Dallastown sisters Sophia, Victoria Rodriguez running down records on track
Sophia Rodriguez broke a U14 world record in the two-mile run last month, while Victoria has excelled on the track and terrain for the Wildcats.
Sophia Rodriguez and her family walked through New York City on a Saturday night with a mission. They headed for Times Square, where the Dallastown middle school track star was to be featured on a Nike billboard. She had been part of a photo shoot the day before, so they knew it was coming. But seeing it under the night sky was an exclamation point on a surreal weekend.
The billboard read, "Sophia Rodriguez: Future Record Breaker." It was already behind.
Just over 24 hours earlier, Sophia had broken the under-14 world record in the 2-mile run, posting a 10:20.68 at Nike Indoor Nationals to eclipse a mark that had stood since 1979. The record-breaking time placed her second in the March 10 race, which featured some of the top high school runners in the country, and continued a breakout winter of awe-inspiring performances.
Rodriguez’s family members had their phones ready to capture the moment and cheered when she appeared on the screen across the street. Her mother tried — to no avail — to spread the excitement to New York passers-by. Sophia smiled and laughed when she first saw it and later posed for a picture with her digital self, but her overall reaction was more toned down than one might expect.
“I don’t think she understands how cool it is, in a way. That’s probably why she was subdued,” said Gabriel Rodriguez, Sophia’s father. “She’s like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ But when you look back on it, it’s pretty remarkable.”
Sophia and her sister, Victoria, have enjoyed a remarkable rise through the running ranks. Victoria, a sophomore at Dallastown, won the York-Adams League cross country meet in the fall after capturing the 800 meters at the league track championships last spring. Sophia, still an eighth-grader, has become a viral national star in just the last few months. Her name helping light up Times Square on a Saturday night was merely a continuation of her ascendance.
“It is very cool to represent my last name like that,” Sophia said. “And just to show up and perform well … I’m glad I had the opportunity, and it’ll forever be one of my core memories.”
Gabriel and Perla Rodriguez both ran track and cross country in college; Gabriel still holds Florida International’s school records in the indoor 5K (14:28.27), outdoor 3K (8:29.80) and outdoor 3K steeplechase (9:07.04), all of which were set in 2000. The Miami native was a four-time all-conference selection in track and a three-time honoree in cross country.
Gabriel Rodriguez continued to run professionally after college, chasing the U.S. Olympic trials in the marathon. He eventually landed on the business side of athletics with Brooks Sports, and he traveled frequently for his marketing job while raising his family in Texas, where Perla’s family is from. Victoria and Sophia were born in La Porte, Texas — about half an hour east of Houston — but moved to Maryland when Gabriel took a job with Under Armour in 2010. The family moved to Seven Valleys in York County a few years later.
Gabriel, Under Armour’s director of run apparel, always had a feeling his daughters would gravitate toward running. His oldest, Madelyn, is a sophomore at Stetson University who ran cross country for the Hatters last year after playing soccer and running track at Dallastown. Victoria began running competitively in middle school and quickly became a standout, which laid a path for Sophia to follow.
“Victoria is the most natural runner I've ever seen — so smooth, (she) just floats over the ground. It's amazing watching her run,” Gabriel said. “And when we saw her success right away, we were like, ‘OK, we knew that was gonna happen,’ because she’s such a natural runner.
“Sophia wasn’t more of a natural runner. She just was a great athlete — she’s the one that drills and practices and can obsess about things and get better.”
Gabriel remembers the girls first going on a serious run together during Thanksgiving 2019, after Victoria’s seventh-grade season. The middle sister tried to pull away from the youngest, but Sophia — then a fifth-grader with no competitive races under her belt — maintained an admirable pace and showed prodigious potential.
Both girls were also talented soccer players, but the COVID-19 pandemic slashed playing opportunities, which left running as the best use of their time. Victoria had to make a choice between cross country and soccer in high school because the sports fell in the same season. She opted to run, and she finished second to then-senior teammate Lydia Tolerico at the York-Adams League meet in October 2021.
Sophia eventually followed suit in leaving soccer behind. While both girls struggled to leave longtime teammates, they’ve found a similar camaraderie with their fellow Dallastown distance runners.
“In soccer, you get really close to your team, and that made the decision even harder to focus on running,” Sophia said. “Running is an individual sport, but it's also a team sport, and I think just having everyone work their hardest towards their individual goals, that benefits the whole team and we just bring each other up.”
The Rodriguez sisters pair their natural talent with a diligent work ethic and a smart approach to training. They have Gabriel, who still runs competitively himself, to guide them through the process. And they have each other to measure themselves against.
“It's not always one of those sports that gets all the headlines and stuff like that, and you have to be pretty disciplined in those quiet times,” said Michael Schuler, Dallastown’s middle school cross country and assistant track coach. “And I think that they have that.”
The sisters point to Victoria’s selection to Team USA in the International U18 Mountain Running Cup as the first big breakthrough. She was one of four American girls who traveled to Saluzzo, Italy, for a June 26 cross country race; Victoria finished 23rd of 44 runners, and the U.S. placed fourth of 12 teams.
In the fall cross country season, Victoria captured the York-Adams League title with a time of 18:24.3, more than 13 seconds clear of Dallastown teammate Kailey Granger. She then placed third at the District 3 Class 3A meet — which Granger won — and took 14th at the PIAA Class 3A championships in Hershey (Granger was fifth).
As a team, the Wildcats captured the district championship and finished fourth at the state meet.
Victoria also competes with many of the same girls during the spring track season.
