Football and soccer kept Rudy Vasquez running during his first few months at St. Mary’s High School. Before that it was roller and ice hockey, and even before that it was basketball.
A track and cross-country coach caught a glimpse of Vasquez training for soccer as a freshman and convinced him to try a sport where running was the focus.
“He told me: ‘You’re running’,” Vasquez remembered the coach saying. “I wanted to run track, but it wasn’t until he told me I was doing it that I finally did.”
Soon, Vasquez began competing in the mile and two-mile events and became a tri-sport athlete his freshman year. During his sophomore year, Vasquez dropped football and added cross-country to his athletic resume. It wasn’t difficult for the comparatively small cornerback to realize he was better suited for other sports.
“For me football was fun,” he said, “but I wasn’t thinking about playing another year. I just wanted to say I did it.”
After a season of running track, Vasquez challenged the uneven-surface, 3.1-mile cross-country races in the fall. He immersed himself in the sport and said he’d spend two-thirds of his time either running, thinking about running or writing about running.
“That’s what I write stories about in English,” Vasquez said. “About how I did at a certain race.”
Vasquez finished second at the North Coast sectionals as a sophomore and qualified for state where he placed in the top 20. In the spring he returned to the track team and ran a speedy 4:29 mile.
As Vasquez’s cross-country experience grew, his results kept improving. Last year as a junior he won an NCS title and placed 10th in state.
Despite numerous individual honors, Vasquez said his thoughts while running often reflect upon the team aspect of cross-country racing and motivate him to move faster.
“I’m thinking I need to run harder for myself and if I do that I’ll help the team improve,” he said. “You have to run for yourself first, but running better helps out the team. They go hand in hand.”
Now that he’s a senior on a team filled with freshmen and sophomores Vasquez has become a leader that the younger runners look to for guidance and inspiration.
“He brings experience and leadership to this team,” said Richard Boulet, St. Mary’s first-year cross-country coach. “I really count on Rudy because I’m not here all the time and I ask him to act as a coach.”
Several universities have recruited Vasquez as a distance runner, and he’s narrowed it down to Western schools, particularly Cal, UC Irvine and Arizona. Vasquez wants to attend a school where he can study to become an engineer and where he can contribute to a top-ranked cross-country program.
“I want to talk to the Cal coach a little more, but they have a highly rated school and their (running) program is pretty strong,” he said. “I haven’t talked to Arizona yet, but I’d like to see what they have to offer.”
Vasquez began distance running three years ago, but with his extensive athletic experience he gathered long before his first cross-country race has helped him develop his skills as a runner.
“A lot of people think that you run cross-country because you can’t do anything else,” Boulet said. “But the best runners are the ones who are the best all-around athletes.”
The 5-foot-8, 128-pound senior’s raw talent combined with his dedication to the sport made him one of the state’s top cross-country runners last season. But Vasquez said there’s something more to his success.
“It takes a lot of heart to be a good cross-country runner,” he said. “When it comes to running, it’s whoever has got the biggest heart, whoever wants it more and whoever has the desire to be a champion.”
Three head coaches have led the St. Mary’s cross-country team since Vasquez started running. Even though their philosophies remained similar from year to year, Vasquez still had to adjust to three distinct coaching methods and personalities.
“Rudy has adapted really well to each style,” said Dennis Mohun, who coached Vasquez last year. “He’s taken the best out of each coach and that’s just made him a great runner.”
This season St. Mary’s is considered to be the second-best team behind Piedmont High School in the Bay Shore Athletic League. Defeating the Highlanders in head-to-head competition would be a bonus, but two other meets rate higher for the team.
“I only care about two races – North Coast and State,” Boulet said. “But what I’ve told these guys throughout the year is that results matter, but what’s more important to me is the effort. I want to see them all spent at the end of the race.”
Vasquez, who has been running in some fashion most of his life, gives a full effort in practice and during races but when the time’s right he enjoys resting his legs like anyone else.
“The funny thing about being a distance runner is that you turn lazy when you’re not running,” he said. “People will ask me if I want to walk a couple blocks somewhere and they’ll look at me funny when I tell them no.”