FLOWERY BRANCH — Winning a state track and field championship race is difficult enough, but winning one with an injured leg is almost unbelievable.
Such a feat requires unique perseverance and a strong desire for victory, two traits Flowery Branch’s Erika Rucker proved she possessed by winning the Class AAA 400-meter dash on May 8, only two weeks after sustaining a leg injury.
For her victory and perseverance, Rucker is The Times 2010 Girls Track Athlete of the Year.
After straining her right hamstring earlier in the season, Rucker aggravated the injury only a week before the Region 7-AAA championship meet. After a careful mix of rest, rehab and exercise, Rucker felt good enough to compete at region where she won the 200-meter with a time of 26.29 seconds and the 400-meter with a time of 57.92 seconds.
Despite the victories, the effects of the injury were apparent.
Rucker’s personal best 400-meter time is 55.19, more than two seconds faster than her region-title time.
Resting the hamstring between region and state turned out to be all Rucker needed; she ran a 55.53-second race in Hugh Mills Stadium in Albany and took home the title.
After winning the Region 7-AAA title in the 100 and 200-meter in 2009, Rucker decided to alter her focus and make the 400-meter her main race.
“(They were) causing a lot of problems,” she said, “because of my hamstring.”
The rising senior didn’t feel that focusing on the 100 or 200-meter gave her the best chance to win a title, and because she “wanted to win state” so badly, she made the change.
“That was one of my goals with the (switch),” she said. “And I’m glad I achieved that.”
While Rucker won the 200-meter region title this season, she’s not sure if she will continue to compete in the shorter sprint next season.
“Maybe when I’m healed all the way I’ll try it again,” she said.
For now, Rucker is focused on healing her injury and preparing to compete in a series of track meets this summer, including several junior olympics qualifiers.
“I just took two weeks off from sprinting and did some long distance stuff, so it had a chance to heal some,” she said. “It feels a lot better. I’ve been doing some sprint stuff at the track and I feel fine.”
After winning the state title, some athletes may feel they wouldn’t have anything left to compete for at the high-school level.
Rucker, however, is not one of those athletes.
“It’s going to be different going to (Class) AAAA next year, but I hope I can win again,” she said. “I just want to run faster times.”
As far as track life above the high school level, Rucker states that she has had “no offers yet, just letters.”
Colleges interested in the runner will have a chance to see the skills that won her a state title when she competes as a meet on Saturday at Westlake High in Atlanta.