By Bill Sheehan
Trinity Ruelas has taken cross-training to a new level.
The sophomore from San Dimas is an elite distance runner who competes for the Cal State Fullerton cross-country and track and field teams. She's also dances in contemporary and ballet performances at the university.
"When I tell people that I've been dancing for 12 years along with the running, people are like, 'What? How do you stay flexible and manage both of those? You must be exhausted,' " said Ruelas. "I'm just very passionate, and being able to do both things brings me so much joy."
Somehow, the 19-year-old, whose double major is communications with a journalism concentration and dance, seamlessly moves back and forth between the two disciplines.
"She is very, very competitive, has a winning mentality and loves running," said longtime Titan cross-country and track and field head coach John Elders.
"She has done some beautiful performances on the main stage," said Debra Noble, vice chair of the Department of Theater and Dance. "She's a gem, a joy, and very intelligent."
This Saturday, her focus will be on running.
Ruelas and her teammates will try to bring Fullerton its first-ever women's title at the Big West Conference Cross Country Championships at Carbon Canyon Regional Park in Brea. The women's 6K race starts at 9:30 a.m., with the men's 8K race preceding it at 8:45.
The Fullerton women appear to be peaking at the right time. They won the team title at the UC Riverside Highlanders Invitational 5K race this month, with six Titans finishing among the top 12 collegiate competitors. Junior Samantha Huerta, in just her second race of the year, was the top collegiate finisher and placed third overall. Ruelas was the second Titan over the line, coming in fifth overall.
It's been a very productive year for the women, who won the Mark Covert Classic at Carbon Canyon and placed second at the UC Santa Barbara Lagoon Invitational. A new approach to training has paid dividends, said Ruelas.
Credit Bill Sheehan
'Fire within all of us'
"This year, there is a fire within all of us to really go after our goals," she said. "Our coach reminded us of the things needed to be successful. We've changed a lot of the little things like diet and sleep. The changes have really made an impact on our performances and our mindsets too.
"The main thing was that we wanted it ourselves. We decided to make those sacrifices early on and ensure that we were all in this together."
The 5-foot-tall Ruelas undoubtedly inherited some athletic genes from her parents. Her father, Mark, was a cross-country All-American at UC Irvine and the 1982 and 1983 individual champion at the Pacific Coast Athletic Association finals. The PCAA later became the Big West. Her mother, Denise, competed in gymnastics at UC Santa Barbara.
Born in Covina, Ruelas got her first taste of dance as a 6-year-old ballet student. Her mother said she tried other sports but found most of them too rough.
"She was into girly things like Barbie and American Girl dolls, Disney princesses and pink poodles," said her mother, Denise Hurtado-Ruelas. "Trinity said she didn't like the physical contact of soccer or the daredevil aspects of gymnastics. She preferred the gracefulness of dance."
At 7, Ruelas first experienced running at a kids one-mile race in Azusa. In a field mixed with boys and girls, she won easily. Over the years, she would compete in some school-sponsored races, but dance remained her primary field of interest.
The late Lonnie Carr, who was the longtime cross-country coach at Bonita High in La Verne, was Ruelas' physical education teacher at Shull Elementary School in San Dimas. "He pulled me aside one day and said, 'You daughter is a very, very good runner. She should definitely run in high school,' "Hurtado-Ruelas recalled.
Ruelas began her competitive running career at San Dimas High, where she competed for two years. She and her younger brother Tim, also a runner and a dancer, then transferred to Bishop Amat High in La Puente.
A two-time CIF Southern Section champion
As a senior, Ruelas finished third at the CIF State Cross Country Division 4 Championships and helped her team to a second-place finish. In track, she won the 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter races at the CIF Southern Section Division 3 finals.
Heavily recruited out of high school, she selected Fullerton for myriad reasons. "I didn't want to go to a school where I would face a financial burden of students loans. And I didn't want to be
far from home. And I really clicked with the coaches. They really believe in each and every one of the athletes and know they can reach their full potential."
Another major factor was finding a school that would let her continue to pursue both her running and dancing activities.
"She Is the fastest 3200-meter high school girl we've ever signed and one of the top recruits we've ever landed," said Elders. "We were fortunate to have her choose Fullerton. We found that she was someone we wanted to be part of our program from a character and personality standpoint too."
"Some people looked at mixing the running with the dancing as a negative. I looked at it the other way around. She had been successfully balancing both, so why not in college. I didn't want to stand in the way of something she is passionate about."
Noble, who also serves as director of dance at Fullerton, also believes Ruelas can successfully handle the challenge. "Dancers and athletes have very much in common. There are more parallels than we think of. There is the mind-body coordination, the agility and moving with power, the focus of being in-the-moment and the level of competition."
The competition for a slot in the dance program is intense. "We receive about 300 applicants a year, and we only accept in the 35-50 range," said Noble. The quality of Ruelas' years of training and her individual skills helped her secure acceptance into the major.
"She is very organized, and that has helped her pull it off," said Noble, who said she remembers gymnasts who have switched over to dance but not someone who was competing full time in both a sport and dance.
Credit Ruelas family
Summer program at the Colorado Ballet
Last summer, Ruelas was accepted on a scholarship to an intensive five-week summer program at the Colorado Ballet in Denver. While there, she rose early each morning to do her distance running.
Fittingly, her two favorite role models are a dancer and a runner. She admires Misty Copeland, who became the first African American woman to become principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, and Olympic middle distance runner Brenda Martinez.
Demi Marine, a cross-country teammate, isn't surprised Ruelas is able to pull off the dual activities. "She is the most memorable person I've met," said Marine, who has known Ruelas for six years. "She is mentally strong and relentless, with a lot of willpower."
Ruelas' strength was tested in late July with the death of her 24-year-old brother, Anthony. "He was my best friend and one of my role models. I'm dedicating every workout and race in his honor because I know that would make him proud," she said.
"He had problems growing up. He had epilepsy and developmental dyspraxia," a chronic neurological disorder. "He was one of the hardest working people I've ever known. He tried a lot of things. He was very talented at playing the guitar. His death put everything into perspective for me. Life is short, and you should really go after things, even if it hurts, or you won't succeed because you won't ever know."
Her younger brother, Tim, is training in San Jose with a dance studio company and taking online college classes. Her father is an electrician. She lives with her mother, who is a health care administrator.
Ruelas says she hasn't decided on a career path yet. "I'm might possibly pursue a career editing a dance or sports magazine. And I'm thinking of working with Titan TV, perhaps as a writer or editor, or a job in front of the screen."
She enjoys reading, writing and drawing sketches. She also does celebrity voice impersonations and enjoys spending time with her golden retriever Lily.
Ruelas, who is one-quarter Native American, is enrolled in the Ohkay Owingeh Tribe outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. She got her first name from her mother, who said it came to her after giving birth.
"I always let he know that as soon as I laid eyes on her, I knew she was a special blessing, an angel from God. That that is why she is named after the Holy Trinity," said Hurtado-Ruelas.
Her mother continues to attend most of her running and dance events. "She has always been my No. 1 fan when it comes to my extracurricular activities," said Ruelas. "We're very close."
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