Catching Up With Gopher Alum Rasa Troup Catching up with Olympian and Gopher alum Rasa Troup
When Rasa Michniovaite first came to the Gophers in 1998, she couldn't have imagined coming this far. And in 2000, following her two-year running career at the U of M, her decision to quit running made her chances of future success slimmer than ever.
Things have certainly changed since then.
Now, she's Rasa Troup, former Olympian, mother of two children, and nutritionist for the Gophers' women's cross country and track and field teams. And she owes it all to hard work, perseverance, and her experience as a Gopher.
Troup, 33, came to the U of M from Lithuania in 1998, with two years of NCAA eligibility remaining. A track star in her homeland, Troup specialized in jumping and hurdling events, and did not expect to run cross country for the Gophers. "When I came here, I was a little bit ignorant," says Troup.
But she learned quickly, jumping into cross country practices her first week in Minnesota, and then surprising everyone by winning the Roy Griak Invitational on September 26. "I didn't know if [Coach Gary] Wilson was expecting me to win the race," Troup says. "I think [winning Griak] came as a surprise to me, and I think it came as a surprise to the coaches as well."
Troup would go on to win three more meets in 1998, and compete at the NCAA Championships, where she placed 16th, earning All-America honors. She enjoyed similar success during the track and field season, posting times in the 1,000m, 1,500m, and distance medley relay that would rank among the school's best.
Then came Troup's senior season. Riddled with injuries, suffering from iron deficiency, and struggling to adapt to her new culture and language, she missed all but two races during the indoor track and field season, and failed to qualify for the outdoor NCAA Championships. This came after a disappointing cross country season in which she did qualify for the NCAAs, but failed to earn All-America honors with her 66th-place finish.
It was a season that many would want to forget. But Troup didn't.
"I learned a lot about myself and what I can do," Troup said of the experience. "I think it made me [a] much stronger person. I would not change anything."
Troup's mental strength would soon be tested. After receiving her undergraduate degree from the U of M in 2000, she found herself swamped with work, volunteering, and graduate school preparation, leaving herself little time to train. At first, the transition was too much for Troup.
"I was so fatigued and tired that I quit," she says. "Then I started missing it a lot."
And so Troup resumed running, first in local five- and ten-kilometer events, and then eventually as a steeplechaser. As a Gopher, Troup says she was too stubborn to run the steeplechase, despite her coach's encouragement.
"Wilson was always after me, saying I should run this event," Troup said.
In 2002, Troup finally took her coach's advice, trying the 3,000-meter event in practice. She did well, which inspired her to train for the 2005 World Championships, where she would represent Lithuania. There, she missed qualifying for the final by a small margin, a bittersweet outcome that left her disappointed-but more motivated than ever.
Unfortunately, 2006 was another setback year for Troup. After adopting a new training regimen, she entered the 2006 European Championships with high hopes, only to miss the final by more than seven seconds. And so, for the second time, she hung up her shoes, and shifted her priorities to another worthwhile commitment: starting a family.
Troup gave birth to her first child in June of 2007. But that didn't keep her away from running. Encouraged by her friends, her husband, and as always, her own mental fortitude, she set her sights on running the steeplechase at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Troup knew it would be a "huge goal," but none too challenging.
"Internally, I always had the belief that, if I try, I can do anything," she says.
As high as Troup had set her goals, she did not struggle to qualify for the Olympics. As one of only a few steeplechasers from Lithuania, she needed only a "B standard" run at a local competition to make the cut. She accomplished that at the Drake Relays in April of 2008, running behind former Gopher All-American Emily Brown, but still wasn't satisfied with her performance. So, after consulting with Coach Wilson, she trained for two months, and then ran "A standard" at the Occidental College competition in June.
But it still wasn't enough. When she arrived in Beijing, Troup had a greater goal in mind.
"I had my mind made up," she says. "I need to make a final."
To do that, Troup anticipated that she would need to run faster than 9:30, which would easily break her personal record. She was spot-on. The last qualifier in the 3,000-meter steeplechase ran a time of 9:28.86.
Troup was less than two seconds behind, with a time of 9:30.21.
It was yet another bittersweet experience for the All-American, who would leave Beijing without a chance to compete for a medal. "At the same time, it was a huge accomplishment," says Troup.
But not a surprise, not like her first Griak race as a Gopher. Since her triumph at Griak in 1998, Troup has come a long way. She credits her improvements to her training, work ethic, and ability to push herself, even in the most difficult of times.
Troup also recognizes how much she has benefited from proper nutrition. After receiving her MS in nutrition from the U of M, she improved her eating habits and got into the best shape of her life for the Beijing Olympics-a change which helped her live up to the potential she believes she didn't recognize as a Gopher.
"[At that time], I was not very [aware of] how to fuel my body," she explains. "I could have gone much further than I went."
But Troup has no regrets; rather, she believes her struggles have helped her, personally, athletically, and also professionally. As the nutritionist for Minnesota cross country and track, she draws on her experience to help athletes make better eating choices. She works with the athletes on both an individual and team level, taking them on grocery store runs or visiting the dorms to show them what is and isn't proper "performance nutrition."
Troup says that such sessions often demonstrate the young athlete's inexperience.
"A lot of athletes are not familiar with performance nutrition," she explains. "A lot of freshmen come in and are not sure what to eat in the dorms."
But, as Troup knows as well as anyone, the smallest of improvements can go a long way. In her four years as nutritionist for the Gophers, she has helped many fatigued athletes recover their energy in just one or two weeks by making small dietary adjustments. Adjustments that, if applied consistently, will help an athlete train more effectively, delay fatigue, reduce muscle inflammation and injury, and improve cognitive ability in competition.
Ultimately, though, Troup believes an athlete's success comes down to determination.
"If you put your mind to it, you can do a lot of stuff," Troup says. "That's why I went into nutrition."
It's also why she has accomplished so much.
Written by Charlie Armitz, Athletic Communications Student Assistant