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Track provides life of happiness for Rootstown coach Rodstrom

Track provides life of happiness for Rootstown coach Rodstrom


By Tom Nader

Publisher and Editor


A few weeks ago, Kyle Rodstrom saw an interesting statistic flash across his television screen.

In the totality of an athlete’s life, sports competition, on average, will only account for 3 percent of their lives.

The purpose of the stat was to offer perspective that a person’s impact or identity does not need to be directly attached to sports.

While true, and a philosophy that Rodstrom supports, the Rootstown girls track and field coach also could not help from thinking about what percentage sports has had on his life.

He came to an interesting conclusion.

“The sport of track and field has given me 100 percent of my life,” the veteran coach said.

Obviously, Rodstrom’s life is filled with much more than track, but he also can connect the dots back to many of his major life moments to the sport.

Rodstrom, who graduated from Painesville Riverside in 1996 and was a Division I state runner-up in the 300 hurdles, continued his running career at the University of Mount Union.

While there, he earned his degree, which jumpstarted his career.

While there, he met his wife, and Rootstown graduate, Kim Terrill, who also ran at Mount Union (mid-distance in track and also cross country). The couple have been married for 22 years and chose Rootstown as their home. They have two sons, senior Aiden and sophomore Landon, who are now also standout student-athletes for the Rovers.

All doors and life choices that were initially opened by track.

“Track has given me everything I have,” Rodstrom said.

It is a two-way street, though.

Rodstrom has also given plenty back to the sport, starting with tireless workouts that pushed him beyond exhaustion during his high school and college careers, up to now, as the dedicated leader of the Rovers’ girls track program.

Now in his 16th year, Rodstrom inherited a program that had a celebrated past and made it his own.

Rodstrom’s love for track was not immediate.

He was introduced to the sport by his older brother by three years, who was running in high school. Rodstrom joined his middle-school team and remembers his first competition being in the 200 meters.

“I remember that I got crushed,” Rodstrom said with a laugh. “But I stuck with it, and I fell in love with the hurdles.”

Russ Pernus helped with that.

Pernus remains a legend at Riverside. He was a two-time state champion in the hurdles, winning the 300 title in 1991 in a blistering time of 36.55. He was also the Gatorade Player of the Year in 1991 and ran at Indiana University, where he also qualified for the Olympic Trials.

“I was absolutely star-struck by him,” Rodstrom said. “I wanted to be just like him. I wanted to run as fast as him. He motivated me in ways he probably never knew.”

A few years later, Rodstrom realized that he could find his own way to motivate runners.

It unexpectedly sparked the coaching career that he still enjoys today.

As a college runner, Rodstrom would come home for the winters and volunteer to help runners learn the necessary techniques to be a hurdler.

“It was fun, and they listened to me. I found that it felt pretty easy to talk to them and teach them,” said Rodstrom, who was inducted into the Mount Union Athletics Hall of Fame in 2019.

His first year as a full-time track coach was in 2003 before he began coaching the Rootstown middle-school program alongside Denny Pickens in 2004. Rodstrom held that position until 2008 when he was hired as the high school girls coach, while 40-year coach Larry Bailey still coaches the boys.

“I have been very lucky to have two mentors like Denny and Larry,” Rodstrom said. “I don’t know many people who have been able to coach alongside and learn from two coaches with that much experience. They have 75 years of experience between the two of them. It has been great to have them, and I know I am very fortunate for that.”

Now, Rodstrom’s career has taken on its own identity, which it took him a couple years to identify.

“I look back, and I have said it to myself 100 times, if I only knew then what I know now, I would have coached situations differently. But you live and you learn. I used to wonder why the kids would train as hard as I did, but I had to realize that they are not me and that each runner is looking to get something different out of the sport. What they need from me is to help them find a way to get that.”

Sometimes that is much more direct, with Rodstrom pushing and challenging an athlete to improve their time or tighten up their techniques.

Sometimes, it is a gentler, but needed, approach, letting his athletes know that he is proud of them.

It has allowed Rodstrom to build strong relationships by finding the balance of holding his athletes accountable, but also maintaining a calm and approachable personality.

“There is room for everything and a lot of times, you don’t have to be so business serious,” Rodstrom said. “They can compete, and they can have fun, and I can help create the environment that allows for that to happen.”

An environment that fills their 3 percent with irreplaceable moments and memories.

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