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Flowery Branch graduate Erika Rucker secures 3rd in relay with South Carolina at nationals
University of South Carolina track and field athlete Erika Rucker, a Flowery Branch grad, runs at the 2016 Outdoor Track and Field National Championships. - photo by Becky Miller

Flowery Branch High graduate Erika Rucker helped her 1600-meter relay team for the University of South Carolina to a third-place finish at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships on Saturday in Eugene, Oregon.

The mark was the highest for Rucker in her time with the Gamecocks.

“It was a great way to go out,” Rucker said. “When you’re in college athletics, that’s your goal is to get to Nationals. To get there as a team is really special. You always want to get to Tracktown in Eugene, Oregon.”

Rucker made it to Nationals her freshman and sophomore seasons, before being sidelined with injuries her junior and senior seasons.

Missing time on the track left Rucker feeling somewhat depressed because of the high expectations she had after her sophomore season.

“It was a miserable journey for me,” Rucker said. “I felt like I wasn’t finished. If I had left after graduating last year after two injuries ... it was unfinished business.”

That unfinished business started in high school.

Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells said he could see that Rucker had talent early in her career with the Falcons.

“She was one of the first girls where I could see talent she couldn’t see,” Sorrells said. “Not that she didn’t want to see it, but you could see that she could do something special eventually.”

Rucker won the 400 her junior year of high school, then the 400 and 800 her senior year. Sorrells said he remembered when he first put Rucker in the 1600 relay in her sophomore year.

“I specifically remember a meet at Oconee County High and I put her in the 4x400 and she wasn’t too keen on the idea,” Sorrells said. “We won the event, but it was all because of her, as the last leg, chasing a girl down.

“When she came off the track, I told her, ‘Well, you’re going to be running the 4x400 from here on.’ I texted her that and she said it made her laugh, because she remembered it too.”

Sorrells was watching the Nationals as the Gamecocks ran the race, thinking up until the end they would win it.

Texas ended up winning the event, with Arkansas three-tenths of a second behind in second place. Louisiana State University and Florida rounded out the top five.

“I thought it was a compliment to show that, here we were at the Nationals and four of the top five were in the SEC. She was in a competitive league. The SEC was almost a national championship within itself when she ran at conference.”

Sorrells said Rucker was coachable, mentally tough, and driven in high school. He had no doubts she could reach great things as a collegiate athlete.

“When you come across somebody like that at that age, it’s incredible,” Sorrells said. “She’s just an amazing young lady. She knows where she’s going, she knows what she wants to do and she knows what it’s going to take for her to get there.”

Rucker said she couldn’t end her career being injured and the thought of her unfinished business was a driving force in her final season with the Gamecocks.

“I just felt like God had more plans for me in my track career,” Rucker said. “It was nice to come back and take care of my unfinished business.”

As for her business going forward, Rucker graduated last year with a nursing degree from South Carolina. This fall she will begin medical school at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, where she’ll begin to study for a career in primary care.

In terms of track and field, Rucker said she’s just leaving things as they are.

“At this moment, I’m leaving it with No. 3 at Nationals,” Rucker said. “I’ve done my best and I’m moving on to the next phase in my life. I had dreams of going on to the Olympics, but that’s just not what God had in store for me and I’m OK with that.”

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