?

“There are loads of responsibilities before, during, and after the competition. These include, for example, communicating with assistant coaches and USATF office staff, coordinating with assistant coaches regarding athlete health, and managing all the logistical and scheduling tasks necessary to ensure that athletes are where they need to be at the right times.”

And what goes through Rose’s mind now when she looks back on where she’s come from and ahead to what awaits in Tokyo next summer?

“I wouldn’t do anything differently if I had it to do over again. Would I rather be an Olympic athlete or a coach? I wouldn’t say athlete today. The obstacles I overcame, all the injuries, all the things I’ve learned about biomechanics, etc. have made me the coach that I am today. I’m totally honored that I get to serve as head coach. I still can’t quite believe it, looking back at where I came from. I’ve been truly blessed and I’m thankful for the opportunity I’ve been given.”

But as focused and dedicated as Rose’s life in sports has been, surely there must have been a few other moments when she branched out and tried something completely different.

“I flew on a trapeze once when I was in ninth grade! My sister Gretchen and I took actual lessons for about a year near our San Fernando Valley home and then we took part in a real trapeze show. And I also took flying lessons for a while when I was sixteen living in Los Angeles. I didn’t end up soloing, though, because track practice conflicted with it. When it’s time to just relax, I really love reading—historical novels and writing about spirituality.”

In our brief follow-up conversation after the official announcement rescheduling the Tokyo Olympics, Rose offered a few thoughts on what the postponement means to her and to the athletes.

“I look at this from the standpoint of global solidarity. That being said, it is difficult for everyone, not just the athletes and coaches. The challenges are many: athletes do not have access to tracks or gyms, and they need to practice social distancing. Financially, many live below the poverty line. They rely on prize money, appearance fees, and sponsorship money for a living. My first thoughts, of course, are for the welfare of those who are sick, and for us to find a vaccine and devise ways to fix the economic fallout on small businesses. The Olympics transcends politics; it brings together nations beneath an umbrella of competition on the field of play. It brings joy to so many people, and my hope is that next summer’s XXXII Olympiad opening ceremonies will prove to be the light at the end of this very long tunnel.

For a closing thought, I deferred to husband John, who walked into the room at just the right moment.

“It’s a great honor for Rose, and much deserved given her thirty-five years of coaching and experience, her ability to get along with everyone in the context of explaining details about track, and talking with elite coaches and imparting knowledge. She’s helped the middle distance program in the US to get a lot better. She has a wealth of experience and shares all of her experiences in return, which is the thing that makes her special. Everyone respects her because of that.”


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