Former Olympian leverages his expertise to guide his athletes toward success on the track and in life.


Former Olympian leverages his expertise to guide his athletes toward success on the track and in life.

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Rod DeHaven, the coach of South Dakota State University’s Cross Country and Track & Field teams, embodies the spirit of never giving up, both in his own athletic journey and in his coaching career.

Under DeHaven’s guidance, the men’s and women’s cross-country teams have been achieving remarkable success this season, consistently securing top-10 placements. The culmination of their hard work and dedication will be on display when they host the Summit League Cross Country Championship on Saturday, October 28th, at 11 a.m. DeHaven is eagerly anticipating this championship event and is brimming with confidence.

DeHaven’s own running career began at a young age. Born in Sacramento, California, he relocated to Huron with his mother at the age of four. He took his first strides in middle school, participating in track meets. His passion for long-distance running ignited during the Jackrabbit 15 Road Race. In high school, he excelled in cross country and track, earning a state championship in cross country during his senior year and clinching the 1,600- and 3,200-meter state track titles.

DeHaven’s academic journey led him to South Dakota State University, where he obtained a bachelor of science degree in computer science. His collegiate running career was illustrious, making him one of the most decorated runners in Jackrabbit history. In cross country, he achieved:

  • 20 North Central Conference individual titles
  • 4 top-10 finishes at the NCAA Division II National Championships
  • 16 All-American titles
  • 7 school records in middle-length events (four of which still stand)

Following his college years, DeHaven ventured to Madison, Wisconsin, working as a business systems analyst. His passion for running remained, and he set his sights on the Olympics. Seven years after graduation, DeHaven qualified for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Unfortunately, he had to drop out due to minor injuries. “The biggest thing is always timing,” DeHaven remarked.

However, DeHaven’s Olympic journey didn’t end there. He qualified for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, in peak condition and without injuries. The lead-up to the Games was an adventure in itself. Marathon runners had to depart for Australia 20 days early on the last flight arranged by the Olympic committee. DeHaven found himself in the Olympic Village, where, at the age of 33, he adjusted to the unusual experience of sleeping in a bunk bed.

The village experience was communal, but a flu outbreak meant fewer athletes were present. After a week in the village, he traveled to New Zealand based on advice from fellow competitors. Upon returning to Sydney, he stayed in a construction trailer with members of the shooting team.

Race day at the 2000 Olympics brought its challenges, including unexpected intestinal problems. “Race day came, and unfortunately, I had some intestinal problems at the wrong time. It was a struggle, but I got the race done,” DeHaven recalled. The 2000 Olympics didn’t go as planned, but DeHaven considers himself lucky to have had the experience, being the sole U.S. Olympian in the race.

After the Olympics, DeHaven’s path led him to coaching, with SDSU encouraging his involvement in university events. The turning point came when Paul Danger encouraged him to consider coaching after his induction into the NCAA Division II Cross Country Hall of Fame. It was believed that having an alumnus in the room was essential.

In 2011, DeHaven was appointed as the coach. Since then, he has earned the title of conference Coach of the Year 13 times. He has led both the men’s and women’s teams to multiple Summit League titles in 12 of those seasons.

As the director of track and field and cross country for over 17 years, DeHaven’s aim is for all his runners to excel, both athletically and academically. He instills in them the belief that they are capable of achieving more than they may realize as student-athletes, all while emphasizing the importance of academics and family as their top priorities.

One of his athletes, Emma Gonzalez, a sophomore distance runner at South Dakota State, attests to DeHaven’s influence, saying that he teaches them to “lay the bricks of our futures even when things are difficult.” The team’s camaraderie and support for one another have created a family-oriented atmosphere throughout the school year.

Rod DeHaven’s remarkable journey from an aspiring young runner to an Olympian and dedicated coach exemplifies the power of perseverance and the impact of a supportive mentor. His legacy at SDSU continues to inspire and guide the next generation of athletes to reach for their goals and face challenges head-on.

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