By Alison Wade
Last Wednesday, Under Armour announced that Lara Rogers (née Crofford) has been named the women’s head coach of UA Mission Run Baltimore Distance, the company’s newest professional running team. Rogers joins Cory Leslie, who was previously hired to serve as the men’s head coach, and becomes one of very few women to coach a professional distance group in the U.S. Being a head coach puts her in an even more exclusive club with—to the best of my knowledge—Amy Yoder Begley (Atlanta Track Club Elite), Joan Hunter (Tinman Elite), and Julia Lucas (Atalanta).
The significance is not lost on her. “It means a lot,” Rogers said in a phone call with Fast Women. “I think it’s important for women that want to get into coaching in the future to see that anything’s possible, no matter what the numbers and statistics say.”
Rogers spent nearly seven years coaching at the University of Cincinnati before taking over as the head women’s cross country coach and assistant track & field coach at Washington State University in April. A couple days after Rogers accepted the Washington State job, she got a call from Leslie, who had gotten her name from Furman coach Rita Gary. Leslie told Rogers about Under Armour’s vision, and it was an unusual enough opportunity that she couldn’t resist pursuing it.
“I have to give a big shout out to Rita, because she is the one that put my name in the hat and if it weren’t for her, this wouldn’t have even come up as an opportunity,” Rogers said. “And I’ve been lucky to have tons of mentors in the sport… A lot of my female role models have really helped me grow in this career and have been really great to bounce ideas off of.”
Rogers finished out the track season at Washington State before accepting her new role in June and got to work recruiting a team. Under Armour announced the first two women to join the team last week as well: Oregon graduate Susan Ejore, who had been running unsponsored and lowered her 1500m time to 4:03.98 last month, and recent Cincinnati graduate Ellie Leather, who finished third in the NCAA indoor mile in March and has a 1500m best of 4:11.33. (Fun fact: Leather’s great aunt, Diane Leather, was the first woman ever to break 5:00 in the mile, in 1954.)
Though Leather ran for Rogers at Cincinnati, it wasn’t a given that she’d follow Rogers to Baltimore. “As her coach, I really encouraged her throughout the whole process to look at all of her options,” Rogers said. “She did her due diligence…but at the end of the day, it was kind of a perfect match.”
The team will focus on events from 1500m to 10,000m and Rogers hopes they’ll have 3 or 4 athletes by the end of the summer, and that they’ll be able to fill out their 8- to 10-woman roster within a year. The team will be based in Baltimore, where they’ll have access to Under Armour’s state-of-the-art facility, which is in the works.
Rogers, 33, was a second-team All American in the 10,000m for the University of Nebraska and she finished her collegiate eligibility at Shippensburg University, where she became a Division II All American. She began her coaching career at Shippensburg before signing a two-year contract to run post-collegiately for NE Distance from 2013 to 2015. Rogers was coached by Kurt Benninger and did a fair amount of training with well known runners such as Molly Huddle, Emily Sisson, Kim Smith, and Amy Cragg. When her contract was up, she began coaching at Cincinnati. Rogers still runs most days, but she no longer competes.
“If you asked me 10 years ago if I thought I would be coaching at the pro level, I would have said I would love to but I wouldn’t have thought it would be a reality,” Rogers said.