When Jen Rock was a junior in high school, she had no aspirations of continuing her track and cross country career in college.
In fact, the former Utica Eisenhower runner said she didn’t “think about it at all.”
But between her junior and senior year, something changed for Rock, whose hometown is Macomb Township. Her twin brother, Jon, also ran track, and she said he helped motivate her to “get out there.”
Jon Rock, who also graduated from Eisenhower, competed for the Air Force Academy.
“I don’t know if I ever would have realized I wanted to start training harder if it wasn’t for him,” said Rock.
Aside from her brother’s success providing motivation, her interest in collegiate athletics peaked when a college coach recruited her prior to her senior season after realizing her potential for improvement.
And improve she did.
Like her brother before her, Rock has earned the opportunity to compete beyond the high school level. She spent the first two seasons of her collegiate career at Loyola University in Chicago, before transferring to Wayne State University, where she has since graduated.
“It’s been great,” said Rock, who acknowledged support she has received from her family, as well as her high school cross country coach Debbie Palazzolo and Wayne State track and field coach Rick Cummins. “I am actually sad that it’s over. I wish I had some more college seasons to look forward to. It has been a great experience all-around. I can’t imagine how my life would be if I didn’t start taking running seriously. I’m just really thankful that I finally realized how much I loved running and started taking it seriously.”
Although Rock said that her favorite sport is track, that opportunity was not there when she transferred to Wayne State, as the Warriors had no track and field program. However, after running for the cross country team for two seasons, 2010 and 2011, a track and field program was implemented in 2013, and her decision to transfer to Wayne State was made all the more gratifying, as she had two years of eligibility remaining for track, as a senior and graduate student.
Whether she knew it or not at the time she decided to be a part of Wayne State’s inaugural track and field team, Rock would go on to make history for the program, becoming the first All-American in the program’s short history after placing sixth in the 10k event at the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship.
“It’s special,” said Rock, who has also had success academically, graduating Magna Cum Laude from Eisenhower and being selected GLIAC All-Academic while at Wayne State. “When I went to college, I wanted to be All-American in the 10k. It just makes it even cooler to know that I’m the first-ever All-American at Wayne State. When you’re part of the first year of a program, that’s something that will never be forgotten. But also being the first person to ever be All-American, that’s something that can’t be forgotten, either.”
Cummins shared his opinion as to what helped Rock achieve All-American status.
“Jen was pretty amazing for us,” he said. “She’s grown a lot. She used to be a day-to-day runner. Every day, go out, try to work as she could, run as far and fast as she could. She’s turned into a big-picture runner, and that’s probably the No. 1 thing that helped her become the first All-American in school history in that sport. She was tremendous.
“Good example for everyone in the program. She’s a good, solid kid. In track, the kids that win are the kids that are probably doing their training when you’re not around. She does that. She’s been good for us. Second-year program with an All-American — that’s pretty special.”
Aside from the success she has already enjoyed, her time as a student-athlete could also benefit Rock in the future.
“Through hard work, you can reach any of your goals,” Rock said of a lesson learned through athletics.
Rock has considered continuing her education, with occupational therapy being a potential future career choice.
Although she may be “sad” that her collegiate career has ended, the pursuit of a big goal could keep her honing her running skills.
“The U.S. Olympic trials — just qualifying for that would be a goal of mine,” Rock said. “That would be one of the best moments of my life. That would be cool. Definitely what I’m trying to work towards. It would be pretty exciting. It’s a big dream of mine.”