PELLA — Yana Rouse (senior, Glendale, Ariz., Ironwood HS) doesn’t play the cello.
It’s true, she concedes, almost wistfully, momentarily pondering if maybe she should.
There’s little else that the weight events competitor on the Central College women’s track and field team isn’t immersed in as she soaks in every precious opportunity the campus offers. A biochemistry major, she’s part of that narrowest of cross-sections of the student body with membership in both the Chemistry Club and the Poetry Club, while also involved with Anime Club, the Organization of Latinx-American Students, Black Excellence in Pella and the Campus Activities Board when she’s not tossing a discus or shot put. And, oh, by the way, she takes over as Central’s first female minority student senate president this fall.
“I don’t really know how it happened,” Rouse said. “I kind of just said yes to everything and ended up loving everything. I’m super excited to be in all these roles that I’m in. They add a lot of dimension to my college experience.”
They also add some complexity to the daily schedule.
“It’s not easy,” Rouse said. “It’s definitely hard but I just really like being involved and to always be doing things makes it easier, especially being supported by my professors as well. They’re actively trying to get us all involved so they’re not going to make it harder for me. If something were to come up, they would definitely say, ‘Oh, I understand.’”
Rouse said Dutch track and field coach Brandon Sturman is behind her as well.
“I have a really good relationship with Coach Sturman,” she said. “He just understands what I’m trying to get out of my college experience and he’s always ready to compromise. So If I’m not at practice he’ll always say, ‘Well, you can just do this instead.’ You’re not demonized for having other curricular things you have to do.”
Rouse is drawing attention for her role outside the throwing ring, as she finds herself as a campus leader in what she sees as a pivotal time not only for the college but the nation. Landing the position was more a matter of discovery than design.
“Honestly, that was the most random thing,” she said. “It was kind of just mentioned to me like, ‘Hey, the (senate president) position’s open.”
She was intrigued when she realized the ground-breaking nature of the opportunity, as just the second person of color to serve as Central’s student body leader. Ed Ollie, Jr. ‘93, an African American who was a running back on the Dutch football team and later team chaplain for the University of Miami football squad, served as senate president in 1992-93.
“I thought, ‘That’s super cool. Imagine if I could do that,’” Rouse said.
She could be the right leader at the right time for Central. Rouse was a part of racial justice protest marches in Phoenix during the summer and is packing a lofty agenda for her return to Iowa in August at a time ripe for change.
“I feel like we need to use this momentum and get what we can out of it,” she said. “It’s been an overlooked issue because we’ve just been comfortable where we are. But it’s like, yes, we were OK, but we can be better.
““I just want there to be a more welcoming environment as well as more minority students in leadership areas.”
She wants to model that.
“I want to be somebody who can show it’s not impossible. Just because there’s not a lot of us doesn’t mean you can’t,” she said.
But Rouse favors conversation over confrontation.
“It’s really all of us that need to change,” she said. “I’m not trying to point fingers, saying that this is an issue because of you. It’s like, no, these have just been issues and we’re highlighting them. We’re not trying to demonize anyone or victimize anyone. It’s more just how can we come together rather so that everyone feels good together.
“It’s going to take having difficult conversations and just really being aware of how you think and how you’ve interacted with people. It takes all of us.”
Some of those discussions can even take place on the track and field squad, Sturman said.
“I think our kids would definitely be open to that,” he said. “I think (a college campus) is really the best place to do it, you know, because it’s a learning environment so whether you agree or disagree in any form or fashion it’s definitely a place where you can have those conversations.”
Rouse found the spotlight when one of her Instagram posts was used by the NCAA in its Division III Twitter feed highlighting the issue earlier this month:
“I was very excited to see it,” Rouse said. “I felt grateful that they’re really highlighting this issue, and they’re supporting their minority students within the sports.”
In the post, she referenced “black girl joy,” a reassuring phrase for that Rouse and her sisters.
“I guess it’s just living in your truth and being happy with who you are,” she said. “As a Black female in America, it’s definitely harder to love yourself with society’s standards. People can try to take you down, and situations can, but never let that steal your joy. Always have joy in all the things you do.”
Athletics drew Rouse to Central from 1,500 miles away in Arizona after being recruited by associate head coach Joe Dunham, who previously served as head coach. But Central is so much more to her.
