By Joe Scalzo
After growing up in a family of racing royalty, grinding through four years at Maplewood High and another two years at Youngstown State, Eric Rupe found himself in an odd place two years ago.
He was tired of racing.
“The stress of having to race every week or every other week, it got to the point where I didn’t look forward to it,” said Rupe, a junior at Youngstown State. “It was like, ‘Oh, man, I have a race coming up’ instead of ‘I can’t wait to race.’
“I took it for granted.”
Rupe redshirted last season, using that time to build up his mileage and regain his love for competition. He believes it’s the main reason why he’s having the best season of his career.
“Now I get so excited before races,” said Rupe, who ran a personal-best 8K time of 25:01 in last week’s Division I Pre-National Invitational in Terre Haute, Ind. “I used to get nervous and now I’m like, ‘What’s the point?’ I just have fun with it.”
Rupe took first out of 152 runners in the Disney World Cross Country Classic on Oct. 12 and is among the favorites at Saturday’s Horizon League meet at Boardman High School.
It’s a familiar course for the Penguins, who train there during the season, and for Rupe, who ran there twice a year in high school for the Boardman Invitational and the regional meet.
“I always ran well at the Boardman Invitational but at regionals, not so much,” he said, laughing.
Problem is, the meet is on the same day as the state meet, which means his father, former Maplewood coach Ted Rupe, will not be in Columbus for the first time since the late 1970s.
Even worse, Eric’s older brother, Craig, is a coach at CVCA, the state’s top-ranked Division II team and his younger brother, Scott, will run for the Rockets at the Division III meet.
“I don’t want to think about it,” Ted wrote in an email. “Too late for birth control?”
Milwaukee and Oakland are the two favorites to win the team title, although Rupe hopes the Penguins can sneak into the top two. He’s also one of a half-dozen runners in the mix for the individual title.
“There’s about five to eight guys that have a shot, with maybe three of those more so than the others,” he said. “If I have a great race, I think anything can happen. But if I’m a little off, it’s going to be tough.”