Striving for the Gold, Again

By Ben Schooley

 

A passion for any activity is something that is inexplicable and powerful. It can take us in varied directions, and teach us much about ourselves. For Rose Monday and Maggie Vessey, the passion for running is something neither of them could ever shake, and is poised to take them all the way to the 2012 Summer Olympic Games this summer.

 

From as early as Rose Monday can remember, she wanted to be an Olympian. The daughter of an electrician and a stay at home mom, Monday grew up in California and was attracted to running very early on. “I have always wanted to be an Olympian. Ever since the ‘68 Olympics, I saw Bob Beamon break the world record and I wanted to do that when I grew up. I was fast and could beat all the boys, so I knew I had ability. Initially, I wanted to be a sprinter. I walked on the college team at Cal State Northridge, and my coach moved me over to run the 800m my sophomore year. And I’ve been doing it ever since.”

 

Monday was on scholarship for her sophomore year and onward, and was a member of the #1 Track and Field team in the United States at Cal State Northridge, where 80 percent of her team made the 1980 Olympic Squad, but as luck would have it, President Carter announced the boycott of the ’80 Olympics and so Monday missed the chance to compete. Although Rose did not qualify
for the 1980 Olympic Trials, she was a two-time All-American in the 4x400m and 4 x 800m relays helping her team win two national championships.

 

After graduation with a Political Science degree, Monday continued running and qualified for the ’84, ’88, ’92, and ’96 Olympic Trials. With only the top three advancing from the Trials to join the actual Olympic team, Monday failed to make the team.

 

Monday married her husband, John, in 1980 after they were set up on a blind date, and after a long wait, the Mondays had Mary (18) and Jack (16) in the ‘90s. Rose had dabbled in coaching during the early ‘90s, but with kids on the way, she knew that the time constraints were going to be difficult. “I coached an all girl’s school in Southern California for a short while. It was incredibly rewarding, and I had enjoyed it. However, we waited 13 years to have kids because we were always waiting until after the next Olympics. I knew that I didn’t want somebody else to raise them, and although coaching was extremely rewarding, it took a lot of time. John got transferred to Northern California, and I figured I was going to be a stay at home mom.”

 

Monday was exactly that, for a while. She slowly returned to running after the children’s births as a way to shake off some weight, and quickly discovered that her passion for the sport was still as strong as ever. Monday decided to compete for the World’s Master’s Championship in 1999 and won two bronzes at the age of 40. Two years later she went to Australia for another Championship and won a gold and a silver.

 

For Monday, the victories were sweet, and also helped to calm some of her own inner demons. “It took a lot of the sting out of not making the Olympics. I think a lot of it was mental. I was so focused on the outcome at the Olympics Trials, but if I went in focused and just stayed on track, I ran so much better, and that’s what I did at the Master’s. I didn’t focus on the outcome, but only on my training.
I was so nervous at the Olympics Trials. The Master’s World Championship was just as big and nerve wracking as i felt at the Olympic Trials, and I won commandingly.”

 

In 2000, Rose’s husband John, was given a promotion that transferred the family to San Antonio. Monday continued training and competing, and eventually called University of Texas at San Antonio to request access to their track for her drills. “They allowed me to train with the college team. When they told me I could use the track, I kind of stayed behind them because I didn’t want to upset some of the other athletes. The coach knew I wasn’t running all out, so I eventually did, and they quickly started doing my drills and workouts.” Having recognized Monday’s prowess, UTSA offered her a coaching position, and she gladly accepted.

 

At the time, Monday was, and still is, handling her duties as the Development Coordinator for USA Track and Field in 800m and 1500m events for the past 15 years. As the coordinator she scouts the athletes, assists them, and gets them with the right coaches so as to ensure the future of the discipline. However, as the years wore on, and as Monday’s family grew, she saw a need to shift priorities.
“I left UTSA in ’07, and I saw it as a time that I wanted to be with my family. I looked at a picture of my daughter at her 8th grade dance. I missed the dress selection, the dance, the photos, all of it. And I had this enormous sense of sadness. I had been gone for so long training and racing and coaching, and I just wanted to stop. So I gave UTSA six months notice, and I didn’t tell the athletes until we had won the Conference Championship, and it was hard. Some of my mentors questioned my decision, but I knew I was doing the right thing. I was able to spend quality time with my family, and go to Jack and Mary’s sports and school events while continuing my position as Middle Distance Development and High Performance Coordinator for USA Track and Field, and I kept a couple of post collegiate emerging elite athletes. I was fortunate to have my cake and eat it too.”

