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Making 100 cold calls a day for an artificial intelligence company is harder than training for the Olympic Trials. At least that’s what Natosha Rogers discovered during her hiatus from pro running in 2018.
“I wasn’t good at it. It was really brutal, but a very good experience—a taste of the real world outside of running,” Rogers, 30, said during an interview on Tuesday.
How’d an Olympic hopeful end up in tech sales? Rogers, who’s competing in the 10,000 meters on Saturday at the Olympic Trials, had a botched knee procedure in 2018 that left it painful to even walk. And she had to pay the bills. Her personal records, like 31:12.28, didn’t count for much in the corporate world, so she took what she could get.
“I lost sponsorship. I lost my Olympic dream there for a while,” she said.
Rogers also went to Thailand on a solo trip to heal, physically and emotionally—and to let go of running for good. It was there, around a bonfire on the beach with a group of people she didn’t know, that she tried to evaluate her decisions and identify what she was experiencing, which was depression.
“For a whole year, I wasn’t willing to admit that I was depressed. For some reason, with a bunch of strangers, people from all around the world, I admitted it,” Rogers said. “They said, ‘there’s so much more to life.’ And just hearing that from strangers flipped a switch in my head, like I can choose how I feel and how I’m going to move forward.”
The choice to leave running behind was complicated. Her athletic talent has defined her in many ways, for many years. She competed for Texas A&M in track and cross country and in 2012 she won the NCAA 10,000-meter title. Rogers followed that up two weeks later by finishing second in the event at the Trials, even overcoming a bad fall early in the race. Considering the top three runners in each event typically make the Olympic team, it appeared Rogers had made it when she crossed the finish line. But she hadn’t, because she didn’t have the then-qualifying time of 31:45.
Rogers, who now lives in Denver, has had other high points on the track and road, though. In 2017 she won the U.S. half marathon championship in 70:45, then placed second in the 10 miles, and third in the 5K.
But in 2018, in the midst of making all of those sales calls, she went for a “very slow jog.” Rogers still felt pain, but she could do it. And that was enough. It gave her hope.
“Hope is the strongest, most powerful thing in the world. And I just decided to focus my thoughts on that hope and that positivity,” she said. “I wrote down on my paper every day: the Olympics. I would journal it and manifest it.”
Her longtime agent, Ray Flynn, didn’t give up on her, either. After about four months at her new job, he encouraged her to talk with Kevin and Keith Hanson, coaches of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, based in Michigan, and see if she found potential for a comeback there. After meeting with them, she believed she had met her match, not just with the coaches but the team, too.
“Kevin and Keith, they understand me in the way that I really need. I’m not a typical athlete—I’ve always done things Natosha’s way,” she says. “And I’ve been really weird and odd and I don’t fit in the box and they accept me for who I am.”
Rogers continues to live in Colorado and meets the team in Florida for winter training camp. Since joining the group, she’s posted some important personal records: 15:04.95 for 5,000 meters in May and 31:12.26 for 10,000 meters in December.
When she lines up for the race on Saturday, she is one of a dozen competitors who have that Olympic qualifying standard already (31:25 or faster) and she has the eighth-fastest time. Three women ahead of her have already made the 2021 Olympic team in the 5,000 meters, so it’s possible that they could scratch the event or forgo their spot in Tokyo should they place in the top three.
“You can sit there and visualize all day long, but then it’ll go the complete opposite of that. You’ll end up face down on the track like I did in 2012,” she says. “It gets really catty out there. People that you think would never shove you end up shoving you. I’m a racer, so no matter what happens, I’m not too afraid about all that.”
With so many variables at play, Rogers is focused only on one thing: placing in the top three. Success? It’s all or nothing. If Rogers leaves the track without a way to the Games, she will be unsatisfied, she said.
“If you want to make the team bad enough, that’s how it should feel,” Rogers said. “I will take myself to those dark places. And if I don’t, then I’ve had to pick myself up before and start over. I’m confident that I’ll be OK.”
Editor’s Note: This story is part of our 2021 U.S.A. Track & Field Olympic Trials coverage. You can find all of our stories here.