Gold Medal-Winning Coach Passes on Olympics Lessons

Andrew Rock won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics, but the biggest race of his life is about much more to him. It’s part of a journey that’s opened up numerous opportunities to pay it forward. As head track and field coach at Bethel, he’s following a calling to help his athletes compete to the best of their abilities while also growing in their faith.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

July 26, 2021 | 9 a.m.

Bethel Head Track and Field Coach Andrew Rock

Bethel Head Track and Field Coach Andrew Rock ran on his sport’s biggest stage, winning a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics. But the experience has been about more than a medal. It’s opened doors for him to help others reach their potential on and off the field. Photo courtesy of Michael Lieurance and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Andrew Rock remembers the surreal feeling of entering Olympic Stadium in Athens, Greece, during the 2004 Olympics. Months after competing for a few thousand fans in college, he was in front of 80,000 fans with NBC cameras focused on his team, the gold medal favorites in the 4-x-400 meter relay.

His team won the gold medal. While it changed Rock’s life, it’s always transcended one race or one medal. “It’s so much more to me than a gold medal,” he says. “It’s just impacted my life in so many different ways and continues to impact my life and my work as a college coach.” For Rock, it’s always been about the journey, and it’s a journey he’s continuing today as head track and field coach at Bethel, where he’s following his calling to pass on what he learned at his sport’s highest level to help his athletes reach new heights on and off the track.

Rock started running around age nine after his mother grabbed a flyer for a track and field club in a neighboring Wisconsin town. “The one thing that sparked my interest in track was that I was the fastest kid in recess,” Rock remembers. The club practiced a few days a week in the summer for meets, and Rock’s parents let him try other sports too.

Andrew Rock

Growing up, Rock’s parents didn’t push him to excel, allowing him to participate as much as he wanted and to try multiple sports—an approach Rock strives for today with his four children. Today, Rock recruits high school champions to Bethel, as well as raw athletes with potential. “I love the underdog story,” he says. “I love the underdeveloped kid who doesn’t have everything perfect at their fingertips. That’s what I was.”

Gradually, he got better. By high school, Rock’s times started drawing attention, and he won four state titles his senior year. Though larger schools came calling, Rock felt drawn to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, a Division III school, and built a strong relationship with Head Track and Field Coach Mark Guthrie. Rock earned numerous accolades during his college career. Then he ran a 45:35 in the 400-meter at nationals as a junior, placing him in the top 10 in the country and leading Rock and Guthrie to plan for the Olympic Trials the following year.

Falling just months after graduation, Rock calls the trials the most stressful experience of his career. A few hundredths of a second made the difference between going to the Olympics or going home. But Rock’s faith kept him grounded. “God chose to bless me with this ability and this opportunity and He surrounded me with the appropriate people to help me,” he says. Rock earned a spot in the 4-x-400 relay pool.
Andrew Rock

Rock vividly remembers entering Olympic Stadium in Athens during the opening ceremonies—it was the first time it felt real. When the torch was lit, he realized how many people he was representing. “That was just a surreal feeling of, ‘OK, I’m at the Olympics. This is crazy,’” he remembers with a laugh.

The Olympics were different before and after any other race, but Rock’s training and preparation equipped him to focus on his job while running. Rock helped his team to the top qualifying time, and his teammates won gold in the finals. Rock’s professional career continued through 2010 and included winning silver at the 2005 World Championships—with a career-best time of 44.25—and a 400-meter win at the 2006 AT&T USA Outdoor Championships. The Olympics remain a highlight and a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but Rock calls his 44 seconds at the Olympics a blink in his life. When he looks back, it’s more about the journey. And perhaps most importantly, it’s about what he’s done since. Rock says that when he meets God, He won’t congratulate him for using his gifts to win a gold medal. “I think He is going to say, ‘What did you do with it because I blessed you with that opportunity and that platform?’” Rock says.

Drawing on the support he received from family and coaches, Rock felt called to serve others as a coach. While he’s helping athletes to run as fast and jump and throw as far as they can, Rock loves that coaching is about more at Bethel. It’s about giving young people an opportunity to grow in their faith—a sentiment shared across Bethel’s athletics programs.

“Above all else, we’re rooted in Christ, and that’s the calling to come and coach at Bethel.”

