The Journey That Has Led Natosha Rogers to the 2021 Olympic Trials

By: Carlos Fernandes II

In 2012, a girl from Denver, CO running for Texas A&M absolutely unleashed a magical season on the track in sequential 10,000m races. Natosha Rogers ran her first 10,000m race at the Big 12 Championships and ran away with the win. Following this race, she ran at the NCAA D1 Prelims and finished 2nd, qualifying for the NCAA D1 Championships. At the NCAA D1 Championships, in only her third 10,000m race ever, she crosses the line as a National Champion and simultaneously ran an Olympic Trials Qualifying mark (OTQ).

That season already seems like an incredible dream, but at the 2012 Olympic Trials, it became even more incredible. Rogers took off as the gun went off and crossed the line in 2nd place, but didn’t make the USA Team.

Who is She?

Natosha Rogers is a long-distance athlete, who started her professional career back in 2014, where she signed with New Balance and trained up in Boston, MA as one of the initial members alongside Cory McGee for Team New Balance Boston. Now, she’s sponsored by Brooks and running for the Brooks Hansons ODP

She does things a little differently as she lives in Denver, CO, while the rest of the team lives and trains together in Rochester Hills, MI. However, she does meet up with the team 3-4 times a year to do training camps, 2-3 in Michigan and 1 in Florida (during the winter). 

The Adversities on the Road to Success

When she recalled signing with New Balance, she emphasized how sponsorships of any kind are hard to come by and are usually at the terms of the company, which have all the say of many aspects of your life. Despite getting dropped from New Balance later on in her career, she spoke highly of the opportunity to run for them and was thankful for all the support they gave her during that time. Afterall, she was a fresh college graduate, who signed with a major shoe company, and got to be the first person recruited for the Team New Balance Boston, which now has great athletes like Drew Piazza and Elle Purrier , the current American Indoor Mile Record Holder, on the team. 

She moved to Boston to train with her new team, but found that she longed to be back in Colorado. Ahead of the 2017 season, Rogers moved back to Denver, CO and started running a lot better than she was back in Boston. Her decision to move back to Denver, CO was validated by the outstanding performances she stacked up during the 2017 season. She started this season by winning her first US title at the USATF Half-Marathon Championships, followed by a 5th place finish at the USATF 15k Championships, a 2nd place finish at the USATF 10-mile Championships, and a 3rd place finish at the USATF 5km Championships.

Running was at an all-time high in 2017, however, the years that followed descended into a real low point in Roger’s life. She developed an injury in her knees and decided she wanted to get a PRP injection to help the recovery process. However, what was supposed to be just a PRP injection ended up taking an unexpected turn.  

“I didn’t have a lot of guidance of what to do at the time and I was desperate because I knew my contract [with New Balance] was coming to an end. Financially I just picked a small integrative practice in the mountains.”

This decision proved to be fatal as the process was done untraditionally. Instead of using just a PRP injection, dextrose solution was used, which dehydrates the cells in the targeted area and kills them. It’s a controversial procedure that yields a mixed bag of results. On top of this, they went in and scraped up her patella, leaving her in pain and unable to run at all following the procedure. 

Following the procedure, she lost her contract and didn’t run a single step for one and a half years. “It was very scary and on top of that I lost my job. I think I’m better for it and I appreciate every step I can run now and my approach to running completely changed.” 

With the income she had from running gone, she picked up a corporate job selling artificial intelligence packages. “It was really hard. I had to make a lot of cold calls. People didn’t take me seriously. It was a very high stress job and it gave me a good perspective of outside the running world because for 5 years out of college, by only job was running.”

Despite these large hurdles, she slowly made her way back to running after the Hansons decided to take a risk and sign her in 2019. 

Training During the Covid Year

“It was a blessing in the disguise having the pandemic, because I wouldn’t have made the team last year.”

When the Olympics were postponed, Rogers initially took a break from running and dove into other passions. One of the passions she picked up was videography and started a YouTube channel that focuses on vlogging her life as a professional athlete, much like Spencer Brown does with his channel, The Athlete Special

Once Covid started to be better understood, The Hansons were aggressive in setting up opportunities not only for their athletes, but also for a vast number of other athletes from teams like Roots Running Project , and NAZ Elite with their two big races, the Michigan Pro Ekiden and the Michigan Pro Half. 

Despite having these opportunities to race, training wasn’t going as expected for Rogers: 

“Training honestly wasn’t going ideal until about 6 weeks before the [Sound Running] race. All the work was accumulating, but it wasn’t smooth. I remember dealing with straining my calf and having little pains everywhere I was having to deal with on top of finding out my iron was low. I really had to go through those necessary rough patches in order for it to finally click.” 

Running isn’t always linear, but that doesn’t mean that when you’re going through a tough time you won't rise out of it victorious. Rogers’ 2020 season is a great example of how when someone’s season initially isn’t going well and different hurdles are popping up, you can still have a breakthrough later down the line if you stay the course. 

In August, Rogers hit the OTQ mark in the 5,000m at the Music City Distance Carnival. While she was happy to have earned a ticket to Eugene, she didn’t want to have a repeat of 2012, where she had the OTQ mark, finish 2nd, but didn’t get to make the team because she didn’t have the A-Standard. As a result, this drove her to achieve the A-Standard at The Sound Running Track Meet in December, where she snagged it by running 31:12.28 for the 10,000m.

Leading up to the race, Rogers said that, “my training and my build up for those final six weeks was so perfect” and once she was on the track running the race, running every lap on pace felt effortless. She just latched on to the lead pack setting the pace, not looking to win, but instead she had her eyes on the A-Standard. In the final 150m of the race she didn’t have the kick needed to win and ended up 5th with a four second PR and the fast 5,000m time since 2017.

