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Born to be a runner: Isai Rodriguez's journey to OSU

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Cowboy Jamboree XC meet-1.jpg

OSU distance runner Isai Rodriguez runs to the finish line during the Cowboy Jamboree cross country meet on Saturday, October 3, 2020, at the OSU Cross Country Course in Stillwater.

Director of Cross Country/Track and Field Dave Smith discusses the NCAA's decision to cancel fall championships.

As Jorge Rodriguez was getting ready to go to sleep, he heard someone knock on the front door. He wondered who was trying to come to his house in the middle of the night.

When Jorge opened the door, he saw a highway patrol officer and with him was his youngest son, Isai Rodriguez.

The officer told Jorge that he saw the boy running around the area and asked him if he lived here. Jorge explained to the officer that Isaí lived here and he was his father. What the officer didn’t know is, for Jorge, it was completely normal to have Isaí running around late at night.

When Isai, the Oklahoma State cross-country runner, was young, his parents noticed that he was a hyperactive kid. He had so much energy that his parents didn’t know what to do about it.

Whenever he got home from one of his basketball or football games, he would run in the hallway inside the house before going to sleep. His dad says that Isai would wake them up because of how hard he used to breathe.

Isai did not care what time of day it was or how brutal the weather conditions were. He could be wearing boots with a pair of jeans, that wouldn’t stop him from running from one place to another in the small Oklahoma town of Ringwood.

When Isai was 15 years old, his parents signed him up for the cross-country team. As soon as he started, people were impressed by how much Isai could do. Since his school didn’t have an official cross-country coach, Isai would run and do workouts on his own.

He used to fill up his backpack to make it as heavy as possible and run with it. He would not only run from his house to the school, but also in between class periods and during lunch breaks. Whenever he needed to go to the store or go anywhere else in town, he would do it in the only way he knew.

“I did it because I wanted to push myself to the limit,” said Isai. “I wanted things to be challenging, get to that point where I’m giving everything I have. I didn’t want it to be easy.”

The first year that he ran in high school, he took seventh place at the OSSAA 2A state cross-country championship race.

As the years went by, Isai kept improving and winning one race after another, setting state records in both, cross-country and track.

He put his name up there with the fastest runners in Oklahoma. By the time he finished high school, he had Division 1 offers from all over the country.

But his dad did not want him to go to a school that was away from home.

“I told Isai that it wasn’t fair for him to go to a school somewhere else and represent a different state that wasn’t Oklahoma,” said Jorge. “You are from Oklahoma, if you are going to win, do it for your home.”

Once he chose to go to OSU, his dad knew Isai made the right decision.

Isai decided to redshirt his first cross country season to be fully fit the following year. Isai went on to have some of the most extraordinary performances that anybody has ever seen at OSU.

He capped off his freshman year by finishing off in fourth at the cross-country national race and becoming the youngest All-American in the country. His dad says that his family was extremely happy for him because all that hard work that he had been putting in all these years was paying off.

Isai’s sophomore and junior years, on the other hand, have been challenging for him. During his sophomore cross country season, Isai was carrying an injury on his knee that prevented him from performing well towards the end of the season.

A few months later, when he was recovering from his injury and getting back in form for the indoor track season, the NCAA announced the cancellation of all spring sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Isai was disillusioned with not being able to do what he loves most. However, he took it with a different approach.

“I took it as a blessing in disguise,” said Isai. “It made me reflect on what matters in this world. Running gives me opportunities to do good and I love to do it because it is fun. I can only control what I can control. I was trying to stay positive, look at the bright side of things. I kept going with my faith in God.”

Not only has God played a big part in Isai’s life, but also the support he gets from his family. He remembers all the sacrifices his parents did for him to have a better life.

In tough moments such as these, he knows he can always count on them. His dad has always told him that family is the first priority.

After the school closed down and Isai was sent home, he used that time to get closer with his family. He said it's a blessing to have them by his side and know they are always there with him.

Jorge told his son that he had to keep training because this would end sooner or later. That summer, Isai went to Arizona to go train with Division I and professional runners. This helped him to not only recover from his injury but also to keep on getting stronger.

His dad said that Isai’s ambition has no limits, he has his eyes on winning a national title with OSU.

“I’m convinced that he will do it,” said Jorge. “I yearn for it, he is the most persevering person I’ve ever seen in all my life. He impressed all of us and we are very content with everything he has done.”