“I know that athletics is what brought me here, but I feel like being a student comes first,” she said.
But she sees track and field as part of her education.
“Track allows me to have an outlet,” Rouse said. “When school is hard or life is hard, I can just go throw. I can be with my friends. These people are like my family. I just love my coaches and I love my teammates.”
Ironically it was time away from Central this spring that validated her decision. As a biochemistry major, Rouse was concerned about how her classes would translate away from the Vermeer Science Center labs as the college transitioned to remote learning in mid-March due to the COVID-19 breakout.
“Oh my gosh, my professors really kicked it into high gear and made it something that was able to be done,” she said. “I had a physics lab with Dr. Viktor Martisovits and a microbiology lab with Dr. Lee Macomber. (For the microbiology lab) he literally had to do all of our tests and just gave us the data for them and we did all or our lab reports in that way. They really had to figure out what was going on as much as we did but, wow, they really made it happen. I was really happy with how that turned out.”
It’s the same kind of adaptability that Sturman utilizes to facilitate Rouse’s track and field career. But he sees her balancing act as a strength for his nationally competitive program, not a hindrance.
“Our philosophy here is to allow that flexibility,” Sturman said. “And I think our sport makes it a little bit easier, too because our kids can come in and practice on their own if they need to. My belief is I just want them to be happy and have the experience that they’re looking for. So if that means that if there’s a day or two here and there they need to miss for something academically, then we can definitely work around that. And Yana is someone who I know will work hard and get the work done regardless of it she’s right there at practice or not.”
But missing practice means missing time with cherished teammates and coaches like assistant Allan Walz, who works with the weight events, so Rouse tries to make absences rare.
“Coach Walz is such a great human being,” Rouse said. “He is the goofiest man ever and he really connects with all us in his own way. He makes it a mission to support you and your throwing and he just pushes you to be your best.”
Walz motivates through inspiration rather than intimidation, she said.
“He always tells us, I’m not here to yell at you, I’m here to help you become a better thrower,” Rouse said. “I’m more of a self-critic, especially when it comes to my throwing, but he’s there to be calmer, like he’s the diffuser bomb. I’ll think, oh, I didn’t do whatever and he’s the one saying, ‘It’s ok, you’ve got another throw. This is what you did. Let’s correct that and go from there.’ He’s just so calm and level-headed. It gives you that confidence because he’s so confident in you.”
Rouse also values her time with Sturman.
“You can just talk to him like he’s your friend but he’s still your coach,” she said. “I really respect him. It’s just cool that you can talk to him about anything in life and he’s there to talk to you and make sure you’re doing well in your mental health as well.”
Rouse’s highest finish during the indoor season was a modest ninth-place effort in the shot put at the Dutch Holiday Preview Dec. 14, yet she makes an all-America impact on her teammates, Sturman said, such as American Rivers indoor weight throw champKennedy Morris (junior, Earlham), who Rouse calls her best friend.
“The best part about Yana is her presence with her personality,” Sturman said. “She’s a leader and a support and just has a positive attitude with everything. She just wants to give her best all the time and she does a lot. It’s really good to have her on the team.”
Rouse sets the tone in workouts as well. She’s more likely to find rewards with a back squat in the weight room on a Tuesday afternoon than in a shot put heave in a meet on Saturday.
“I like the physical aspect of it,” she said. “I like to work out and it’s something I do pretty well so lifting weights is something I really enjoy.”
That has translated to steady progress as a thrower, Sturman said.
“The weight room is her jam,” he said. “She really loves lifting and she continues to get better (as a thrower). I think this year would have been really interesting to see what she could have done outdoors, but obviously that didn’t happen.”
But what she does away from the throwing cage on campus is even more inspiring to her teammates.
“I think it definitely is awesome to see that and it helps bring our team together,” Sturman said. “One of my goals coming here was to make sure that we were more diverse and open to that type of stuff and it’s great to have someone like Yana be a leader for that.”
Sturman said Rouse is evidence that athletes can compete for a top program without surrendering a chance to experience life beyond the A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex.
“(Central and Division III) just create that better balance,” he said. “We definitely have national caliber athletes but at the same time, those kids are making a difference in the world. The best part about it is they can have that balance and they don’t have to worry about putting one over the other.”