The delayed 2020 Summer Olympics are set to begin in Tokyo on July 23, but one Whitesboro native is thinking more about 2024.
Denim Rogers, a senior track and field athlete at Houston Baptist, plans to participate in the Olympic trials ahead of the 2024 Summer Olympics. Rogers hopes to join Team USA in Paris for the decathlon.
“That’s always been a dream of mine,” Rogers said. “That’s just kind of what I always wanted to do since I was little when I started track, is make it to the Olympic stage or the world championships and just be on that level with everybody.”
Rogers is a three-time All-American, making him the most decorated track and field athlete in HBU history according to the HBU sports information department. He earned first team honors in the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships for decathlon, finishing seventh with 7,596 points, still his personal record. He was first team heptathlon in the 2021 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, where he finished eighth.
He dislocated his ankle just before the 2021 Outdoor Championships. He powered through to finish 15th with 7,223 points and claim second team All-American honors, but the injury prevented him from competing at this summer’s Olympic trials.
Rogers was born in Mexia but grew up in Whitesboro. He went to school at Whitesboro ISD until halfway through his freshman year when he moved to Midland.
He has been involved in track and field since he was 5. He participated in Whitesboro’s summer programs under then-coaches Brad and Barbara Urban. He tried a little bit of every event at first before settling on the high jump. After moving to Midland, he added the 110-meter hurdles, 300-meter hurdles, long jump and relay.
When he started college, his family moved to Sherman, so he still spends plenty of time in Texoma.
“When I go to town there, (Whitesboro) High School lets me use their weight room,” Rogers said. “I get to get on their track, and they let me train. Brad Urban… would come out and help coach me while I’m here in town, so it’s really nice to have that accessible for me there.”
His event, the decathlon, is a combination of 10 track and field events held over two days. The first day, athletes compete in the 100 meters, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400 meters. On day two, they compete in the 110-meter hurdles, discus, shot put, javelin, and 1500 meters.
Rogers said he decided his senior year of high school he wanted to focus on the decathlon in college.
“I grew up watching Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee, and I just kind of wanted to do what they did and do all the events,” Rogers said. “I like to keep myself pretty busy. I didn’t want to get bored just running in circles. I wanted to add some more events and keep it fresh.”
Preparing for the Olympics takes a lot of time and work, so Rogers must find ways to support himself. In June, the state of Texas passed a law allowing collegiate athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL). The NCAA also announced an interim policy allowing athletes to profit in accordance with their respective state laws. Both went into effect July 1.
Rogers said he is looking for sponsors to help him support himself and his soon-to-be wife as he continues preparing for his potential Olympic journey.
“I want to start getting some of that done because I’m about to get married next month, and there’s just no way to train 4-6 hours a day and hold down a full-time job 8-5 and be able to support me and my future wife,” Rogers said. “So, it’s just going to be pretty imperative that I get some type of help somewhere along the way so that I can be able still pursue my goals and my dreams, but still be able to survive.”
The NCAA’s NIL policy requires compensation to be in exchange for some amount of work or service, so pure donations would be forbidden while he is in college. However, Rogers’ end of the deal could be something as simple as posting an advertisement for a business on social media. Rogers said any person or business interested in sponsoring him can reach out to him through his social media accounts.
Besides making the Olympics, Rogers said another goal of his is to inspire others. He said sports helped keep him out of trouble as a kid, and he wants to help other kids stay on the right path. After a mission trip to Monrovia, Liberia, he helped open the Denim Athletic Club there to help other kids the way sports helped him.
“Sports keeps a lot of kids in school, and a lot of other countries don’t have sports involved in school,” Rogers said. “So, that was kind of their concept was, ‘Let’s add these sports, and maybe the kids will want to stay in school longer and actually finish school and want to be there.’ So, it’s really cool to be a part of that.”
Rogers said he plans to go back to Africa and visit at some point soon to meet the kids involved.
In the meantime, the Olympic grind continues. Team USA can only take two or three decathletes to each Olympics, so the road to Paris will be filled with innumerable hours of work and sacrifice if this Texoma native is going to realize his dream.