Track and field alumnus in position to qualify for Summer Olympics for Samoa

Chippewa fans have an extra reason to pay attention to this summer’s Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.

Central Michigan track and field alumnus Alex Rose, who graduated in 2014, is in position to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics Aug. 5-21.

Rose is the 23rd ranked discus thrower in the world according to the International Association of Athletics Federations’ World List. To qualify for the summer games, Rose needs to remain ranked in the top 32.

While he was born and raised in the United States, Rose will not be competing for the red, white and blue, but rather for his father’s home country of Samoa — a small island to the East of Australia. Rose is a dual citizen of both the United States and Samoa.

“I’ve always been someone who roots for the underdog,” Rose said. “I love competing for a smaller country, a developing nation. It’s just a different feeling.”

Rose hopes to accomplish something no Samoan athlete has before.

“I’d love to get to the point where I’m at the Olympics and in the finals, and maybe it’s just for 30 seconds on TV they say ‘And for the first time ever, a Samoan athlete qualified for the Olympic final,’” he said. “I don’t know if a whole lot of people will understand how big of a deal that is, but to me, it’s everything.”

Rose’s father, Ross, emigrated from Samoa to the United States in 1973 when he was 19 years old. The Rose family now lives in West Branch, Michigan.

Getting started in high school

Track and field was not part of Alex Rose’s life until he was 16 years old, a junior at Ogemaw Heights High School. His primary sports were football and basketball.

Rose’s chemistry teacher, who was also the track and field coach, proposed the idea of joining the team.

“He saw I had long arms, so one day he just set a disc on the table in front of me, and long story short, I ended up winning the state championship in high school,” Rose said. “I actually got into track and field because I wanted to be a jumper, but once I started throwing, I realized that’s where I had the most upside.”

Rose won the state championship in the shot put and was the runner up in the discus in 2009, his senior season. He holds the school record in the shot put at Ogemaw Heights.

Even though Rose was receiving scholarship offers for football — including from Central Michigan — he enjoyed throwing more.

“I started (throwing) my junior year, so it was refreshing in a way. Football and basketball were always pretty stressful for me,” Rose said. “Once I started competing in track and field, I realized this sport is for me.”

Rose decided to attend CMU — an hour and a half away from his hometown — in the fall of 2009, even though he declined the football scholarship. He chose to compete for track and field as a preferred walk-on.

“(CMU) just seemed like a really cool place where I could make the jump into college life," he said. "To be honest, it really wasn’t anything to do with the athletic program or the coaches or athletes here, I just sort of went with my gut.”

Success at CMU

Despite not being recruited, Rose immediately had success in his freshman season in Mount Pleasant.

“It was a little intimidating starting at the bottom again, realizing I’m not the biggest or strongest. In fact I was one of the smallest and weakest,” Rose said. “I saw that as a challenge, I worked hard every day to try and step it up and be (throwing) with the older guys.”

In the 2010 outdoor season, he qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championship in the discus, finishing third among freshmen and 13th overall with his throw of 177’ 2”. He said Throwing Coach John Ridgway, who now an assistant coach at Harvard, was the biggest influencer for his success.

Also in 2010, Rose took second place (188’ 8”) in discus at the USA Junior Outdoor Track and Field Championship, which qualified him to compete at the Indoor Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Junior Championships in New Brunswick, Canada.

It was at this point Rose’s father convinced him to compete at the international level for Samoa.

“The whole time throughout the whole process, my dad was like ‘You know, you could compete for Samoa,’” Rose said. “I was like, ‘Dad how can I do that? I’ve never been to Samoa. It’s a huge flight and a very expensive plane ticket.’”

Because Ross was born and raised in Samoa, Alex has dual citizenship automatically.

Rose had great success the next two years, earning All-American Honors and finishing in fifth place in the NCAA Championships in 2011 and was the MAC Champion in discus in 2012.

He redshirted in 2013, allowing him to compete in events unattached and pursue international competition.

“(Competing unattached) was kind of my first case of training by myself,” Rose said. “When I was at those meets, I realized that I was pretty good at being self aware and being able to coach myself. That’s when I knew that I could train by myself if I had to, kind of like the current situation I am in now.”

In 2013, Rose — still a student at CMU — competed in the World Championships and the World University Games. While the competition lacks name recognition, it is the second largest sporting event in the world.

It was at this point Rose said he realized he had the potential to compete make it to the Olympics.

