Favorite athlete: Eliud Kipchoge
Favorite team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Favorite moment competing in sports: My first state medal. It was sophomore year in cross country.
Most embarrassing moment competing sports: I missed my race at New Balance Nationals Indoor and the staff had to put me in the fastest heat instead of where I was seeded.
Music on iPod: A little bit of everything. Pop, rap, country, alternative, rock, etc.
Future plans: Go to college and have a successful collegiate running career.
Words to live by: “A little bit of faith can go a long way. Never give up on yourself, because just a little confidence in yourself brings out the best in you.”
One goal before turning 30: Leave my mark on the town I grew up in and make an impact on as many people as I can.
One thing people don't know about me: I love making music and playing instruments. It's something that I've done since I was really young.
By GORDON GLANTZ
Neshaminy High School has a long and rich athletic tradition.
Notables include Ryan Arcidiacono, the point guard on Villanova’s national championship team of 2015, and Len Baker, who threw a perfect game for the Cleveland Indians in 1981.
In football, there are the Bahr Bros., Chris and Matt, who both kicked in the NFL, and other NFL players – Bob Grupp and Harry Shuh.
Current Penn State coach James Franklin is also a former Redskin.
The school even boasts a professional skateboarder, Chris Cole.
But when it comes to track, specifically distance running (cross country in the fall, and distance events in the winter and spring), there is a vacancy for a legend.
And senior Rusty Kujdych, the Univest Featured Male Athlete of the Week, is hoping to fill it.
When he says he wants to make an impact on his hometown, this is what he means.
“I was the first runner in my family,” said Kujdych, whose younger sister, Evanna, is a freshman runner at Neshaminy. “No one has made an historic impact (at Neshaminy), at least that I know of, with running.”
With several schools interested in his services at the collegiate level, he is well on his way to making that type of mark.
Undefeated in dual meets the last two years, Kujdych boasts an impressive list of accomplishments.
-He is currently the top ranked Boys Cross Country runner in Pennsylvania, and as of this week, is ranked # 19 runner in the nation by Milesplit.com.
-He started the season by placing fifth in the PTXC 5k Invitational race in a time of 15:55. That is the fifth fastest time ever by a Pennsylvania runner on that course.
-The following week, he ran to an impressive first place finish at the Briarwood Invitational. His time of 15 minutes 49 seconds is the 16th fastest high school 5k time ever run on that course.
-Then he placed first against some of Pennsylvania's top runners in the PIAA Foundation Cross Country Invitational in Hershey.
-Recently, he captured second place in the Paul Short Run at Lehigh University. Rusty's time of 15 minutes and one second is the fastest 5K ever by a Neshaminy runner and the 15th fastest high school 5K run in the U.S. this year.
“As you may be able tell from this year's race results, Rusty has developed into one of the top runners in the country,” said his coach, Syd White. “He is an even better student and teammate.”
In terms of using his brain, it is a no-brainer for Kujdych, who says that while it was engrained in him from his parents, Luba and Roman, the motivation – the “choice” to be a true student-athlete – comes from within.
“It’s a good choice,” confirmed Kujdych, also an accomplished musician (piano, bass, guitar), but is not as serious about it as his older brother, Luke, who attends the famed Berklee College of Music. “Some people are self-motivated.
“It’s a lot of work but, in the end, it’s worth it. I had to ask myself: Do I want to challenge myself in class? I made the decision early on.”
This is not only reflected in his weighted GPA of 4.1, but in his college options.
Fresh off a positive trip to Ann Arbor to visit Michigan, his list of finalists includes La Salle, Georgetown and Penn.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” said Kujdych, adding that the financial end, which colleges offer full or partial scholarships (Penn, like other Ivy League schools, does not offer athletic scholarships). “It does make a difference with colleges.
Added Kujdych, who says he is “quite undecided” on his major: “It definitely hit me during my junior year, when I started getting letters. It’s a great feeling, really.”
This, along with his leadership abilities, has impressed his coach as much as state and national rankings.
“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 in training and in racing, helping his teammates try to qualify for States individually and in a variety of relays,” said coach Syd White.
As for the school community in general, Kujdych is unable to get overly involved but it is not through lack of effort.
Training to be a year-around runner, and his academics, does not leave much time.
“I try to do what I can with some spirit clubs and things,” he said. “I try to enjoy my high school experience as much as I can.”
Moment of Clarity
By his own admission, running was “kind of a joke” for Kujdych in middle school.
“I played a bunch of sports – football and basketball – through middle school,” he said. “No one really took it too seriously.”
That began to change in ninth grade when he got around a more serious environment.
“For a combination of reasons, it kind of clicked,” he said. “I had a lot of fun, and I really liked all my teammates. The team had a lot of good leadership, I wanted to be like them.”
As a sophomore, Kujdych steadily ascended and qualified for states that fall. He went into the meet hoping to place somewhere in the top 40-50.
“I got 19th,” Kujdych said.
He still considers his first state medal the highlight of his career, not to mention a major moment of clarity about just how good he could be.
“No one expected that,” he said. “That was the moment when it just clicked for me. It was a great moment and the beginning of a whole new mindset for me.”
Last cross-country season, he placed 10th in the state and also excelled in winter (second in the 3K) and spring track (third in the 3200).
When it comes to setting goals, there is no reason to shoot for anything less than the top.
“Time-wise, in cross country, I want to break 15 minutes, because that’s a key time in cross country,” he said. “State-wise, winning it all – wining states – is always the goal.
“But, I do think of this as a team sport. I’m great friends with all the guys on the team. It’s all about the team. There is no reason to just run all the races for myself.”
He added that he is paying it forward, in terms of providing the type of leadership and mentoring he received as a freshman: “Our senior class is the biggest class, and we use our experience to help the younger kids, but it’s not a dictatorship or anything.
“We would like to do those things, like win the league, but we just want everyone to run their hardest. We want everyone to get better.”
When it comes to accolades, Kujdych credits his parents.
“I picked up their values,” he said. “They stressed academics, good behavior and being smart with my choices.
“I also want to thank every one of my teammates, my coaches, family and close friends.”