Rory Quiller ‘08 was a three-time All-American pole vaulter who became Binghamton’s first-ever Division I national champion when he seized the NCAA title during the 2008 indoor season. The Bearcat also competed at the Olympic Trials that same year, going out in 14th place in the preliminary competition. Quiller graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology in 2007 and earned his MBA at BU in 2010. He was inducted into the BU Hall of Fame in 2013.
What originally got you into track and field?
My father for over 40 years was a Division I track and field coach so … he thought that athletics in general offered a lot of educational value and taught a lot of good lessons. We were in sports, not necessarily track and field, but every sport you could imagine … Being at the track a lot, and given his profession, there was a natural attraction to kinda go that route. Obviously he had some expertise to lend himself to me and my brothers all pursuing track and field.
Would you describe your interest in the sport as, like you said, a natural attraction, or was it something you were better at than the other sports you played?
I enjoyed going to the track and spending time with my father [and my brothers] at the track. I enjoyed the individual aspect of it while still contributing to a team. But [choosing] the pole vault in particular was more that I wasn’t fast enough to be a sprinter [and] I wasn’t tough enough to be a distance runner, so I found the one that was highly technical and probably rewarded hard work more than any of the other events. There was a bit of a self-reflection toward the pole vault because I wasn’t athletic enough to do any of the other stuff.
Do you still remember the feeling of going to Olympic Trials and winning the NCAA title as well?
I remember those relatively well, along with other ebbs and flows of my career. It’s never what people expect because some of my biggest disappointments are at the biggest meets and some of my biggest successes are at the biggest meets … I think they all contribute to how I view and deal with things now as a coach and as a father, but I remember those situations pretty well. I’m thankful for the education that they gave me. Olympic Trials, it’s disappointing to not make a team when you go there twice and try, but not everything is all glitter with those memories.
Can you talk about [Binghamton head coach] Mike Thompson and his role in your career?
It’s tough to overstate what [Thomspon] meant to my career and me as an individual also. I hesitate to call him a parent figure or anything like that, but he was critical to my development as a pole vaulter. Right off the bat he gave me an opportunity that not many Division I schools gave me out of high school. On top of that, he believed in me and took the time to assemble that methodical approach toward getting us toward a higher level. On a psychological aspect, I think he fit perfectly with the type of person I was. I knew he cared a lot about what I did, so he knew the times to push me when he felt like my attention started to wander, but even more so he knew not to harp on things, like if I didn’t do well at a meet, he knew I took it harder than anyone else … Now I recruit for another school and people ask me, “What do you think of this school or this coach?” or whatever, and it’s all about how you fit in a program. For me, Thompson was the perfect fit.
Do you still keep up with BU athletics?
I’m not big on social media or anything, but I have my little 100-follower Twitter account that I blast out “Mackay” or “Schaffer” and obviously when [Jesse] Garn and Eric [Holt] were there, Keishorea [Armstrong]. I try to keep up with that stuff pretty regularly, reading some press releases and results. I’m still in track and field, you know, still on the coaching side of things … I go around the office talking to our distance coaches talking about “14th at cross country nationals? Would you believe that?” and that stuff makes me pretty excited for where the program’s at and how [Binghamton cross country head coach Annette] Acuff and Thompson are doing.
What were some of the major lessons and values that the sport of track and field imparted onto you?
There’s no greater teacher than “friendly fields of strife.” There’s nothing that teaches accountability [and], that correlates at least, hard work with success. Some of those things are just baked-in with track and field. One of the correlations I came to was the intrinsic motivation and how that could impact my athletic success. It made me feel like if I could do the things that aren’t necessarily the “sexy” things, like [Karsten] Warholm ripping his shirt off after shattering the world record … that guy does a ton of other stuff before you get to that point, and it’s a lot of stuff that people don’t want to do. I’m not claiming to be anywhere near that level, but just on a smaller scale, the thing that lent me to success was that I was disciplined. I had a bedtime. I made sure all the things going into my body weren’t just empty calories and alcohol and I tried my best to stay focused on things away from the track and give my full effort on the track as well. I think that was luckily reinforced by success early on that further perpetuated that cycle … That bleeds into what you do in your life as a father, a husband [and] an employee, and starting to realize that if I can help a little on one end, then maybe that’ll help the company get better, you know? There are a lot of lessons in there. I love my educational journey at Binghamton, but one of the biggest components of that education was track and field.
