Rod DeHaven: From SDSU to the Olympics and back

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 He has set SDSU school records, competed in the 2000 Olympics and is set to be inducted into the SDSU Hall of Fame, but to Rod DeHaven these accomplishments matter little in comparison to the relationships he has forged along the way.

“Going to the Olympics was great, but I probably wouldn’t trade it for any of the friendships that developed over the time of my training in Madison [Wis.],” DeHaven said.

DeHaven said he began running in grade school with track and that ultimately led him to first running the Jackrabbit 15 road race when he was 10.

“After that you could say I was pretty hooked into the sport,” DeHaven said. “I ended up running the Jack 15 for the next six years after track season ended in the spring and it was just kind of an exposure to running against better people and probably in those days it was a more competitive race than it is the days.”

As DeHaven’s high school career drew to a close, he found himself with two primary options for where to take his running talents: SDSU and the University of Nebraska.

“Coming to SDSU, the teammates I was going to be around were probably going to be a better fit for me personally,” DeHaven said about choosing SDSU. “… It was more they were interested in having the best team they possibly could have and it was a great experience.”

DeHaven’s analysis of his future teammates proved correct as the SDSU cross country team won four North Central Conference championships and the 1985 Division II National Championship during his time at SDSU.

“Certainly we won a lot of stuff, but largely I think the friendships that we developed over the four and five years that many of us were together has lasted literally a lifetime and I think that’s probably the most valuable thing that I got out of my athletics experience here,” DeHaven said.

Leading the way to the conference championships was DeHaven himself who finished his career with four individual conference championships. In track DeHaven set seven school records and won the Division II championship in the 1500-meter.

“The individual stuff – all that’s nice, but so much is stuff that seems mundane to other people where largely whether its training runs or road trips, the same things that student athletes experience today, that people would say, ‘Why is that the greatest part of the experience?’ Because it’s just things that happen on those trips, great memories that are established,” DeHaven said when asked what his favorite part of the sport was. “It was absolutely fabulous to be a part of that national championship but really the journey of getting there was the more memorable part.”

Following his time at SDSU, DeHaven continued to run and compete while entering the workforce. Soon, DeHaven moved to longer distances and began competing in marathons.

“As distance runners go you keep moving up as you get older and slower,” DeHaven said. “I didn’t qualify for the Olympic Trials in 1992 and I immediately thought the easiest way to get to the Olympic Trials was to run the marathon and ran my first one 20 years ago this week.”

DeHaven thought he had a chance to do well in the 1996 trials in Charlotte, N.C. but struggled in the cold weather, forcing him to wait four more years for another shot at the Olympics.

During that time he was able to work less hours at his job, giving him more time to devote to his training.

“Roughly 110 miles a week to up to 130 leading up to the trials and up to the Olympic Games I had one week that totaled over 145 miles of running,” DeHaven said. “That’s probably pretty average for most national class, world class type marathoners.”

DeHaven said he didn’t have time to do much cross training because trying to fit 12 or 13 runs in every week was hard enough.

The 2000 trials took place in Pittsburgh, PA, this time it was much hotter. DeHaven came back in the race to win it and advance to the Olympics as the United States’ only qualifier.

By the time the marathon rolled around on the final day of the Sydney Olympic Games an illness had caught up with DeHaven, slowing him to 69th place. Nevertheless, he still had a positive experience at the games.

“It’s certainly great to have the opportunity to represent your country in the Olympic Games,” DeHaven said. “Whether it’s the Opening Ceremony and being in the village, you start to realize the magnitude of the event, particularly walking around the village and seeing tremendous athletes from all over the world whether it be Yao Ming or Gary Hall. … It was just kind of surreal to be in that situation.”

The following year DeHaven rebounded, finishing sixth in the Boston Marathon and the Chicago Marathon, but in 2004 injuries and age forced him to take a new career direction.

“The opportunity arose here at SDSU and I become interested in it,” DeHaven said. “Fortunately a lot of people put their trust in me in terms of me being able to head this program was emerging from Division II to Division I.”

While he has guided athletes and teams to many successes at SDSU, DeHaven’s favorite part of the job is watching athletes find success in their lives.

“I think it’s seeing athletes fulfil their goals and dreams athletically and academically,” DeHaven said. “Typically they come as pretty frightened and intimidated freshman and the goal is that they leave confident adults that are ready to tackle the world. … We might remember the marks and distances that athletes achieved but you largely want to see them go on and succeed in life and be happy as much as they possibly can.”

Despite having such an accomplished resume as a runner, DeHaven said he rarely brings up what he has done to student athletes and his recruits citing that being a great athlete does not automatically translate to being a great coach.

Over the course of his career DeHaven said the coaching and level of competition has definitely increased, but also that it is much harder to make it as professional runner than it ever has been.

DeHaven still runs, but no longer calls it competing.

“My days as a competitor are long gone,” DeHaven said. “Twenty to forty [miles a week] is usually what I can handle without just saying that I’m running between injuries.”

On Sunday, Oct. 11 DeHaven will be inducted into the SDSU Hall of Fame as part of the festivities planned for the Grand Opening of the Sanford-Jackrabbit Indoor Practice Facility.

“It’s a great honor,” DeHaven said. “Because it’s corresponding with the reunion weekend, I’m more excited to see the people I went to school with.”

DeHaven most loves the freedom running gives him from the gym to exercise and explore the world.

“You just need a pair of shoes to run in,” DeHaven said. “I can pretty much go explore and I’m not a slave to a car or a bike or anyone else. I can see some really neat things and have had the opportunity to see some really neat things through running throughout my life and I’m very happy that I’m still physically able to do it.”