When Jason Rouser was barely a teenager he dreamed big. The track star from Oklahoma realized his potential at a young age and had his eyes set on the biggest stage in the sport: the Olympics. Nearly 30 years later he is sharing his story with youngsters and mentoring them in hopes that one day they follow in his footsteps.
"The dream started when I was in 9th grade, the summer of '84, and I watched a guy named Carl Lewis win four gold medals. (I thought) that's something I want to do, represent the USA, and bring home gold."
As a high school freshman his times were just good but not great--11.12 in the 100, 23.06 in the 200--but by the time he was a senior he was putting up All-American type marks: 10.42, 20.77, and 47.53 in the quarter. It was that success that led him to a scholarship at the University of Oklahoma. During his time with the Sooners he was a five-time All-American, 11 times Big 8 Conference Champion, and the NCAA runner-up in the 400 meters in 1991. He tried for a spot on the '92 Olympic team in the 200 and 400, but came up short. He says it was tough moment, but one that taught him some valuable lessons.
"It was the four longest years of my life from 92-96. I was ranked number four in the world going into the Olympic Trials and kind of lost focus as far as training and being on top of my game. It was a nice lesson for me in terms of knowing that things aren't going to come to me easily and that I have to work for it."
Not making the 1992 games only made Rouser stronger. He remained focused on the goal and turned his attention to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He remembers talking with guys like Jon Drummond and Dennis Mitchell about the future and bringing home the gold while wearing the red, white, and blue.
"That was huge going back to the '96 games. We were all training partners in Los Angeles from '93-'95 and we'd talk about how the Games are going to be in Atlanta and that was something we wanted to be a part of, not just participate in, but bring home the gold. That was our job to go out, train hard, and prepare for the games that we're going to be in our home country."
Mission accomplished. Rouser ran a personal best 44.77 for his leg of the 4x400 meter relay as the USA brought home the gold medal in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Fifteen years later Rouser is in his third year as the track and field coach for Zephyrhills High School.
"I became a part of the coaching staff because of football. I was working with the skill players and the coach liked what he saw. The first thing he said was I see you are from Oklahoma what do you know about football and I told him I knew a good deal. Later that fall they said we're going to keep you on staff as the head coach of our girl's track and field team. I figured it'd be a challenge but I like it."
For Rouser, coaching is a way of giving back to a sport that has given so much to him.
"My life experiences with athletics and track and field is huge. A lot of things I am trying to teach the kids are because I didn't have a Jason Rouser come into my life in middle school or high school. I didn't get to meet Carl Lewis till I was in my early 20's. The experience I had I wanted to give it back. That's why I'm coaching at the high school level."
Being an Olympic athlete Rouser commands the respect some coaches might not. He says the kids look up to him, realize where he's been and it's somewhere they want to go.
"They know I'm trying to make that path easier for them. They give me respect when it comes to training and my expectations for how I want them to perform. They trust me a great deal and tell other as well, if he gives you advice to listen to him because he's done it."
Coach Rouser and his Zephyrhills squad do have their lighter moments, like the coach-versus-student showdown. He says getting out there with the team is what it's all about and he wouldn't have them do any workout he hasn't done himself.
"They try to challenge me in a race and I beat them and they are shocked a guy my age, who ran back in the 1900's, (still) runs as fast as I do. I go out there and run with them to mix it up and have fun with them. I want them to know the skills I have they can acquire if they put a plan together and get at it."
At the Wiregrass Relays, Rouser showed off his skills to several other teams and spectators. The former Olympian decided to run the anchor leg of the coach's 4x100 and put on a show. He says he wasn't even going full force, but the kids take notice and it motivates them to work harder.
"The 4x1 I ran at Wiregrass I was going about 60-70 percent. I sacrificed my body and my calves are feeling it today, but the kids buy into it and they take their training to a whole new level. Yesterday there was a difference in people's step and that was the whole idea."
How does he think he would fare against some of today's top high school sprinters?
"When I competed I was the tallest sprinter at 6'6. When Michael Johnson would run I was usually the guy pushing him on the track and getting second or third. I don't know where I'd stack up against these young guys though, I'd be in the mix, but I know I definitely wouldn't get left behind."
Rouser admits he has seen the sport grow tremendously since his high school days. He sees a new focus toward speed workouts and a new emphasis on starting track and field on a grass roots level. The young start has him excited for the new generation of world champions and Olympians. In 2004, Rouser started GOALWorks training program to help young athletes reach their peak performance.
"I came up with the idea in 2004, I watch games and athletes differently now. I study their form and what not. I enjoy analyzing athletes and seeing what they can do to get better. Our goal is to have year round training program. I want the athletes to stay healthy and to drive them to get better at whatever they are doing whether its football, soccer, or track."
His coaching philosophy is simple, aiming to be the best. He breaks it down into execution and constantly working on your craft. At Zephyrhills, they have bought in, and have adopted a team motto, "let's get it."
"That's the motto at practice. It's one of those things I screamed while we were doing 150 interval repeats and I screamed out let's get it, and it rode with us the entire track season. It's just something where if I want them to get out in the front, let's get to the time we want to hit, if you're not winning let's get to a personal best, let's get it."
Want More on Coach Rouser?
- Coach 4x100 Photos from Wiregrass Relays
- Jason Rouser Bio on GOALWorks web site
- "Olympic Gold Shines Bright with Rouser" - Lutz News