GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Alex Rose has a story to tell, and you can see it on the growing tapestry that adorns his powerful body.
Rose, a discus thrower from Grand Rapids, represented Samoa in the 2016 Olympics in Rio and will do so again in Tokyo later this year.
“Tattoos in Samoan culture are very, very, very important,” Rose said.
Each element of his tattoo, which covers his left arm, shoulder and pectoral, holds special meaning. It started with a crest on his pec that he designed himself that includes three symbols. One of them is a Celtic eternity knot that represents his mother.
“Because for as long as I have been able to understand her, she has been obsessed with Celtic religions,” he explained.
Tucked near the knot is a crescent moon symbolizing his sister Masina, whose name means moon in Samoan, and dominating the crest is a tree.
“My dad is a tree trimmer, so he is the tree,” Rose said.
His father was born in Samoa, which is why Rose can represent that country in the games.
Rose laid out the crest at the brash age of 18. As he has matured, so have the chapters on his evolving tattoo.
“My story goes through a young man who really doesn’t understand himself and doesn’t exactly know what he wants to do with himself, and goes through his journey and rite of passage,” Rose said.
The newest addition is a Samoan shield dotted with birds representing his wife Sam, who he married after Rio.
He also got a set of Olympic rings on his right forearm — his throwing arm — to memorialize his second chance at glory.
“I wanted to do this a long time ago, but I really wasn’t proud of my performance (in Rio),” Rose said. “But I have learned throughout time that it’s something to be proud of just getting there.”
As he steps into the circle in Tokyo, he said, he’s determined to ink a triumphant chapter.
“He realizes he wants to be one of the best athletes in the world: That’s what I want my story to be,” Rose said.
The tattoos, Rose said, serve as a reminder of why he trains so hard to compete for a country where he’s never lived.
“Being from northern Michigan, I don’t have a physical connection to Samoa. The closest thing I have is my dad here,” Rose said. “Knowing how important tattoos are to their culture, I wanted something to connect me over there, especially since I am representing them on a national scale.”
Because Samoa doesn’t have the budget of the U.S. Olympic team, Rose, who has taken a sabbatical from his day job at a technology company to prepare for the games, is raising funds for his training and travel by selling Team Rose merchandise you can buy online.
The 2020 Games in Tokyo begin July 24 and run through Aug. 9.