Most novice race walkers begin participating in the sport without a long, thought-out plan. Michelle Rohl is no different. Already an accomplished runner and 15-time NAIA All-American, she had never entertained the idea of race walking before an injury her senior year forced her to begin cross training. While she began race walking regularly to train, remarkably, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, in 1989 without ever having competed in the event.
Coach Mike DeWitt thought she had a talent for race walking. The following year, when Rohl had trouble qualifying for Nationals as a runner, he suggested she try qualifying as a race walker. She did, still intending to return to serious running the following season. While Rohl ran a bit over the years—even qualifying to run the Olympic Trials marathon—she never seriously trained to run competitively again.
Rohl stayed at Parkside through the 1992 Olympics. However, during training she went down to train in New Orleans to get ready for the heat and humidity. In one of the best stories of gorilla marketing I have ever heard, her husband turned a bad situation into a sponsorship and great exposure for race walking. After running up a large phone bill with MCI, Mike called them and asked them to help out. AT&T was a major Olympic sponsor. He proposed that helping the Rohls would be great advertising. They not only took care of the bill, but signed Michelle to a multi-commercial contract. It featured the story of Michelle being separated from her family and calling home, of course using an MCI calling card.
After the Olympics they relocated again to LaGrange, Georgia, where she joined a group of elite American race walkers training for the 1996 Olympics. She qualified for these games as well, finishing the highest of any of her Olympic appearances. Having the Olympics in Atlanta couldn’t have worked out any better. Michelle’s dad came to the race; it’s the only international race he has ever seen his daughter walk.
After the 1996 games, the group moved to the new Olympic Training Center in California. Rohl could not join them, however, because she was married and had children—two circumstances unwelcome at the center.
The Rohl clan trained in Northern Wisconsin for a period before heading to Cloud Croft, New Mexico, where Michele lived at 9,000 feet while training at 4,000 feet. Very few places in the world provide the benefits of high altitude living and lower altitude training. Rohl qualified for her third Olympic Games (2000) there and planned to stay indefinitely. However, her husband Mike received an offer to head the track program at Mansfield University; with Michele offered an assistant track coach position with Mike, the Rohls moved to Mansfield, PA, where Michele now trains to qualify for her fourth Olympic games. She is the proud mother of four children. That’s right, four!