AJ Cross Country Senior Leaders

Veterans Salas, Rutkowski Set the Pace for Prospectors

By Daniel Dullum

The term “injury-plagued” is an understatement for Apache Junction runner Faith Rutkowski.

Following her first-place finish in the Prospector girls’ first cross country meet of the season at Prospector Park, Faith said, “I’m feeling a lot better” after battling a variety of injuries over her sophomore and junior years.

Faith Rutkowski

Faith explained, “In my sophomore soccer season, I hurt my hip and went into track and didn’t run a great track season. I came back off of that injury because I couldn’t run for three months. So I came back to cross country season as a junior and didn’t have the results that I wanted.

“Then in junior soccer season, I broke my foot and missed the first half of track season. So I’ve had a good six months to get back to it.”

Faith credits “a good training summer” as a key to returning to full health.

“With my foot, there wasn’t anything they could really do for it – it’s a waiting game,” Faith said.

“So I would try to do stuff that didn’t involve my foot, so I would stay somewhat active, which I think helped a lot more.

“When I hurt my hip, I couldn’t do anything. So I took a few weeks off and gradually got back into different things, like just trying to stay in better shape.”

As seniors, Faith and twin sister Emily, who have participated in soccer and track together, are also teammates in cross country. Faith said that while qualifying for the state meet as an individual is nice (she qualified last season finishing 20th in the Section 2 meet), going as a team, to her, is better.

“In my freshman year, I had a goal to make it to state individually as an athlete. I’ve done that the last three years, but I would really like the girls team to qualify as a whole,” she said. “I’ve done both, and it’s just a way better experience to go with your team.

“I think we have a really good team this year and one of the strongest girls teams we’ve had here in a while. This is a great first race for everyone and we’ll build more as a team.”

THE BOXER

At the urging of his boxing coach, Erik Salas took up running. In the process, the Apache Junction High senior discovered a new athletic passion.

“Running has really helped me throughout my career in boxing,” Salas said. “I really like it. That’s why I started doing it. My coach told me I had to start training by running a few miles. He would ask, ‘How many miles did you run?’ I would say, ‘None.’ And he would get mad!

“That’s when I started putting in more miles.”

Soon, Salas discovered he enjoyed running, taking up cross country and distance running for track as a result.

“I didn’t expect that,” Salas said. “Throughout the year, I started getting better. I’m really competitive and it helps in boxing, which is a very competitive sport.”

Salas, who qualified for the State Division III cross country meet last season, said he wants to get back to the state meet again.  “I want to make 17 minutes. It’s a little far, but I’ll get there.”

He’s also a boxing champion at 135 pounds. His career record is 4-0.

“It’s hard to find fighters who are my age at my weight,” Salas said. “I want to take boxing as far as I can, as far as my body lets me.”

Photo above: The Prospectors’ Erik Salas hopes to return to the state Division III meet. (Photo by Daniel Dullum)

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