University of Florida ROTC Student Dies During Training Exercise
A student in the University of Florida's Air Force ROTC program died Thursday morning.
Landon Howard Rogers, a freshman exploratory major, was a member of Gainesville's Eastside High School class of 2015, where the entire community mourned his loss Thursday, according to Joseph Hughes, Eastside band director.
He died Thursday at Percy Beard Track while working out with ROTC.
Howard Rogers, Landon’s father, said his son was looking forward to a training run with his ROTC peers Thursday, over a mile-long run — six laps around the track.
Landon wanted to beat his personal time.
He pushed himself.
On the fourth lap, he collapsed.
“I have no doubt that he was pushing himself as hard as he has ever pushed himself, trying to achieve a best time,” his father said.
ROTC members notified him that Landon had collapsed and was being taken to the hospital.
“My wife made it there before I did, and I was escorted into the family waiting room,” he said. “The physician told me he was deceased.”
Rogers said his family isn’t aware of any preexisting medical conditions that could have led to his son’s death.
“We were shocked,” he said. “We are grieving.”
Rogers played football and lacrosse while at Eastside and was named the “Ram of the Year” last year, Eastside's Joseph Hughes said. He was a member of the school’s chorus and a tuba player.
“He’s one of the best people of any age that I’ve ever met. People who know him say he was the nicest person they’ve ever met,” Hughes said. “He was an outstanding athlete and a very strong musician. Anyone that knew him cared about him a lot.”
Rogers said his son always pushed himself in everything he did.
“Landon was a Christian. He sought God's will for his life, whatever that would be,” he said. “He combined giftedness with such humility. He was a brilliant, compassionate and loving young man who had such an impact.”
Rogers encouraged his son to get involved with ROTC as a way to apply his talents, he said, just like Landon’s sister, Hannah, who is a sophomore at Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
After college, Rogers said, Landon was planning to work in aerospace engineering and focus on rocket sciences. This was largely influenced by his love for the sciences as well as natural ability — including high grades and advanced placement at Eastside and at UF.
“Landon never made a B in high school,” Rogers said. “To go along with kindness and compassion, he was a fierce competitor. He would work as hard as he could on the athletic field to help his teammates. He always led by example and by the way he lived and played.”
“As his father, what I can tell you is that he was a dream son,” he said.
Vivian El-Salawy, a classmate and fellow band member, said Landon was one of the happiest people she’s known.
“I’ve known him since middle school and he always had a positive aurora or a smile on his face,” El-Salawy said. She's a 19-year-old media studies sophomore at Florida State University and was a year ahead of Rogers at Eastside. “What set him apart from everyone else was he was so hardworking.”
El-Salawy was thinking today about how another, too similar tragedy that struck Eastside four years ago. Multi-sport athlete Sarah Landauer died during track and field practice in March 2011.
"Their personalities were very comparable in that they both served as role models in high school," she said.
El-Salawy said the Rogers family has always shaped Eastside and the Gainesville community for the better.
“The Rogers family influences the entire community. Their family as a whole is an ideal family,” El-Salawy said.
Jeff Parker, head football coach at Eastside, worked for four years with Landon, the team’s quarterback.
“I mean it when I say he was the finest ever young man I’ve ever worked with in my career. Beloved by everyone. He’d never speak an unkind word or said a bad word about anyone. Landon was the kindest soul I’ve ever known,” he said.
Parker watched Landon bring his spirit to all of his teams and responsibilities at Eastside, including a Bible study that he started before graduating.
Parker was at Eastside High this morning when students and staff learned of Landon’s passing. He wasn’t surprised to see how many came together to remember Landon.
“Landon touched so many kids' lives,” he said. “Landon was so diverse with what he did and what he was.”
El-Salawy said she believes she has the perfect memory to capture Rogers' spirit and character.
"He couldn't always make it make it to rehearsals," she said, adding that Rogers was excused from statewide competitions and practices because of his multiple athletic commitments. "But he showed up anyway, in his full football uniform.
"I'll never forget that. It’s important for people to know how irreplaceable as an individual he is."