“It’s really nice having that same team there, basically,” she said. “The team camaraderie is really there, and having (Granger) there helps a lot. We can do everything together, all of our runs.”
Sophia, meanwhile, first drew national attention at the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships in Huntsville, Alabama, last December. Her 5K time of 17:55.7 earned her a seventh-place finish against a field of almost entirely high schoolers; she was named a high school All-American despite not even being in high school yet. A week later, she won the USATF Junior Olympic XC Championship in College Station, Texas, with a 4K time of 14:03, which was 23 seconds clear of the field.
In early January at the LAB Holiday Invite in Ypsilanti, Michigan, Sophia set an unofficial middle school record with a 10:21.39 in the 3,200 meters (she posted the time on a 300-meter track, which doesn’t allow for official records). At the same event, Victoria posted a 5:07.30 in the 1,600.
In early February, the sisters traveled to Youngstown, Ohio, and finished 1-2 in the mile at a Youngstown State high school meet. Sophia posted a 4:56.94 to beat every high schooler in the field, while Victoria followed with a 5:09.32.
And Sophia went viral again in a 3K tune-up for Nike Indoor Nationals, setting a personal best and another unofficial middle school record of 9:43.08. The Instagram reel of her finish, posted by MileSplit and MileSplit PA, has nearly 28,000 likes a month later.
Sophia ran twice in three days in New York, starting with the 2-mile on Friday. Her photoshoot with Nike was before the race because the family had a French restaurant dinner reservation in the evening. (Gabriel describes Sophia as a “foodie” who often cooks for the family, and he likes to bring her to high-end restaurants on special occasions.)
When the race began, Sophia rose to the moment, even leading near the midway point. She finished second only to senior Brooke Wilson, Colorado’s Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year and a Wake Forest pledge. Rodriguez’s 10:20.68 topped her sterling 3,200 time from January despite the 2-mile race actually being 3,218 meters.
“I definitely did get ambitious towards the end, and it would have been really cool to have won it,” Sophia said. “But I think, looking back on it, I know what I could have done better to execute if I wanted to take the win. I had that goal in mind towards the end of it, but … I learned a lot from that race and just finishing strong.”
While the Rodriguez family watched the race in person, Schuler was following along as live splits were posted online. He was thrilled to see the time, but it wasn’t until the next day that he checked to see if she broke any records and found out she did. For the family, Saturday was a blend of celebration and rest; they went to the zoo during the day and viewed the billboard at night.
“I think her seeing it in person — and on that huge screen, because the screen was really big — just made it so much more real,” Victoria said.
Sophia returned to the track the following day and placed ninth in the mile with a 4:53.76 (her 1500 split of 4:34 was eighth). She closed her indoor season with another brilliant run at adidas Track Nationals the following weekend, as her 5K time of 16:39.08 nearly broke another U14 world record.
HERE AND NOW
Dallastown’s middle and high school track and field teams began their spring seasons last week with dual meets last Tuesday and the Herb Schmidt Relays at York Suburban on Friday. The high school team — which will compete on the road all season due to a construction project involving the stadium — visits Central York this Tuesday, while the middle schoolers battle Northeastern on Thursday.
Victoria Rodriguez, in addition to winning the league title in the 800 as a freshman, finished third in the county and 14th in the district at 1,600 meters and added a 12th-place district showing in the 3,200. She’s close to the 800-meter school record and hopes to break it this spring, as well as improve her personal bests in the distance events.
Sophia’s middle school season won’t run as long — there’s no postseason like there is in high school — but she plans to make the most of it. She’s the headliner of a distance group that’s put up plenty of eye-catching times, just as Victoria’s class did two years ago.
“Where she’s at right now as a runner, her competition is on a state and national level at this point,” Schuler said of Sophia. “But what’s super about her is, she still enjoys coming down and running with her peers in middle school and competing there and working hard and helping the team there as well.”
The sisters are set to compete in multiple national events this summer. Sophia said her schedule will include the Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle and Nike Outdoor Nationals in Eugene, Oregon, among other races. The duo also registered last week for the Bermuda Track & Field Challenge; both will compete in the 1,500 and 3,000 in the two-day island event.
Victoria and Sophia have only competed head-to-head in a handful of high-level races, although they’ve gone on countless training runs together. Both are competitive and will be eager to win, but they know better than to let themselves deviate too much from their strategy.
“When we race each other, we kind of just go into our own little worlds and we have our own separate races, even though it is the same race,” Victoria said. “And then afterwards, we’ll talk about it and think about it more.”
Staying in the moment applies not only to individual races but also to the big picture. Rather than wonder where they might be a year or two from now, Victoria and Sophia both remain focused on preparing themselves for what’s directly in front of them. Victoria’s priority is setting times that will qualify her for districts and states. Sophia aims to remain competitive during the middle school season while also resting and preparing for the big summer events.
“We spend a lot of time trying to be present and enjoying the time now. … Rather than worry about what the future is, let's just kind of focus on the present and see what we can do here,” Schuler said. “And while we're doing it, let's enjoy it, because at some point along the line, (these moments) become memories, and those are things we get to carry on with us the rest of our lifetime.”
The sisters’ time together as Dallastown teammates will begin with the cross country season this fall, and those two years are sure to bring plenty of lifelong memories themselves. The time will come, however, to revel in that reality. There’s plenty to be thrilled about in the present, too.
“I’m not really focused on the years to come,” Sophia said. “I’m mainly just being in the present moment and taking it day by day, as my dad says, and really dialing into now. And it all builds up in the end.”