Rhea Rollins lives by that statement! Like many of us, Rhea had a plan for her life. But her journey took an unexpected turn. When others would have accepted defeat she chose to keep running. She knew she had fallen behind, and embraced the opportunity to run faster. Below is a story I wrote about Rhea that captures just a glimpse of her drive. She could have given up and accepted mediocrity, but instead she chose to…
Stick With It
It’s Friday afternoon and I am seated outside the local café, College Hill Coffee. The grass has finally started to show some color; finally Mother Nature has decided that it’s spring here in Winfield, Kansas! As I sip on my delectable Going Green smoothie, I listen to one of the most amazing stories I have ever heard, and I think to myself, “Rhea Rollins needs to be on Oprah!”
This week alone, she has taken 3 tests and 4 quizzes, written 2 papers, and put in several hours to prepare for her track meet tomorrow. This sounds like the occasional week from hell for the average college student, yet it is a typical week in Rhea’s life. Mind blown, I ask how she juggles it all – 24 credit hours, full-time track, work-study, an internship with Career Athletes and raising her 6-year-old son. “One step at a time” is what she says, “I’d be crazy if I tried to look at it as one big picture. So every day I ask myself, what can I do today? What NEEDS to be done TODAY; and I do that.”
Rhea has taught me what it means to fight through every obstacle. What strikes me the most is that in all the craziness Rhea maintains a positive outlook. Despite this life that pulls her in every direction, Rhea has a passion for everyone else. Her heart motivates her to keep fighting on the hard days and to never give up. With less than a month to go before she walks across that stage in her cap and gown, Rhea is one step closer to her dream.
For a long time now she has dreamed of opening a family-oriented gym. Being a young parent herself, she has often let her son tag along to the gym and then left him in the nursery while she worked out. According to Rhea, in an America where overweight is the new normal, parents can no longer afford to “dump” their kids in some playpen and not teach them the importance of physical activity. Rhea wants to incorporate healthy practices into the average family routines. She plans to use her gym to cater to the physical needs of adults, children and the elderly alike. Yet her dream does not end there. In addition to the gym, she plans to establish an agency which prepares athletes for life after sport. She likes to call it a Life Coaching Agency for athletes. “I choose athletes, because that’s who I know. That’s who I work with everyday.” says Rhea, “At some point in your life your sport is going to be over. That part is inevitable. So how do you prepare for that without falling apart? How do you get ready for life after college athletics? I want to help athletes find the answers to those questions.”
Her passion is driven by her own experience. She knows what it feels like to be unprepared for a major transition in her life. College was her first major change. For her, high school was a breeze; she had never needed to study but still did really well; and so college was quite a shock! Her first semester at Murray State was extremely difficult as she struggled to keep up in athletics and in academics. Then as if that transition was not challenge enough, she discovered she was pregnant in her freshman year of college. Not only did she never expect to have children in her life, she never expected to have one at 19. It was a defining moment for her. Rhea feels that she was on the road to destruction and her son rescued her from herself.
Even though these experiences have molded her into the strong woman she is today, she admits that the transition from reckless teen, to confused college student, to amazing mother was the hardest stage of her life. Among Inner City girls, pregnancy is synonymous with “the end of your life”. Rhea’s mother, who continues to be her greatest inspiration, did not want this for her daughter. She offered to raise D’mitri while Rhea went back to school, but Rhea did not want her son to grow up not knowing who his mother was. And so she dropped out of school and accepted that she would never go back; she thought she would never run again. Yet God had a different plan for her…
In the 5 years Rhea was out of school, she got used to the idea that formal education was no longer a part of her future. “Me going back to college was a JOKE to my family and to myself. I mean I wasn’t even offended when people laughed about it. It was a real joke. Whenever we went to my brother’s or my ex’s track meets, everyone would tease me saying that would be me one day. And we would all laugh about it. The idea of me going back to school and running again was the last thing I ever expected to happen.”
Sometimes life’s journey leads you through routes you never imagined you’d travel. The danger is to get comfortable in the detour. So when Rhea’s journey took a terrible turn, it forced her out of what would have become a comfort zone. Her relationship of 4 years came to a sudden end. The struggle of raising a son on her own, and maintaining a household on a single income pushed her to look for something better. She was in a position where she had nothing to lose. It was then she decided to dare and try something new. She picked up the phone and called her ex’s recruiter from SC, Coach TJ Harris. And her journey to Southwestern College began. Everything fell into place in one short month, and Rhea knew God was telling her she was ready to go back.
In her time at SC Rhea has met people who have supported her and helped her grow. Being a non-traditional student, Rhea rarely interacted with anyone when she first arrived in Winfield. Yet her Math teacher, Shay Cox took her under her wing, and encouraged her to join SAAS. In time Rhea began to find her place and fit in at SC. Her friends and teammates have been supportive. She particularly appreciates Coach Harris and his family, whose home has become a second home for her and D’mitri. Whenever she travels out of town for track, she knows D’mitri is in good hands. Shay Cox and the Harrises have given her peace of mind, and helped her to grow as a student, as an athlete, and as a mother. Her classes are going well. She has had an amazing year in track. But most importantly, she and her son have become even closer than before. He is her number 1 fan, rooting for her every meet and counting down the days until “mom graduates.” He is growing into a respectful and highly gifted young man. Rhea beams with pride every time she talks about her son.
Looking back Rhea realizes that God had to strip her of everything – her relationship; a steady income; even her family when she moved here – in order to show her that she didn’t need all those things. “God showed me that I have what it takes to tackle the next chapter of my life. He has given me the strength to endure anything, and I would not have that confidence in Him if I hadn’t gone through that. It helped me see what God had placed in me all along.” Her advice to other young women is to “stay with it! Everyone goes through dark moments. But not everyone makes it through them. To be among those who make it, you gotta stick with it. It is the only way to discover your passion and realize your dreams!” She shares these words of wisdom with her middle-school mentees in Kansas City who are yet to discover the transition of High school and someday college. She shares this message with her clients at Career Athletes, where she prepares them for life after college. Yet her most powerful message is to her son, who she pushes to be the best he can be in everything he does!
At the end of my interview with Rhea, I am inspired beyond words. I am excited to see where God will lead her from here. I am grateful for her strength through the struggles, because it is her strength that will encourage me to keep fighting when things get tough. Her story has given me new material to use in my own experiences. As I leave College Hill Coffee, reflecting on my own life – my own challenges – I can’t help but smile at the little voice in my head that tells me to just stick with it.