Running down a dream

Neshaminy High School senior Rusty Kujdych came in first place in cross country at the PIAA championships

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Local champ: Senior Rusty Kujdych recently became the first student at Neshaminy High School to win first place in the PIAA State Championships for cross country. PHOTO: Syd White

If there’s one word to describe Rusty Kujdych, it’s humble. Recently, he became the first student at Neshaminy High School to come in first place in the PIAA State Championships for cross country. But the senior isn’t letting the victory go to his head. Instead, he’s staying focused on what lies ahead, including nationals and the continuation of his favorite sport next year in college.

Now in his senior year, Kujdych has been a part of Neshaminy High School’s cross country team since his freshman year. Growing up, he always enjoyed running and was a part of his middle school’s track and field team, so it seemed like the perfect fit.

Since joining the team, Kujdych has worked to improve his skills and endurance. According to him, cross country training involves a combination of techniques, including knowing how to pace himself, increasing his mileage and advancing from running on flat-level surfaces to hills.

“Rusty has worked hard over the past three and a half years to make himself into one of the best distance runners in the country,” said Syd White, cross country coach at Neshaminy High School.

Under the guidance of White, Kujdych has formulated the perfect training routine, allowing him to be in the ultimate shape for the PIAA state championships, which took place in Hershey on Nov. 4.

Kujdych came out victorious in the boys 5,000-meter run with a time of 15:47:00, which was 10 seconds faster than the second-place finisher who hailed from Butler Senior High School. For awhile, according to Kujdych, the race was extremely close. But toward the end he started to pull away, giving himself more of a comfortable lead. As soon as he crossed the finish line, he breathed a sigh of relief.

“It was a great feeling,” he said of winning the race. “I worked for this for awhile.”

Throughout the experience, Kujdych never took anything for granted. He trained as hard as he could, but also understood he was up against some tough competition. A win is never guaranteed, but sure is sweet when it actually happens.

As Kujdych prepared to return to school the following week, he was told his coach and the cross country team wanted to have a small get-together to celebrate. But as he approached the school building, he knew this wasn’t any old Monday morning. Some 500 students and faculty, as well as the Middletown Township police and fire departments, gathered outside to await his arrival. Kujdych was speechless.

“It was kind of crazy,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t need that much attention, but the thought was very nice.”

As the first Neshaminy High School student to take home the state title, the administration and White felt it was much deserved.

“Rusty is not only a dedicated and driven athlete, but he is an even better student and teammate,” White said. “Throughout his high school career, Rusty has made it a priority to get good, actually excellent, grades and to spend a lot of his time — both training and racing — helping his teammates try to qualify for championship meets while still maintaining an almost single-minded focus on his own training and racing.”

Though Kujdych is still enjoying his victory, he remains focused on the tasks at hand, including training for nationals and a number of additional races throughout his final year. He also plans to continue to hone his passion for cross country at the college level next fall at Georgetown University.

“Rusty has a lot more training and racing to do here this year,” White said. “But when he does graduate in June, his teammates and I will not only miss the drive and determination he brings to every race, we will also miss the effort and focus that Rusty brings to practice every day.” ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com