October 2, 2008 · Updated 2:36 PM
Nick Rogers, a 1994 graduate of Mount Si High School, is likely
doing what no other Mount Si graduate has ever done: heading to the
Olympics as part of the U.S. Olympic team.
The former high-school state champion in the 3,200-meter event
is competing in the 5,000-meter race in Sydney as part of the upcoming
Olympic Games, a major accomplishment for someone whose talents were
discovered almost by accident.
At a competition in Brussels, Belgium, Rogers recently beat the
"A" standard, his ticket to the
Olympics, by qualifying in the 5,000-meter with a time of 13.18.50. His time was
nearly 11 seconds better than the mark needed to qualify and was the 14th
all-time best among U.S. runners.
Though Rogers had previously qualified for the team by virtue of
his third-place finish at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Sacramento, Calif., his
time of 13:29.48 was just off the "A"
standard of 13:29.00. He had until Sept. 11 to meet the qualifying
standard, with the Sydney games set to begin Sept. 15.
The road to the Olympics has taken Rogers from the foothills of
the Cascades at Mount Si to Eugene, Ore. His interest in running began early
in high school, but it took an observant coach and family friends to
motivate the young athlete to try cross country.
"I saw these two guys, (Rogers) and his buddy, Mike Davis,
running as I was riding my bike to school one day," said Mount Si cross
country coach Art Galloway. "I started
talking to them, and they said they liked to run, so I asked them if they wanted
to run in cross country. They both turned out the following year."
That happened during Rogers's sophomore year. He joined the
team his junior year and qualified near the middle of the pack for state
competition. Galloway saw talent in Rogers's running as the junior placed the
highest of any Mount Si runner that year.
"He was running in a race, and afterwards I asked him when he
starts hurting in a race. He said, `I don't.' So I asked why he slowed down. He
said, `I just get a little tired,'" Galloway said.
One memory Galloway has of Rogers was at the Cle Elum
invitational. "He was leading the race, just cruising along, thinking he had
won. And he doesn't have a kick, and this guy came out of the woods and
"Ever since he charges hard and has probably never let a guy beat
him like that again."
But running also helped focus a kid who, like many teen-agers,
needed a goal. "Here was a kid who had trouble focusing in school until he
finally found a goal, and then everything fell into place and he got serious
about school," Galloway said.
Rogers transitioned easily from running cross country in the fall
to running track in the spring. The change allowed another Mount
Si coach, Kristine Kjenner, a chance to have an impact on the young
"I never ever found his limit to how much work he could handle. He
would run the mile, then the 800, then the 2-mile, then a leg on the mile relay,
all for fun," said Kjenner. "I cracked
up in reading one of the articles where he recognized he had no kick.
That was his problem in high school so he would have to push hard right
from the start.
"I think one of the real, telling things about Nick is his threshold
for pain and his work. The week before the league meet, he had crashed on
his mountain bike. He was running one-armed after the crash, so we
wanted to hold him out of the mile. He didn't want to be held out and qualified
in both events, and he won the 2-mile."
Rogers hasn't forgotten his running roots at Mount Si. Last fall
he spent two days with the Mount Si cross country team.
"Running got him connected to school, I think, and I am sure
his grades went up. But running is his first love; he is a natural at it," Kjenner said.
His initial inspiration for running came, in part, from his coaches.
"It was good for me to have them around. They didn't overtrain me
or anything," Rogers said.
After graduating from Mount Si, Rogers went to Eastern
Washington University on a running scholarship in both track and cross country.
He stayed there for two years.
"I knew I wanted to be good, and I knew I could be good, but there
were a lot of pieces of the puzzle missing," Rogers said. Fortunately a friend,
Pat Tyson, a former University of Oregon runner and a coach at Mead
High School, took an interest in Rogers and pointed Rogers toward his alma
mater in Eugene. Coaching the Ducks was a legend in the running world,
Bill Dellinger, who allowed anyone interested to walk-on the team. So
"Bill Dellinger has that philosophy to see the effort, and a good
runner puts in the effort over a period of years, not just a few months or one
season," Rogers said.
But his grades suffered during his time at Oregon, forcing him to quit
and enter Lane Community College. And despite the bumpy road, Rogers
never lost his desire to be a world-class runner. He often worked two jobs,
went to school and continued running.
By his side was Dellinger, who, after retirement, continued to
coach Rogers. But the night prior to his race in Belgium, Dellinger suffered a
stroke while speaking at a seminar in New York. Rogers spent a week with
his coach and showed him videotapes of his workouts to raise Dellinger's
"The night before the race, my good friend called me and said Bill
had the stroke," Rogers said, adding, "Running, to me, is a run for Bill, in
a sense. He has done so much for me. My success is due to Bill Dellinger."
At the onset of this year, friends and family thought Rogers would
vie to compete in Sydney in the 5,000-meter event. He was forced to
re-evaluate those plans midway through the season.
"It's funny. Coming into this whole year, originally my focus was
the 5,000 meters," Rogers said of his focus this year. His parents had
enough faith in him that they bought plane and event tickets for the Olympic
Games nearly a year ago.
"Then halfway through the year, I ran a really good 10,000-meter,"
he continued. But disappointment soon followed. In a 10,000-meter event,
just a week before the U.S. Olympic Trials finals, Rogers was forced to quit
a race with six laps remaining after falling out of contention. The race
made Rogers rethink his recent change of direction. At the Olympic Trials, he
ran well enough in the 5,000-meter event to make the team, but was unable
to move up into the elite tier of runners.
"I couldn't celebrate at the time after getting third and missing the
`A' standard time by .48 (seconds)" Rogers said. He had yet to finish
under the "A" standard time of 13:29.00.
He would have to wait until Belgium to beat that mark, which
solidified his spot on the Olympic team. It is the first time a Mount Si
graduate has represented his or her country in the Games.
In Sydney, Rogers will face some tough competition, namely
Salah Hissou of Morocco, who has a best time of 13:00.06, and several
Kenyan runners have times under 13 minutes.
Rogers puts it in perspective, saying, "A gold medal would be great,
but my main goal is to make the final. Prelims are difficult, but if I can make
it into the race where the medals are won, I have just as good a chance
Because of his success, Rogers is among a small number of