What does recent Centre College graduate Annie Rodenfels do for an encore after winning both the 3,000-meter steeplechase and the 5,000-meter run at the Division III National Championship Saturday?
Easy. She makes her professional debut in the Music City Distance Carnival Saturday night in Nashville hoping to finish in 9 minutes, 50 seconds and qualify for the upcoming Olympic Trials.
“If I could qualify, it would open a lot of doors for sponsorship for me,” said Rodenfels, who became the first Division III woman to break 10 minutes in the steeplechase earlier this spring with a 9:58.8.
She plans to compete at the U.S. Track & Field Championships in July and has persuaded Centre College coach Lisa Owens to continue to train her during the summer in hopes she can obtain “real sponsorship” to help offset expenses on the pro circuit.
She became only the second Division III athlete to win consecutive steeplechase national championship titles and only the second Centre athlete to win back-to-back national titles. Just don’t try to convince her she’s an elite athlete.
“It’s hard for me to think of myself in those terms. I just feel like I am a random Division III runner that no one knows,” she said.
However, she did admit that after her national championships Saturday in Geneva, Ohio, she had random coaches congratulate her and girls on other Division III cross country and track teams reached out on social media to say she inspired them.
“Myself, I like being the underdog. I am going into the pro leagues and know I have to prove myself all over,” Rodenfels, who played basketball and soccer until first trying track as as a high school junior, said. “I am running as fast as Division I girls but no one knows. I just need someone (sponsor-wise) to believe in me as much as I believe in me.”
Centre coach Lisa Owens has believed in Rodenfels from the first time Annie’s sister, who was a Centre student at the time, told the coach about her. The two have had a special relationship during Rodenfels’ four years at Centre.
“Being stubborn like I am almost always works to my advantage except when it comes to coach Owens on training and we both believe in our sides of the argument. She can be as stubborn as me, except she is usually right,” Rodenfels, who turns 23 this summer, said. “I am going to miss Centre College. I am old enough that I am ready to live an adult life but I will miss being on a team especially and having training partners.
“I am really going to miss coach Owens. She is one of the top three as far as impactful people in my life. I have offered to let her follow and train me as pro and just leave Centre. Of course, I have no money to pay her but I made the offer. Honestly, I am a little nervous to start with a new coach. I have worked so well with her (Owens). It’s really sad to have to leave her.”
Rodenfels knows she can go faster in the steeplechase and notes how normally she ran out front by herself in most meets except for national competitions — and that’s when she ran her best times due to the increased competition.
“I love having people drag me along and push me to go faster,” she said. “I think I am currently peaking right now, too. Typically women’s bodies peak around age 25 or so. I am still on my way to my optimal racing times. Most say it takes about seven years to develop as a distance runner. I am on year four of actual training. It’s still easy for me to do workouts. That’s why I don’t feel like I am at my optimal level yet.
“I hope going into races this summer against pro athletes that I will be able to get better and rise up the ranks like I did in college. I want to see how far this will take me but I know I can and will go faster.”
Obtaining sponsorship deals will be crucial to future success and will be directly related to her success on the track. She was not allowed to talk about financial deals until her season ended. She knows some sponsorship deals involve travel expenses and getting training and competition gear. The next level is a club sponsorship where she gets paid to run.
“That’s my goal because that makes competing the most financially feasible,” Rodenfels said. “It’s harder to get sponsorship money directly from brand companies. That goes to Olympians. It’s a lot harder coming from Division III to get sponsors than if I had been in Division I. But it is not impossible.”
Rodenfels will return to Centre College for the Maximum Velocity Track & Field Academy June 5-8 to work again but this year there’s an added incentive. She wants to talk with Rose Monday, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic distance coach and current chair of USA Track & Field Development, about sponsorship ideas.
“I have always enjoyed everything about the camp and listening to the Olympians (who are the camp clinicians) that come is fascinating,” Rodenfels said. “Rose Monday is really high up in USA Track & Field and I want to see if she has any sponsorship contact suggestions or ideas because there’s not a better person to ask for help.
“I have talked to Rose before at camp about people she knows or has trained and it’s amazing. I always wrote down pretty much everything Rose said for two years just like the campers did and probably will again this year because she’s that good and knows what she’s talking about. It’s also going to be good to have a chance to work with the kids at the camp again, too, because they want to learn just like I always have and always will.”
by Larry Vaught
May 29, 2019