Michaela Rose Blossoms No Matter The Event

With remarkable range and hurdles credentials too, Rose makes noise wherever she goes. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

SOMETIMES IT SEEMS LIKE Michaela Rose’s biggest problem is that there’s not enough time in the day to focus on all the things she could be good at. The NCAA champion at 800, the LSU soph has run two laps in 1:59.08, making her the second-fastest collegian ever. “My love is definitely the 800,” she says.

This is the same athlete who last summer won the World Junior bronze in the 400H with a PR 56.66. She says, “In my heart I don’t think I’m finished with the 400H.”

Or perhaps you noticed her name in the results of the 1500 at the Bryan Clay Invitational, running 4:11.98. “The 1500, it’s a love of mine,” she says. ”Maybe you’ll see me in the future running the 1500.”

As a home-schooled prep out of Suffolk, Virginia, Rose competed in every one of the standard prep running events, from the 100 to the 3200 to the hurdles. She also high jumped and long jumped but somehow never made it to the throws, save for a fling with the turbo jav when she was a third-grader. When she caught the eye of LSU assistant Houston Franks, it was primarily for her 800 best, a 2:04.38 she ran to win the New Balance Nationals as a soph; at the same meet she ran 55.20 and also 58.86, taking 2nd in the hurdles to one Britton Wilson.

To say Rose grew up in a track family might be a little bit of an understatement. Her father, Michael Rose, and mother, then known as Marcia Rush, both competed at Auburn under Dennis Shaver (now the LSU head). Both parents were All-SEC performers, dad in the 400H, mom in the relays. They homeschooled their 4 kids, and all of them were part of a track team they created, the Faith In Action Ambassadors Club, as part of their church work.

“My older brother ran track and my father was just like, ‘This is going to be something our kids do,’ and of course, me being the second-born, I just see my brother running and I’m like, ‘I can beat him!’ I was just a very aggressive kid and I wanted to beat everybody. I didn’t care how big or old they were. I guess that’s where I got my hunger for wanting to be the best.

“There was no doubt we were going to run track. We’ve been a track family all of our lives.”

Yet Rose insists that despite all of her versatility, the 800 has always been her main thing. “We always knew I was an 800 runner, maybe 400 for speed, sometimes 1500. All of my events that I would try would be developing for the 800. And then he’d say, ‘You’re good at this too,’ and I would be like, ‘My favorite event’s the 8.’ At the start of the season, I would go do long jump, which was very fun, but towards the end of the season we’d start focusing on my main events.”

As an LSU frosh, the emphasis stayed on the 2-lapper. She placed 2nd in the SEC with a PR 2:02.49 but did not get out of the East Regional. At one April home meet, she got a chance to run the hurdles, clocking a PR 57.62 for the win. “Coach Franks said, ‘Are you still interested in that as well?’” So she was able to keep practicing for the hurdles.

At the USATF Junior (U20) Champs, she placed 3rd in the 800 behind Juliette Whittaker and Roisin Willis. They got the two qualifying spots for the World Juniors in Colombia. A half hour later, Rose lined up for the 400H. Her 58.30 for 2nd put her on the team. She went to Cali and produced her 56.66 for bronze.

“Looking from the start of the season,” she says, “that bronze definitely was surprising. Of course, being there and zoning in and knowing my potential in it, obviously you would want gold but it’s a blessing to show up at your first international outing and win a medal.”

This season, Rose says, her event choice was determined by her health. “I had injuries last year with my Achilles and my hams. It was kind of bothering me at the start of cross country and a little bit indoors. So my coaches said, ‘Let’s just focus on the 800 and it will be less pressure on your Achilles. We’re trying to make sure it’s healed up.’”

Of the hurdles, she says, “I have a lot more to learn and a lot of untouched talent, I feel like, before I just decide completely that I’m not doing this.”

Rose the 800 competitor is much stronger this year than last. A return to cross country last fall (she redshirted as a frosh) was one essential ingredient: “I was doing a lot of longer runs.” She placed 22nd in the SEC.

“Last season [in the 800], I would be at the 600 on pace; the last 200 I wouldn’t have it… I wanted to step to the plate freshman year and do it all, but seeing as I wasn’t developed yet, I had to wait patiently. This season I was taking the steps that will certainly help me become stronger, more wise in the way I race, the things I do before I race, the foods I eat, the time management that I have. This entire season, it’s been a great journey. I’m just so grateful.”

Now Rose, who only turned 20 after winning the NCAA crown, is focusing in on the bigger stage at the USATF Championships.

She says, “I know that I’m capable and I know that the ladies who will show up are capable as well. My thoughts are just if I train and I have faith and I step to the line, I can have my chance. And if it’s my day, I will take it.”

One overriding note sounds every time Rose speaks about her running: she’s having a blast. “I mean,” she says, “if you can’t have fun with it, why do it? Track & field is a very demanding sport and it can break a lot of hearts. So I feel like if you don’t have the heart for having fun in this sport, it’s going to dry you out real fast. I’m grateful to God that I’ve been running this for 16 years and it’s just gotten more fun. The better the competition, the more fun it is.

“Nobody likes to lose, of course. When competition gets harder, you know, that’s more risk to lose, but I see it as that’s a risk to get better. If you beat these better people, then you’re better. And it’s just, racing is fun. I feel like God’s given me the blessing of having running as a mental health regulator for me. When I run, I just feel like everything is just at peace and everything makes sense. Just being able to compete and show up to practice with my teammates and having these hard workouts, knowing we’re gonna be dying on the track but coach is gonna be laughing at us [laughs].

“It’s just so motivating to wake up in the morning knowing I have practice today or this meet is somewhere where I’m going to compete against some of the best women in the country. It’s a blessing.”