— Head Track and Field Coach Andrew Rock

Rock draws not just on his Olympic and professional experience, but from his time as a Division III athlete. “It comes back to the fact that I was a DIII athlete, and I don’t think there’s a lot of difference in how I approached running at the Olympics as maybe someone on my team approaches running at the conference and national meet—it’s the same kind of approach,” he says. Kelsie Sealock ’23 admits she thought it would be intimidating to be coached by a gold medalist, thinking he'd be intense. "In reality, he is an intense coach looking out for our best interest," she says. "He uses his experiences to equip us to perform to the best of our abilities both mentally and physically." Grace Perrenoud ’22 says it’s beneficial to have a coach who understands the pressures and challenges of running. Annessa Ihde ’24 reflected on how Rock helped her improve by changing the way she runs the 800-meter. When Ihde beat her personal best time at the MIAC Conference Championships, she turned and saw Rock. “You know you ran a really good race when he gives you the classic Rock look—raised eyebrows and a huge smile,” she says. Similarly, Sealock remembers Rock’s excitement when she ran the 100-meter hurdles in 13.94—the fastest time ever by a MIAC athlete—at the NCAA Division III National Championships. “He was my number one superfan through it all,” she says.

Inspired by his former coaches, Rock strives to build trust and relationships with his athletes. “My athletes need to know that I care for them and I appreciate them and I value them whether they win or lose,” Rock says. It’s making an impact. His athletes describe him as a unique, generous, caring, and intentional person who is inspiring and brings a family atmosphere to the team. “He is the kind of coach who knows each of his athletes and understands how to motivate and encourage them individually,” Ihde says. He also holds them to a high standard, and he gave all his athletes slips of paper this past season with the word “Unselfish” to remind them to support their team and hold one another accountable. 

"The atmosphere of the team is so unique in the sense that we have a community of believers that are striving to glorify Christ and to make connections with one another that will last a lifetime. Bethel track and field is not just a sport but one that has allowed me to meet some of my best friends and mentors in my life."

— Kelsie Sealock ‘23
Andrew Rock

Grace Perrenoud ’22, Kelsie Sealock ’23, and Annessa Ihde ’24 agree their coach is modest about his Olympic success, only talking about it when he’s asked. “Of course, his athletes and assistant coaches like to make comments because having an Olympian for a coach is one of the coolest things ever,” Ihde says. “But Rock is an incredibly humble person, and he only talks about his Olympic experience when we ask him about it.” Sealock says the team will joke about how many people will come up to Rock at an upcoming next meet. “Although when his experience comes up, he explains it as an unforgettable experience and one that he was able to glorify Christ in,” she says.

Rock has helped grow Bethel’s track and field program, and historic changes are coming. Through the Called to More campaign, Bethel is adding its first-ever outdoor track and building new jump, vault, and throws areas for track and field at Royal Stadium. The upgrades are scheduled to be completed in summer 2022, bringing new opportunities to the 100-plus athletes on Rock’s team. “Being able to have an outdoor track on campus is something that we’ve been working hard at for a lot of years,” he says. “We needed this place to train on campus, and I’m really excited to have a facility that matches the class of the athletes that we have and their character and who they are and how they represent Bethel in such a positive and beautiful way.”
Andrew Rock

Division III track and field made a huge impact on Rock's life. He calls DIII the “purest form of the sport” because athletes don’t receive scholarships—they compete because they love the sport and believe in the mission of a school like Bethel.

Outside Bethel, running is still a big part of Rock’s life, but he and his wife, Missy—who is also a decorated Division III runner and a marathoner—have a different reason to run now. “We have to run ourselves to stay in shape to keep up with our kids because they like being busy,” Rock says. The Rocks and their children—Athulya, 13, Tina, 11, Isaiah, 10, and Josiah, 7—plan to watch every second of track and field at this year’s Olympics, but Rock admits he often gets nervous while watching. “It just brings me back to being in the blocks or in their shoes,” he says. Rock and Missy hope to attend the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Andrew Rock

Bethel Track and Field Head Coach Andrew Rock poses with his wife, Missy, and their kids, Athulya, 13, Tina, 11, Isaiah, 10, and Josiah, 7.

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