 

At the age of 45, Monday officially retired from running in 2004, and held the World’s #1 Masters 800m ranking up to the day of her retirement. Back in California, while Monday was winning Master’s championships, a young lady by the name of Maggie Vessey was slowly climbing the ranks of the running world.

 

Vessey, also a California native, knew early on that sports would take her quite far. “I was involved in plays and modeling throughout school, but through all of it I was running. I played soccer, too. In terms of sports, I saw quickly that I stood out. In high school, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I knew that I wanted to get a full scholarship to college, and I knew that track would get me there. By the end of my sophomore year, I started to get very serious about track and focus. The school I was at didn’t have great facilities, so I transferred and went to a different school that had a better program.”

 

Vessey graduated and attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on a track scholarship. Originally a 400m and 200m runner, Vessey moved over to the 800m during her sophomore year and was an All American in 2003. “In 2003 I made the Outdoor Nationals for the first time, but I didn’t get out of the first round. In 2004 I was injured. In 2005, I came back and I was second place at the Outdoors, and then I graduated Cum Laude. I knew I could graduate, move home, and get a job. But because of my results at the Outdoors, Asics (shoe manufacturer) gave me a contract to keep running. They gave me a contract from ’05 through ’08 which led up to the Olympic Trials. I took a job at a property management company while I was under contract, and I was also training full time. I was working with the Santa Monica Track Club, which was Carl Lewis’ old team. It was grueling, but wonderful – we were training upwards of six hours a day.”

 

With her sights set firmly on the Olympics, Vessey switched coaches. However, she was injured that year and her dreams of Olympic glory were dashed. “I wasn’t able to do much from ’05 to ’08. I was so depressed. I literally lived in a barn, I was going to join the Peace Corp, and Asics was going to drop me. I moved home and just nursed my injuries and was going to quit running. I still wanted to travel, and I knew that running would get me there, but the Peace Corps would do it, too. The Peace Corps sent me a whole bunch of information I was to fill out to get the visas and work lined up for me, and I was filling out all their forms. It was a lot of paperwork, and so for whatever reason I just got up and went for a run. Just a relaxing run. And as I ran, just like what Rose experienced, I immediately knew that running was going to be a part of my life. That outlet was still a passion of mine.”

 

Vessey quickly returned to the track, and without a coach, just trained. “I had no funding, and no real reason to do it, but I wanted to make the 2008 Olympic Trials. Here I was, living in a barn, and five minutes away from dropping everything and joining the Peace Corps, but I decided I really wanted to make the ’08 Trials. So I started doing some of the smaller races, and I was winning everything. I ended up setting a personal record, and sure enough, I had qualified for the Trials. I still have no money, and my family is driving me to meets, and getting my hotel rooms. We were the biggest dog and pony show you’d ever seen. My sister was cooking for me, and was my assistant on the field. I’m wearing a plain old surfer top because I don’t have any sponsors.”

 

At the 2008 Olympic Trials, Vessey took fifth. While only the top three make the Olympic team, she saw how close she was to actually making the Olympics, and so did a certain elite coach named Rose Monday.

 

Vessey continues, “Because of my finish at the Trials, I was asked to race in Paris, and I was so excited. I get to represent the US. You can’t buy that USA jersey. It was a huge deal for me. I also got a grant from USATF to fund my development, and since this is the only money I’ m getting I figured ‘Well, this is clearly the path for me’. I finally found an agent, who got me into a Nike event, and I won it.”

 

And as Vessey rose in the running ranks, Monday and the USATF team were taking notice. Monday says, “I saw Maggie run, and had some of my own athletes compete against her. When I saw her run in ‘08, she closed the last portion of the race faster than anybody in the world. The front end she would hang back, but the ending was phenomenal. I knew that she had the ability to be one of the best in the world. So she didn’t know it but I was working to get her that funding from USATF and ensure her success.” Vessey adds, “We had talked on the phone leading up to when we actually met from 2009 onward. She was just mentoring me from afar. I would have a good race and I would get a call from some lady named Rose Monday. She would just send me encouragement and words of wisdom. I didn’t really know anything about her. I knew she was with USA Track and Field. I had this picture in my mind of who she was, but we had never met.”

