Athlete of the Issue: Kujdych shatters cross country record
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Throughout the history of the Neshaminy cross country program, no runner has ever secured a first place finish at the PIAA District One championship race, until now. Junior Rusty Kujdych placed first at the PIAA District One race and also won the Suburban One League National Conference race, finishing in 15 minutes 35 seconds and 15 minutes 20 seconds, respectively.
While winning these races was something Kujdych had always hoped for, his successes didn’t occur overnight. After long hours of training, Kujdych narrowly missed a first-place finish at the SOL National Conference race just last year.
“(Winning) at SOL’s was a little bit of relief because last year I led the entire race and lost it with 50 feet left,” Kujdych said. “Crossing the line made me really relieved and not as stressed as I was the whole race.”
Just a week after winning the SOL National Conference Championship race, Kujdych competed again, this time against every male runner in the PIAA District One AAA division. Although he never expected this victory, Kujdych admitted this was his ultimate goal.
“With about one kilometer left, I pulled away from the kid who finished second, and from there, I just made up my mind that there was no chance someone was going to catch me from there,” Kujdych said. “It was exciting to break through the tape at the finish line with a good time, and reaching the goal.”
Just a week later, Kujdych nervously stepped up to the starting line, for the final time at the PIAA State Championships Nov. 5 in Hershey, Pa. He would be racing against the fastest runners in the entire state of Pennsylvania on a notoriously difficult course. The main hill on this 5,000 meter course is jokingly referred to as “Poop-out hill” because of how draining it is to run up it.
Nerves like these can, in certain circumstances, serve to be beneficial in competition. This was exactly the case in Kujdych’s history-making performance.
“Nerves are good because then you run out fast which is what I needed to do in this competitive of a race,” he said.
Kujdych sprinted off the line quickly, and kept pace, for a final time of 16 minutes 14 seconds, good for a tenth-place finish.
Last November, Kujdych finished 19th with a time of 16 minutes and 13 seconds at the state championships. Prior to his performance this year, this was the highest any Neshaminy cross country athlete had placed.
In order to stay in peak performance shape, Kujdych also competes in winter and spring track—training all year long. As far as goals for the upcoming winter season, Kujdych plans to focus on competing well in relay races with teammates. “I want to get a few relays to states this winter, and drop some solid times individually,” he said, “but focus more on relays than my own races.”
While it may seem that the sport of cross country is purely individually based, it is very much a team sport as well. According to the District One AAA champion, the charm of cross country lies in this team aspect.
“My favorite thing about XC is how close the team gets,” he said. “After training through the summer, and running so many miles and races together, we’re like a family.”
In addition to running, Kujdych also manages to challenge himself with honors and advanced placement classes. “Finding balance is near impossible. Practice takes all the energy out of you, and then you come home to homework,” he said. “The weeks are very stressful, and I don’t sleep much.”
In the end, the sleepless nights during the week pay off, because running serves to be a sort of therapeutic session at times. “It clears my head, it relaxes me, let’s me enjoy my music when I’m running alone,” Kudjych said. And of course, it keeps me in shape.”
With two more seasons this year, and his entire senior year ahead of him, Kudjych is in no rush to end his high school running career. “I’m just trying to take it one season at a time, and see where I’m at, at the conclusion of this season, and then set my goals.”