November 17, 2018, is a day that Oklahoma State’s cross-country runner Isai Rodriguez will never forget.
As a freshman, Rodriguez finished fourth at the 2018 NCAA Division 1 cross-country championships. Nobody expected someone that young to finish only two seconds behind the NCAA Champion, Wisconsin’s Morgan McDonald.
After he capped up a successful year, Rodriguez came into the 2019 season as one of the heavy favorites to win the national title.
But as the season began, he noticed there was something wrong with his body.
“My hips were giving me problems,” said Rodriguez. “It escalated because I tried to push through it, and when you push through injuries, other things pop up. It started from the hip, and then it started affecting my groins and my knee. I wasn’t taking care of my body.”
After discussing it with Cowboy coach, Dave Smith, they decided it was best to wait until the Pre-Nationals Invitation for Rodriguez to have his first race of the season, where he placed third out of 257 runners.
Two weeks later, he finished as the runner-up at the Big 12 Championship race. In spite of all the pain Rodriguez was going through, he was able to perform well in his races. That is until the regional race came.
Stillwater was the host of the 2019 NCAA Midwest Regional race. At his home course, Rodriguez had a big opportunity to make a statement before nationals. Unfortunately, the injury he had been carrying in his knee for weeks got to him. He was unable to perform at his best in the race and failed to qualify for the national meet.
“It really tested me. I was trying to give everything I had,” said Rodriguez. “It made me stronger, I used it as a learning lesson.”
This fall, Rodriguez has not only recovered from the injury, but he also feels stronger and ready to prove that he can contend for the national title again.
“He has overcome that, and he has been much more consistent this year than he ever has been,” said Smith. “He is a guy that is always going to be in a conversation for a national title.
"He races against people — that on paper — he has no business racing against. And he usually dictates how the race is going to be run. He is absolutely fearless when the gun goes off.”