116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — When Aurora Roghair commemorated her high school graduation, she didn’t do it in a steamy gymnasium or a sun-baked stadium.
Instead, she turned her tassel moments before stepping on the starting block at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha.
“One of my sisters talked me into it,” Roghair said. “She said, ‘You’ve got to do it, you’ve got to do it.’”
So, as her classmates went through commencement at Iowa City West, she did the same as she entered the natatorium at CHI Health Center.
Then it was time to race.
Competing in Wave I of the Trials, Roghair won the “B” final in the 200-meter freestyle, was seventh in the “A” final of the 400 freestyle and was fourth in the “A” final of the mile.
She didn’t advance to Wave II, so she took a week off to recharge.
The next chapter: Stanford University, in September.
For 39 years, The Gazette has honored the area’s best high school male and female athletes of the senior class.
Multisport athletes have an advantage; if you want to win the award as a single-sporter, you must be elite. You must be special.
Aurora Roghair is both. And she is the 2021 Female Athlete of the Year.
“She’s the epitome of what you want from a high school swimmer, or as a high school athlete in general,” West girls’ swimming coach Byron Butler said. “She checks every box.”
West athletics director Craig Huegel said, “We have a very storied athletic tradition, and Aurora fits right in.”
Roghair’s legacy is this — arguably the best girls’ distance swimmer in state history.
She won six state championships in her career, including four as a senior. She holds the all-time Iowa best in the 500-yard freestyle (4:47.43) and is No. 2 in the 200 free (1:47.30, just 16-hundredths off the record).
In addition, she was on two championship relays, swimming a 22.88-second 50-yard split and 49.22 in the 100.
Of her title races, the 200 freestyle relay ranks as her favorite.
“That was really special, because I got to be on the relay with (younger sister) Jade,” Roghair said. “It was a tight race.
“That group hug at the end, that was the best feeling.”
‘For the most part, she’s been indestructible’
Butler called swimming “traditionally a sport of attrition.” It’s hard work, those early mornings, those laps, those aches and pains.
Injuries happen. So does burnout. Roghair avoided both.
“I’m lucky,” she said. “I haven’t really had to struggle with anything. That’s a credit to my coaches. They watch and make sure my technique is good.”
Meanwhile, Roghair eats and sleeps well.
“For the most part, she’s been indestructible,” Butler said.
Her steady improvement throughout her West career reflects that.
In the 200 freestyle, her state-meet times from freshman year to senior year have gone from 1:52.76 (third), 1:49.94 (third), 1:48.85 (first), to 1:47.30 (first).
In the 500: 5:02.40 (fourth), 4:53.20 (second), 4:50.87 (first), 4:45.78 (first).
That’s a steady arc of excellence.
“I definitely think that consistent hard work shows up,” Roghair said. “I started lifting as a freshman. Over the last four years, I’ve gotten a lot stronger, and that translates into the water.”
As Roghair became dominant, West improved in the team race, from eighth in 2017, to sixth, fourth and second. The Trojans scored 277.5 points last fall, finishing behind Ames (303).
“She changed the culture here,” Butler said. “She brought everybody else with her.”
Early signs of something special
Aurora is the third of four daughters to Robert and Pei-Fen Roghair. It was the idea of her mother, a native of Taiwan, to introduce the girls to the water.
“(Pei-Fen) doesn’t know how to swim,” Robert said. “She was concerned, and wanted them safe near water.”
Aurora started club swimming at age 7, first for the Iowa City Eels, then for Iowa Flyers — “my sisters were swimming a lot, and it looked like fun,” she said — and it didn’t take long for it to become apparent that she was far ahead of the curve for her age.
“When she was with the Flyers, maybe 9 or 10 years old, the coach pulled us aside and said she was really special, she had a lot of potential,” Robert said. “She’s a hard worker, she’s got some natural ability, and the coaches picked up on that.”
Roghair participated in dance for 10 years, gymnastics for four, basketball for two. But swimming is her trademark. She blossomed, even though she never took private lessons, and she stuck with high school swimming instead of going the club-only route that some take.
“I never considered quitting high school (swimming),” she said. “I like the team atmosphere too much.”
There’s a story about her name, and those of her sisters.
Jasmine is named after the jasmine flower that grows in Taiwan, and is also the name of a Disney princess (from Aladdin).
“When Ariel came along, we picked up on the Disney thing, and Little Mermaid was popular at the time,” Robert Roghair said. “Aurora was born in the spring (March 2003), and we were trying to come up with names, but my wife liked the Disney theme.”
Ariel was the princess from The Little Mermaid, Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. The theme didn’t carry to Jade, who is named after a gemstone in Taiwan.
Butler has coached all four of the sisters. Jasmine went on to swim at Truman State University, Ariel at Macalester College.
The common theme?
“It’s kind of a running joke that all of the Roghair sisters are a little shy, not very vocal at first,” Butler said. “But in Year 3 or Year 4, they open up.
“Aurora is a really, really positive person. I think she kind of loves it when people are negative so she gets to counter that.”
Up next: Stanford
Roghair, who posted a 4.6 grade point average at West, plans to major in psychology at Stanford.
“One of my sisters told me about sports psychology. I’d really like to do that, helping people reach their full potential,” she said.
That is what she did at West. If Huegel needed to speak to a student-athlete in a leadership capacity, Roghair was one of his first contacts.
“I hope my kid grows up to be like her,” Huegel said. “If she does, I’ve done a great job as a dad.”
In a few weeks, the bright light that is Aurora Roghair will head west. She’ll be nearly 2,000 miles away from home.
But she’ll adjust. And she’ll shine.
“Once I started talking to Stanford, my decision became clear ... I couldn’t turn down an opportunity like this,” she said.
“I know the people there will push me to a new level, both athletically and academically.”
Aurora Roghair, at a glance
Full name: Aurora Jade Roghair
School: Iowa City West
Birth date: March 19, 2003
Family: Parents, Robert and Pei-Fen Roghair; sisters, Jasmine, Ariel and Jade
High school accomplishments: Undefeated in all swimming races as a senior, winning four state championships. That includes all-time Iowa bests in the 500-yard freestyle (4:45.78) and the 400-yard free relay (3:23.73, she posted a 49.22-second split). Also captured titles in the 200 freestyle (1:47.30) and 200 free relay. Automatic all-American in all four events. Finished her career with six state titles and 14 top-five finishes. School records in seven events.
Future plans: Will swim at Stanford University. Plans to major in psychology.
Final 2021 Gazette Female Athlete of the Year voting
1. Aurora Roghair, Iowa City West 45 (9)
2. Sasha Koenig, West Branch 33 (1)
3. Emerson Whittenbaugh, Maquoketa Valley 21
4. Audrey Koch, Iowa City West 17
5. Annie Gahan, Iowa City Regina 11
First-place votes in parentheses
Others receiving votes (alphabetic order):
Ella Imler, Maquoketa Valley
Carey Koenig, Iowa City High
Ayana Lindsey, Iowa City High
Kelly Proesch, North Cedar
Taya Tucker, Maquoketa Valley
Ella Van Weelden, Marion
Others nominated (alphabetic order):
Meg Besler, Western Dubuque
Miyako Coffey, Cedar Rapids Xavier
Ella Cook, Iowa City High
Hailey Cooper, Cedar Rapids Prairie
Libby Moore, Springville
Micah Poellet, Linn-Mar
Lauren Riggle, Clear Creek Amana
Jayme Scheck, Cedar Rapids Kennedy
Ellie Ware, North Linn
Riley Wright, Marion