“Competing in front of all the thousands and thousands of people there, I got all of this adrenaline, I had my season’s best throw and I knew, I just want to be the best I can be,” Rose said. “I want to be one of the guys that people look up to and model technically and try to throw like. That’s kind of when I knew I had to train for the Olympics.”

His plans hit a speed bump in 2014, his senior season, when he tore his pectoral muscle working at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. He had to have surgery if he wanted to throw again and was forced to miss the rest of the season.

“I couldn’t compete in my last MAC Championship or make a run for the national championship. It really was life changing,” Rose said. “I had to ask myself a bunch of serious questions and figure out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Post graduation

After graduation, Rose took a break from throwing and decided to try football again.

“I always wanted to see how far I could make it in football,” Rose said. “Ever since I was a freshman, I thought about being able to do football and track at the same time, but having immediate success as a freshman in track made me push those thoughts aside. After I graduated, I had a perfect opportunity.”

He started working with Bryant Wilson, a CMU track and field assistant coach, to get in shape for Canadian Football League combines. Due to lack of film tape, no teams took a chance on Rose.

To fund his training, Rose worked as a bouncer at Blackstone Bar in Mount Pleasant and pushed carts at Sam’s Club.

Currently, Rose works as the throws coach at Aurora University in Illinois while studying to get his MBA, all while training for the upcoming Olympics.

“I always feel like I’m one step behind,” Rose said. “I’m still in the learning stages of juggling everything, so I feel like I’ll be a little bit more prepared for when I actually have children. I definitely have to stay in the moment. If I have an exam coming up in school, I need to stop thinking about discus for a second and focus.”

Training independently

Training for the Olympics is much different than training in college, Rose said.

His coach, Dane Miller, owns a strength gym called Garage Strength in Pennsylvania and Earth-Fed Muscle, a supplement company.

They came together after Rose found the gym on social media.

“I don’t really trust many coaches outside of myself and a couple other guys, so I wanted to make sure that if we were going to invest in him as an athlete, that he had a good training background,” Miller said.

Miller began coaching Rose, and continues to write all of his workout and training programs, despite being states away from each other. Miller said they understand each other well.

“He knows I’m putting the time in, and he’s going to give it back to me,” Miller said. “I’ve only ever met him once, but he and I can talk for an hour as though I’ve known him for 20 years. He knows what I expect from and he expects a lot from himself, so he holds himself accountable. That’s why I think he will go to the Olympics.”

Miller said it doesn’t matter to him that Rose is competing for Samoa instead of the United States.

“I care about helping people accomplish their dreams, that’s what I care about,” Miller said. “I don’t care about political boundaries or countries or shit like that. I care about helping people feel good and helping people accomplish things that no one would ever have imagined they could accomplish.”

Connecting to Samoa

By competing with Samoa, Rose hopes to establish a much closer relationship with his father’s home country — a place he has only been to twice when he visited last summer — and help in the development of the small nation.

“I told him about how most of the kids there don’t have the opportunity that we have here in the states,” Ross said. “Samoa is not a rich country. Most of my family (from Samoa), lives off the land.”

Rose believes competing for Samoa has helped him grow not just as an athlete, but also as a person.

“I really do feel a strong connection to the nation,” Rose said. “Just being over there and learning their way of life, It just makes you realize the things you take for granted. Being connected to that culture has changed me. I feel like I’m a better person now and I’m more understanding. I see things everywhere that make me realize why my dad acts the way he does.”

Rose had an opportunity last summer to meet members of his dad’s side of the family when he visited Samoa.

“I met my Aunt for the first time in my life and all my cousins there (in Samoa),” Rose said. “These are people that my dad hasn’t seen in 35 to 40 years. It really does mean a lot to him that I can go experience these things and see where he grew up and do the things he can’t really do today, just because it’s so expensive to fly back and see everyone.”

Making it to the Olympics

All Rose has to do is stay in the top 32 discus throwers to qualify for the Olympics this summer.

“I am very, very happy and we are so proud of him,” Ross said. “He does his best all the time. He works hard and I believe there are many good things coming for him in the future.”

Both Ross and Miller are confident he will make it.

“I definitely think he can make it,” Miller said. “He’s already (beat his personal record) this year with me and I think he’s going to keep rolling.”

To keep up with Rose’s quest to make it to the Olympics, he can be found on Facebook and Instagram @ithr0wthings. Rose said every like or follow will get him closer to a big name sponsorship.