 

2009 was a huge year for Vessey, she ranked #6 in the world and made her first World Championship team. She adds, “I went from nothing to being ranked 6th in the world. It was pretty surreal.” She had set a previous record of 2:01 in the 800m, and then set the fastest time in the world at 1:57. However, in 2010, something changed. “I bombed. I went from 6th to 15th in the world. I knew I had to make some changes, and that’s when Rose came into my life.”

 

Vessey explains, “I had asked my college coach if she would coach me, but she couldn’t. Instead, she referred me to Rose. I felt
an immediate connection with her – I really liked her. When I met her, my first impression was that ‘She is so tall, and her hair is so red!’ But she was warm and she had all the knowledge and I had none.” Monday adds, “She’s in Cali and I’m in Texas. I don’t like long distance coaching – the art of coaching is knowing how to change an athlete’s numbers up, and each athlete is different. I also like being able to look in your eyes as you walk on the track. At this level, I want to be able to watch much more closely.”

 

The Mondays were living on the north side of San Antonio, as the kids were attending Reagan High School. Damon Cristofilis (Cordillera Ranch Preferred Builder) built their home in the Stone Oak area, and he frequently invited the Mondays out for gatherings at Cordillera Ranch. Monday explains, “The first time I drove through the gate, I knew I wanted to live here. I lived a very hectic life and every time I drove over the hill, it instantly relaxed me. It wasn’t supposed to be in the near future, but Damon kept showing us lots when we would come over for dinner. And then he showed us this lot. It was a great deal, and so John and I bought it. We figured we’d build on it in 30 years. Damon said, ‘If you don’t buy it, you’re nuts. If you don’t buy it, I’m never showing you another lot.’ And no sooner than we had bought the lot, he started encouraging us to have the lot cleared. Then he got us to talk to an architect. And the next thing you know we’re building a house. Although both of us felt the stress in the risk of building in an economic depression, and John’s job with AT&T relocating all of its senior managers to Dallas, we decided to go ahead with the construction despite all the uncertainty. We also figured that if John got transferred we would just sell it.”

 

Obviously, that didn’t happen. Last May, while Maggie and Rose were at a meet, the movers permanently relocated the Monday family to their new Cordillera Ranch home. Vessey comes from California for three weeks at a time and stays in the home and she couldn’t be happier. Recently turning 30, and with her friends back home in California raising families and focusing on careers, Vessey is upbeat. “I haven’t given up anything, and I don’t think I’m missing out on anything. I’ve gained so much. I’m one of the first people in my family to even have a passport. I went to college for free. I’ve tried things, and I’ve failed at things. I’ve succeeded at others. I have goals that this will help me with.”

 

That “goal” is the Olympics. Vessey says, “First we go to Eugene, Oregon and compete at the Olympic Trials in June. We’re going to qualify for the Olympic team. That’s the goal. And then we’re off for this summer’s Games in London. And for that, my goal is to podium. I want to medal. I know I can do it.”

 

And Monday is feeling confident as well. “I’ll sometimes say ‘I wish I was doing this race with you.’ I’ve got some arthritis and can’t run anymore, but it’s just so exhilarating to be running fast. It’s such a high to go fast. You have a stadium filled and you’re running fast and you’re winning. It’s the most amazing feeling in the entire world. You had a plan, you executed it, and then you want that feeling over and over again. And right now, Maggie is executing beautifully.”

 

For both Vessey and Monday, this summer’s Olympics games will be the culmination of a lifetime of dreams. In a sport that has inspired them both, taken them around the world, and brought them such joy, together they will reach the pinnacle of their sport. While running is a solitary activity, to stand on the podium this summer will have only happened because of their combined efforts. Separated by almost 20 years in age, but with a unified passion for running, they will both be fulfilling dreams that started very early on. They are both from California. They both run the 800m, and they are both set to fulfill their dreams of Olympic glory. For Maggie as an athlete at the pinnacle of her discipline, and for Rose, she will finally make it to the Olympics as one of the coaches of the United States Olympic Track and Field team.

 

Vessey says, “My first memory of running was with my cousin and I remember just feeling beautiful. I felt complete. Every muscle in my body was operating the way that it wanted. It was so exhilarating. I still like to do it because it’s such a challenge. Every day it exposes your weakness in your life, your character, and how you’re living. The better I get on the track, the better person I become.” Monday adds, “Maggie reminds me of myself 20 years ago. Could I mentor and train somebody like Rose Monday? Absolutely.”

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