The Olympic Trials of 2012

“When I focus on something it’s dangerous.”

Rogers was a 21-year-old junior at Texas A&M University back in 2012, and after running only three 10,000m races ever, she qualified for her first Olympic Trials. The year prior wasn’t as perfect. Rogers had her scholarship reduced due to many poor performances and she remembers running so poorly that she was getting lapped in some races. However, when 2012 came around, she had a huge jump that initiated what would become a solid career as a professional athlete. 

That year, Rogers says, “I got angry and decided I was going to prove myself. I had this energy that I’ve been trying to channel ever since.” After a victory in the Big 12 Conference Championship 10,000m and a 2nd place finish at the NCAA D1 Regionals, Rogers had it in her mind that she was going to win the championship. She did it and qualified for the Olympic Trials. 

During the 2012 season, she didn’t have the Olympic Trials on her radar because her and her coaches didn’t know her potential to run the 10,000m, so she didn’t go to any of the fast meets to chase after the A-Standard. As a result, when she ran the OTQ mark at the NCAA D1 Championships, she was pleasantly surprised. 

In recalling the Trials that year, she said, “I hadn’t raced against pros before and once I got to the Trials, it was such a blur. I had no idea what I could do there. I shocked myself.” After hearing her recollection of the story, I understand why it was shocking because for me this race was unbelievable. 

The 2012 Olympic Trials 10,000m race began with the pace going out hot and on pace for the runners to hit the A-Standard. At some point early in the race Lis Uhl’s, an Oregon Track Club (OTC) athlete, shoe became untied and she stopped to tie it. Her teammate, Shalane Flanagan noticed this and hopped to the front of the race and began slowing the pace down, so once her teammate finished tying her shoe, she’d be able to make up the ground quickly and still be a contender to make the Olympic Team, which she did. 

Deborah Maier , a senior at the time at UC Berkley, noticed that the pace was beginning to slow and knew that many of the women in the field didn’t have the A-Standard, like herself, and decided to whip around Flanagan to put them back on pace. As she cut out to move into the lead, congestion occurred causing Rogers to hit the track and get trampled by the whole field.

After falling, Rogers quickly shot up and told herself, “I’m going to try and win this race.” The rest of the race turned into Rogers methodically working her way back into the race and into striking distance. As they entered 200m to go, Rogers shot to the front and made her attempt to win the race. With 70m to go, Amy Hastings blows by her to win, but Rogers manages to hold off Flanagan for 2nd. Despite finishing 2nd, she didn’t have the A-Standard, so she didn’t qualify for the Olympic Team.

Being so close to making the Olympic Team has haunted Rogers for the last nine years. Now that the 2020 Olympic Trials are approaching, she has the missing piece from 2012, the A-Standard in the 10,000m, and has the memory of being so close to making the team fresh on her mind. If Rogers is in the top four when the bell lap rings, she’s going to give everything she’s got to make sure she makes the Olympic Team. 

Getting Ready for the Trials

In May, Rogers ran at another Sound Running track meet and decided to enter in the 5,000m. At this point, the schedule of the trials had changed to have the 10,000m after the two rounds of the 5,000m instead of before, so she wasn’t looking to get an A-Standard and attempt a double at the Trials. She’s all in for the 10,000m. However, the purpose of this race was to work on her speed and help her get ready for the back end of the Trials 10,000m where all the magic happens. 

Leading up to this race, she suffered two stress reactions in March after running the Publix Atlanta Half Marathon and finishing 2nd to Molly Seidel (2020 Olympic Trials runner-up). Due to her experience in the sport, she immediately recognized she had stress reactions and took off running completely for two weeks in order to ensure that they didn’t turn into stress fractures. During the two weeks off from running, she cross trained on the bike and swam every day in order to keep her fitness up, but simultaneously give her body time to recover without the impact of running.

As Rogers gets ready for the Trials, she says that in preparation for championship races she likes to spend a lot of time alone. She does this because “people around you don’t know what you’re dealing with or how serious it is and it’s almost a distraction.” Along with isolating herself, she practices race visualization and guided meditation before bed. When you sleep your subconscious comes into play and by practicing guided meditation, you’re able to “train your subconscious to enhance your life.”

Message to Other People Chasing a Dream 

“[As athletes], we’re dealing with a lot. We get pushed, pulled, and there’s a lot of pressure and a lot at stake and we forget to listen to ourselves. That has been my biggest mistake, time and time again throughout my career of not listening to my gut instinct. A lot of the times you’re not going to be the most popular person for listening to your gut or people aren’t going to agree with you and you just have to be a strong enough athlete to listen to your gut and know when to say no. It’s not easy, but when I do listen to my gut instinct, it never fails me.”

When you have something that you’re passionate about and you’re chasing after it fully, it’s hard to slow down or shift gears when an injury pops up. Rogers believes that the biggest flaw in athletes is that they listen to the lies of their mind when they get injured and they begin to fear that they’ll lose all their fitness if they take any time off. Making decisions off of fear will never produce good results. In order to succeed as an athlete, Rogers has learned through many mistakes that you always need to listen to your body and give it the rest it needs when it asks for it. 

The last piece of advice Rogers wanted to share with other athletes is, “We forget the innocence of running. We forget why we do it. Root yourself in your why. You have to go back to enjoying [running], even if that means taking the lead in the race and doing something you’re advised not to do and not being afraid of failure. Failure holds us back more than anything. Perfection is not just through control, but also about letting go.”

Natosha Rogers has the 8th fast time in the women’s 10,000m field. She’s an underdog, but she has the memory of 2012 to fuel her. Aside from running, she is a prolific writer, working on her first novel and has been featured on the No Tangents podcast, where she’s talked about how to get over writer’s block. If you’re not a fan of her yet, just wait until you see what she does at the Trials because she’ll make you a fan.