You’ve heard plenty of stories about how running has changed a person’s life and the difference it has made on their overall outlook.
Such is surely the case with Russ Rogers, but that simple activity has done more than change his life.
He’s quick to explain that it saved his life at a time when nothing else seemed to work.
Russ is the 35-year-old son of Richard Rogers and nephew of Steve. Russ has worked in the family-owned U.S.
Stove since he was 14 and he is currently the Product Develop Manager for the facility located in South Pittsburg.
Russ attended Boyd-Buchanan School for several years before graduating from Marion County High School in 1998.
He played basketball, baseball and golf during that time, but was never anything really outstanding. Both his father and uncle are dedicated runners and have been for a long time. Their involvement is what got Russ interested and it couldn’t have come at a more important time.
“I grew up watching them run and I guess they planted the seed,” Russ said earlier this week while relaxing in the lobby of the downtown YMCA.
“I ran a few races back in the mid-80s, but nothing too serious,” he stated.
His parents divorced in 1998 and that started a downward spiral where alcohol became his master. Helen, his mother, was diagnosed with cancer in 2001 and he took care of her for a couple of years before her passing in 2008.
“I spent about 12 years drinking every day with no purpose or direction for my life. I was just sort of existing. When she died, I tried to self-destruct as I had no money, no food or electricity. I was eating out of dumpsters and I could feel my insides rotting,” he added, recalling a dark time in his life when he really didn’t want to live, but was unable to die.
“On March 4, 2010, I cried out for help and that was the date of my last drink. I went to a treatment center in Nashville and was there for 100 days. I was really sick and my life was a mess, but I had a new hope,” he stated, smiling at the thought of just how much his life has changed for the good since that arkest moment.
He stayed in Nashville for another 18 months while he continued to recover. He started lifting weights and began eating again and gained quite a bit of weight.
His first race was a 5K in Helen, Georgia four years ago that was held in conjunction with the Hogpen Hill Climb that his father and uncle were running.
“I hadn’t run a step in a long time, but my time that day was 29:57. That seed that had been planted so many years before popped back up and I immediately fell in love with it again,” he said with a smile.
Since that time, he’s gotten in really good shape and just this past December, posted a time of 18:47 for the Silverbell Sprint 5K in Dalton.
Currently, he’s running about 45 miles a week and is in the best shape of his life as he has lost about 40 pounds and running stronger and faster than ever.
“I had a 1:27 at the Chickamauga Half-Marathon in November and I hope to be near 1:24 at the Scenic City Half next month. I’m still improving, but I’ve also signed up for the Ironman race in September,” he said with a serious tone.
Russ was there in the fall to witness the first such event ever held in Chattanooga. He watched his father finish with a time of 14:09 “smiling the entire way” and that’s what got Russ so fired up about it.
“I did a little sprint triathlon at Goosepond in Scottboro back in August and that’s the only triathlon I’ve ever done. I’m training really hard and would like to do about 12 hours,” he said with confidence.
Russ has completed one marathon, that being at Chickamauga in 2013 when he finished in four hours even.
“I was running with my father, but he pulled a calf muscle and had to withdraw about half way. He was waiting for me at the finish line,” Rogers recalled.
“I’m signed up for the Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary, N.C. on March 15 and I’m planning to do the Half-Ironman in May before doing the whole in September. I’ll do every Chattanooga Track Club race in between,” he said with a laugh.
Russ enjoys biking and swimming, but running is what he enjoys most. The Chickamauga Chase 15K and the Raccoon Mountain 10K are two of his favorite races and he was fortunate to have the late, great Van Townsend as his coach for a few months before his passing a few weeks back.
“I trained about 15 hours last week as I spent five and a half hours on my bike trainer. It’s been too cold to ride outside, but getting in a group to train isn’t too bad. I also swam about three miles and I ran 51.
“I love the Chickamauga Chase. I really admire George Skonberg as a person and as that race director. He’s always encouraging me, but there’s energy at the battlefield like nowhere else. And I had the luxury of training with Van Townsend for about the last six months of his life as we did a lot of speed work at the Red Bank track,” he stated.
He’s also been a regular at the Raccoon Mountain event, including the race two years ago when a torrential rain fell the whole time.
“That was one of my most memorable races ever as it rained so hard that day. I tried to chase down Bill Minehan that day, but I couldn’t catch him,” he recalled.
While Russ is busy with a lot of different things these days, running is the one activity that he credits with helping him turn his life around.
“I’ve met some lifelong friends in these last three years as a lot of wonderful folks run. It’s gotten me back into the mainstream of life, but I haven’t even scratched the surface. The Lord has blessed me with a strong body and I’m going to keep running.
“There’s no question that running saved my life and has given me positive direction. You can learn a lot about yourself when you run, but that one thing that really drives me these days. I don’t think I’ve ever gone for a run and regretted it,” Rogers said.
Russ has a twin brother named Rock who has been going through some tough times, but Russ is confident that all will eventually be okay.
“Rock has had a tough time in recent years, but he supported me when I was growing up and now the roles are reversed,” Russ stated.
Races times just keep getting faster and faster for this young man and he’s excited about the future and the possibilities that come with it.
But when he considers the path he’s traveled in recent years, he’s really thankful for the path he’s on now.
(This is the 47th in a series of features on runners in the Chattanooga area. If you know someone who might make an interesting story, email John Hunt at email@example.com)