Business Sense: Triathlete juggles training, school, city projects

Published on Monday, 3 February 2014 00:00 - Written by

When she’s not juggling city projects or studying for her master’s degree, Stephanie Rollings is training for triathlons.

In November, after a year of intense training, she completed the Ironman Florida in Panama City Beach, Fla. — a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile marathon — in 15 hours, 26 minutes and 45 seconds.

She said training for it was like a full-time job on top of her full-time job as director of the city of Tyler Parks and Recreation Department. She would swim in the morning and run or bike in the afternoons.

Ms. Rollings, 40, said it taught her a lot about herself and perseverance, and it gave her confidence to know she could do it.

Ms. Rollings grew up in Portland, north of Corpus Christi, and earned a degree in resource and environmental studies at Southwest Texas State University.

She worked as recycling coordinator for the city of Lubbock for more than a year before working in Dallas for a private engineering firm. She moved to Tyler in 1998 when she took a job as planner for the city’s Planning and Zoning Department. She moved up to senior planner before leaving to work as director of Development Services for the city of Palestine.

The city of Tyler soon came calling, and she took a job as director of Planning and Zoning here for three years before returning to the private sector to diversify her experience. She did comprehensive park planning projects for cities in East Texas before the city of Tyler contacted her for the job of Parks and Recreation director.

Since she took on the role four years ago, she oversees the department’s special projects and day-to-day operations. She said it is a diverse department, and includes the city’s cemeteries, tourism sites, medians, indoor and outdoor recreational facilities and maintenance of Tyler’s parks and trail facilities. As a key leader with the city, she also oversees library services.

Ms. Rollings said the job keeps her very busy.

The department also is over athletics, including Little League baseball, soccer, adult softball and soccer leagues and tennis programs.

“It’s an exciting job because you’re never working on the same thing,” she said, adding that she’s always juggling different projects.

Right now, she is heading the recently donated Stewart Park renovations, working on getting input through public hearings and meetings on the Rose Garden Master Plan and going through the grant process to build new trails. She also has regular staff meetings to keep up with everything going on, as well as meeting with the city’s leadership team.

One of her favorite things about working for the city is the opportunity to touch so many lives. Offering places to walk, ride bikes or just be outside is really important to the quality of life for the people of Tyler, she said.

Whether it’s kids getting a hot meal during the summer playground program or sliding down the snow hill during Holiday in the Park, her job is very fulfilling. She also likes working as part of a bigger team that’s working to make a difference for the city overall. She said they find a way to work through challenges to make things happen.

Ms. Rollings also is working on getting her master’s degree through a city program that partners with The University of Texas at Tyler. Right now, there are nine key leaders for the city who take Monday night classes at City University. They are taking one class a semester, working their way to earn a master’s degree in public administration.

She said it is a very unique, exciting opportunity. Continuing education is part of the city’s culture to allow the staff to continue to grow professionally, she added.

When she’s not busy studying or working, Ms. Rollings spends a lot of time exercising. As part of her weight loss challenge and journey, she started running to get into better shape about five years ago. After watching a friend compete in a triathlon, she did the Rose City triathlon and became hooked.

She said swimming, biking and running keeps her attention because when she doesn’t feel like doing one, she can pick another. And she loves spending time outside, she added.

She began increasing the distance of the triathlons and has since traveled throughout Texas, as well as Louisiana, Missouri and to the Ironman in Florida.

She said that just after finishing the intimidating Ironman, which was on her bucket list, she thought she could never do it again. But since then, she began thinking about what she could have done better.

“Never say never,” Ms. Rollings said when asked if she would do another Ironman. “I guess we will see.”

For now, she continues training, exercising and participating in triathlons.

On her off time, Ms. Rollings likes to work in her yard and take long bike rides. She said even though biking is a workout, a relaxing bike ride throughout beautiful East Texas can’t be beat. She also enjoys traveling to participate in triathlons and meeting new people.

“It has become a big part of my life,” she said.