"Running isn't painful, pain is hitting your finger with a hammer. Running is uncomfortable. It's not painful." - Van Rose
One of his former runners built his house. Another does his taxes. He goes to the doctor a couple times a year, of course seeing the runner who used to compete for him. Many of his life's treasured possessions are insured by a former athlete.
And so Van Rose counts his blessings every day, he says. There are countless athletes the 71-year-old has coached and parents he's come across and people who have changed his life and his program with Shawnee Mission Northwest High School in Kansas.
He's in his 50th year coaching the boys and girls cross country teams that have won a combined 34 state titles; he also teaches Advanced Placement calculus with NW. He has coached the distance athletes with the the track and field team over much of that time with Michael Cooper, another long-time head coach at the school.
"I've been fortunate," Rose said.
But after the spring, Van Rose, who ran at Kansas State in the 60s, has decided he's going to hang up the whistle, at least as head coach for the program he started when the school opened in 1969. Rose will retire from teaching, and he and his wife will travel a little more over that time, he says, getting to spend more time with their 6-month-old granddaughter in St. Louis.
When that day comes, it will an important one for Shawnee Mission Northwest. And in Kansas.
Because there's no doubt Rose cuts a legendary figure in the state. At one point his boys cross country team won 14 straight cross country titles. He won 21 championships with the boys, including his last in 2012. His girls have won 13 titles, including their most recent in 2011. He helped guide senior Molly Born to Nike Cross Nationals in 2016. He's had two teams at NXN, three boys at Foot Locker Nationals.
Rose is no slouch runner, either. He once had a consecutive running streak of 2,134 days, hitting at least two miles per day. That ended in 2013.
"He's a coach who loves to work," said Justin Stigge, 37, Shawnee Mission Northwest's assistant cross country coach who will take over for Rose next fall. "That's the thing that always strikes me most about him. He invests more time and energy into the team than anyone realizes."
Just how much does Rose do for his teams? One idea he had with a former team was for them to drop off aluminum cans at his house so he could scrap them and eventually buy popsicles with the proceeds for younger athletes with birthdays. He still hosts pasta dinners with current teams.
At cross country meets, he was one of the first coaches in the state to tent specific areas for parents, giving them a chance to experience meets alongside each other.
Out of season, Rose is a regular at coaching clinics and at continuing education classes. He's built relationships with coaches around the state. While he says he "doesn't use a cell phone," Rose often looks for new exercises on the internet and programs to do with his team. He's incorporated new strength training techniques with TRX and battle ropes. He tried kettle bells for the first time this year.
One former runner from Kansas who competed against Shawnee Mission NW in the 1970s remembers the supportive nature of Rose.
"I was running a two-mile race and was running a big PR and Van was on the sideline cheering me on," said John Rinkenbaugh, who graduated from Lawrence High (KS). "As a high school kid getting support from a coach from an opposing school, that was exciting. And it's turned into an indelible memory from high school."
Most athletes over the decades haven't just been a part of the program, either. They've admired Rose, building a strong relationship over time. Some even help the program, like Rose's former runner and current tax attorney. He started a foundation to help supporters of the program raise money for trips and invitationals.
"They're very generous to the cross country team," Rose said.
Every year, the school newspaper has a feature called, "The Top 30 Things You Need To Do At NW Before You Graduate," Stigge said, and of course running cross country for Rose was on the list. So was taking his calculus class.
Stigge graduated from Manhattan (KS) High, about 100 miles west of Shawnee Mission NW, though the extent of Rose's impact even funneled down to his wedding, when a few of his wife's attendees were former NW graduates.
"Her friends were blown away because Van Rose was at our wedding," Stigge said. "He's a (big) figure for a lot of people. The respect they have for him is really impressive."
When Born first arrived at Shawnee Mission NW, she said she was intimidated by the legendary figure of Rose.
"I was going into this amazing program," Born said. "and all I thought is that 'he's just this Kansas legend and I'm running for him.'"
But Born, who signed with Oklahoma State, soon realized Rose was all about guiding her to her biggest successes.
"I think I've learned patience, hard work, and just so many lifelong skills going through his program," she said. "I think the biggest thing I've realized is that I'll come out of Shawnee Mission NW with a lifelong love of running."
There's also Rose's inspiring quotes, like the "pain and hammer" one, she says. There's another one she remembers: "We want competition, competition makes us better. We'll wish them the best of luck in their pursuit of second place."
Rose's teams often had an upwards of 90 members running during the fall.
"I could talk about Rose forever," Stigge said. "I just enjoy talking about him because he's been doing it for so long. When I go back to my former high school, Manhattan, I have guys who come up to me and ask, 'What's it like working with Van Rose?' It's been a great opportunity to be around the people of NW and coach with him."
For what it's worth, Rose doesn't want some huge sign-off ceremony, either. Stigge said Rose has never sought "recognition" as a coach, often forwarding those successes to his athletes.
He finished his last cross country season with the program in November, though he's heading into his last campaign with the track team.
He says he doesn't want a party, or a big announcement. After all, he says, he's going to apply to be an assistant coach with the cross country team once that job officially opens.
After all, Rose says, he couldn't just leave the sport.
"I say this kiddingly, but I have no friends," Rose said. "My friends are the coaches. And if I'm not coaching, I won't be around them. So that's one of the reasons why I enjoy the coaching and why I'll be still around."
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