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Branch grad Rucker headed to Junior World Championships

POSTED: July 5, 2012 10:36 p.m.

Former Flowery Branch High runner Erika Rucker and current standout at the University of South Carolina will compete in the Junior World Championships in Barcelona.

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Erika Rucker has plenty of memories from her six years of running competitively.

The Flowery Branch grad and current University of South Carolina athlete said one of the greatest moments came when she achieved a personal best in the 400 at the Junior National Championships.

It was her second-place finish at that meet, however, that has opened the door to what is sure to be a memory that will trump them all.

Rucker, who just completed her freshman year at South Carolina, will travel next week to Barcelona, Spain, where she will compete as part of the national 1600 meter relay team in the IAAF World Junior Championships.

The event, which will begin on Tuesday, will have the highest number of countries and athletes present in its 14-year history.

“It’s just surreal,” Rucker said of the opportunity. “It means a lot. I just remember watching the Olympics back in 2008. I was just like, ‘That would be so cool if I could do that. I wonder if one day I could do that.’ And now, I mean, it’s just the junior level, but it’s still just as amazing.”

The World Juniors is an event for athletes under 20 years old, a crop of individuals that is sure to feature some of the world’s best.

Rucker said that she isn’t nervous yet, but that the nerves are sure to come when she gets there.

“I’m just more excited right now,” she said. “Just to go outside of the country, honestly. Just to be able to compete. But I know once I get there, I’ll be pretty nervous, because we’re competing, I think, in the Olympic stadium from the ‘92 Games.”

It’s taken Rucker a lot of hours to reach this point in her career.

She began running competitively in seventh grade, and has steadily progressed through the years.

She said that, once she got to South Carolina, the work increased even more than what she was used to in high school.

“Coming to college, they focused a lot more on the little things,” she said. “Your form, are you doing your warm-up drills the right way, do you stretch. And then we do our workout usually where we go to the weight room and then to the training room to recover. Recovery has been a big part of it really.

“To me, you just feel better if you’re recovering and eating the right foods. Things that aren’t actually running are really just as important.”

She said she’s come a long way in her freshman year.

“I’ve never been out of the country. Just being able to compete over there. I never thought I’d be able to compete out of the country this soon. Especially wearing this uniform,” she said, gesturing to the United States uniform she was wearing. “I never would have seen this a year ago. I was just trying to get through the season, trying to do the best I could, because I knew it was going to be a really long year. Ending it like this, though, has been amazing.”

And she expects to have a successful trip.

“I’m just looking to have a good experience,” she said. “I want to PR again. I know I have a little bit more in me, because I’ve been feeling pretty good these last couple of weeks. I’m just pretty optimistic about it.”

And, perhaps something else to help in her performance, she won’t have to face the intense heat she has faced in the Southeast. While the meet will be outdoors, temperatures in Barcelona should be in the mid 70s to low 80s.

“It should be really nice,” she said.

Rucker said that this trip is a perfect ending to her freshman season in college, and she’s just excited to make the trip.

“There’s a lot of history over there,” she said. “I feel so blessed. I can’t even imagine what it will be like. I just don’t even know what to say.”


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