The backbone to our sport is talented, passionate people. Ben Rosario is all that. He shares his personal journey with AthleteBiz.
Ben is the coach of the Hoka One One Northern Arizona Elite, a doting husband, and a caring father. Before turning to coaching, Ben was an elite runner with amazing range, notching personal bests of 4:03 in the mile and 2:18 in the marathon, and was the second place finisher at the 2005 USA Marathon Championships. He shares his journey and how he made it through along the way. Most recently, he co-authored a high school cross country book called Tradition Class Pride Building a Cross Country Dynasty.
When the Godfather of AthleteBiz, Jack Wickens, asked me to write a guest blog post for his site it was most certainly an offer I could not refuse. Apropos mafia reference as I am currently sitting on a plane headed to Vegas as I type. Apropos that I’m headed to Vegas as this post is really all about gambling … on yourself. Here goes:
During a weather delay at last month’s Open Championship golf tournament, studio analyst Paul Azinger made a comment that really grabbed my attention.
When Jack asked if I’d write something for AthleteBiz he threw out a few topics: the Festival of Miles track meet I help direct in Saint Louis, the HOKA NAZ Elite team I coach in Flagstaff or “any of the zillion experiences you’ve had in the sport.” But as I thought about Zinger’s quote (I use Zinger as if we’re on a nickname basis) I decided to write not so much about a particular event or venture, but about how I got there in the first place. About those little forks in the road that we all face in life. And as I really dissected each of my most important “forks” I realized that in each situation I had a major kick in the butt from the people who knew me best to help me down that road less traveled. Hopefully these stories below will bring back memories of your own forks in the road and just maybe they’ll give you some inspiration for the forks still to come.
THANKS MOM AND DAD
“Where’d you go to high school” might just be the most commonly asked question in Saint Louis, Missouri. Saint Louis, where I grew up, still has a bunch of private high schools in addition to all the public schools. Each school has a strangely cult-like following among its alums. Your answer to that question immediately pegs you as a “type” of Saint Louisan. I know. It’s weird. But at least it gives you a little background as to my first fork in the road. I grew up in South Saint Louis in a lower middle class neighborhood and went to a small Catholic grade school. I had a close group of friends that I hung out with, played sports with and got in a whole lot of trouble with. I loved it.
But in eighth grade I had to make a decision. The big one. Where do I go to high school? I feel like that last sentence should be read out loud by the voice in Kevin Arnold’s head in The Wonder Years (look up the show if you’ve never seen it!). Anyway, it really was a big deal. I wanted to stay with my friends and go to our local high school. My parents disagreed. They wanted me to go to prestigious Saint Louis University High School [SLUH]. I knew it was a good school of course. I also knew it was tough to get in. I also knew academics and sports would be hard there. I also knew there were no girls!
Now the other side of it was this: my parents had four kids at the time and not a whole heck of a lot of money to spare. And going to SLUH was going to be expensive. I think that put a little extra pressure on me for sure. So there was the fork. Take the easier way out and stick with my buddies, with what was familiar or take a big chance. Go to one of the most challenging schools in the Midwest. Risk failure. Risk my parents’ hard-earned money. I’m embarrassed to say it but I was leaning toward the easy route. Thankfully my mom and dad wouldn’t budge. And of course, they were right. From day one at SLUH I was surrounded by intelligent, driven, loyal people who really cared about me. I met great friends, teachers and life-long mentors. I also fell head over heels in love with running. I can say with 100% certainty that had I not gone to SLUH I would not be where I am today. Thanks mom and dad.
My next fork is one that is probably very familiar for many of the athletes reading this post. After college I desperately wanted to continue my running career. I had spent the previous five years eating, sleeping and breathing running. I spent a total amount of zero time looking for a “real job” during either of my two senior years. That includes my last semester, which consisted of two classes: contemporary rhetoric and theory of coaching softball. I had one goal—run for the Hansons Team in Michigan. My senior seminar class the previous fall had been all about how to apply for jobs. One of the projects was to put together a cover letter and resume’ and then “interview” for your dream job in front of the class. The professor doing the interview seemed very confused that running could be a job.
Anyway, as a quick example that dreams can come true, I went on a visit to Rochester Hills, Michigan and Keith and Kevin Hanson actually offered me a spot on the team. This was real. This was happening. Or was it? It’s funny how the mind works some times. This thing that I had dreamt about for years was now a reality and it scared the shit out of me. What if I’m not good enough? What if I can’t run with those guys? What if I fail? I can vividly remember going on a 6-mile run around Forest Park in Saint Louis with my brother Jon Carl and talking about the decision. Now Jon Carl (aka JCR, aka The Moose) is not always the most serious of fellows. Our conversations typically stick to sports, sports or sports. But on that day, for whatever reason, he was the one person I shared my fears with. And I can still recall his answer, verbatim.
He said, “It’s not even a question. You’re doing it because if you don’t you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”
And like my parents nine years earlier, he was right. The two years I spent in Michigan remain two of the best years of my life. I ran in the Olympic Trials. I competed in races all over the country. I trained with some of the toughest SOB’s I’ve ever met and I was introduced to the run specialty industry, an experience that would shape the next six years of my life. Thanks bro.
Not that there haven’t been others but the final fork I’ll share happened much more recently. My wife Jen and I had launched Northern Arizona Elite in January of 2014 and invested all of our time, money and energy into the group. The goal, of course, was to garner a corporate sponsorship(s) that would allow us to be a true professional group. One where I would be paid as the coach, the athletes would be paid, etc. It was an enormous risk. But that wasn’t the fork. That original decision, surprisingly, was pretty easy. I had a really good feeling we would make it work. That is, until it wasn’t working. Performance-wise we were killing it. In just six months we had produced a 1:01 half marathon and a 2:12 marathon on the men’s side and two National titles on the women’s side. Our website was getting a ton of traffic, our social media numbers were good and we were receiving plenty of attention in the running world.
But we hadn’t yet found a sponsor. Watching your life savings not so slowly go away is less than fun. I was getting pretty stressed. Then I got a phone call. It was from a friend of mine in the running industry asking me about my interest in a job. A good job. A job that would pay me a lot of money and take me back to my hometown. Yikes. Was this fate? Was this some sort of sign? On one hand I didn’t want to give up on what we had worked so hard to build, but on the other I had to be practical. Luckily for me I now had a partner for any of these big decisions.
When I told Jen about the call she was hesitant to say too much. I could tell she was trying to read me first and what I thought. She knows I can be a bit compulsive at times (for example I am quite sure she’ll have an allowance for me in Vegas these next couple of days). But she also believes in me. She believes in us. After a couple of days of general conversation about this potential position she cut the BS and gave it to me straight.
“This isn’t what you really want to do,” she said. “I’d rather have us see this through all the way to the end, even if it doesn’t work, than settle for something just because it’s easier.”
Wow. Once again, like my parents and like my brother, someone had cared about me enough to challenge me. Now, I try not to use the word lucky. I really do believe that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I can go back to almost all the good things that have happened to me, and link them back to my own hard work. But the fact that my parents are my parents, that my brother is my brother and that I met my wife Jen are all pretty much pure dumb luck. And we all need a little luck sometimes!