As a coach, what general advice would you give to college athletes based on what you’ve learned and what you see?
I’m pretty lucky to be here at an institution here at the [United States] Naval Academy that shares my sentiment on professional athletics and what the pursuit and intent of athletics should be. You can’t help but watch a Diamond League event, [Olympic] Trials [and] Olympics, and a lot of those stories are about mental health — this person battling with depression, this person dealing with adversity. The thing I try to impart on my athletes is you gotta make sure you’re well rounded — you’re not letting yourself be defined as a pole vaulter or a sprinter. You gotta be multifaceted enough to survive when you’re not that thing anymore. I always try to be a good teammate or be a good student. You’re trying to take the lessons you’ve learned in track and apply them to other spots in your life so when track is not a part of your life it doesn’t trigger an identity crisis. I think I see that a lot in athletics. What’s really neat about being at an institution like the [United States] Naval Academy is that there is a finite time that you’re doing athletics, then you go do a higher calling in serving your country … If you try to improve yourself and be multifaceted, then I think it would help a lot in terms of the mental health issues that you sometimes see with athletes.
What are some of the biggest takeaways and discoveries you’ve made since graduating from college up until this point?
I do keep up with BU athletics, and you know [redshirt senior Lou DePrez], they’re gonna compare him to [Tommy Lister Jr.] and [John] Peterson, and that’s a weird comparison but it’s just inherent in athletics. People will compare Monique Hacker to Brian Hamilton to me to Keishora [Armstrong] … At the end of the day we wanna try to find a “ranking,” and what I found post-collegiately is that you can get hung up on that. At the end of the day, the things that impacted me the most collegiately [are] the stuff people do on a daily basis that’s more impactful than the trophy that you have in your closet. There’s a stressor sometimes on a championship, but the lessons that you learn … Talking about my younger brother, who I think the world of, the best man at his wedding got married this past summer. When I had kids, that was my number one. He would sacrifice for my kids. If that’s not the greatest thing to do for someone, then I don’t know what is … [That’s] the thing I think we should celebrate … What matters is, “What lesson did Jesse Garn learn from being a high-caliber athlete and how is that going to affect him as a person when he needs to help someone in need with their back against the wall?” That’s something as a father that I’ve come to learn and appreciate. That’s a society that I wish we’d celebrate more — people doing selfless things that I think are more profound than a national title or Olympic team or anything like that.
How would you describe your life right now?
I feel very lucky. If you asked me back when I was in college, “Oh, do you want a family?” I would’ve said, “Ah, I don’t really care.” … I gotta say, having children and being married to my wife and being very happy … it’s very fulfilling and I can’t believe that I’m lucky enough to have that family and have a job that fits my passion that I can pursue and throw myself into … I feel lucky and humbled. It all comes back to being a father now, looking back on my father who passed away back in 2012, thinking when I was younger, “If only I could win something, that would be great,” at least to my father. I thought that when I was younger, but then I had kids and seeing my older daughter do soccer practice now, you sit there and realize it’s not only about the accomplishment. It’s watching your kid do something they are passionate about and enjoy. That was the thing that made me open my eyes to my father watching me win nationals. He didn’t care that I won a national championship. He cared that I succeeded in something that I was passionate about. I think that’s all coming home now as a father.
Quiller became a pole vault coach at Navy in 2012, championing his athletes to multiple podium sweeps in Patriot League competition. His current occupation is as an instructor of physical disciplines at the United States Naval Academy. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland with his wife Mandy, his daughters Kira and Lacey and his dog, Bronx.