Emilio Trujillo: Regrouped and Refocused

Sept. 15, 2011


It was the biggest race of Emilio Trujillo’s life. It was the 2009 Colorado High School State Cross Country Championships. It was sure to be the biggest day of his running career. There was something missing though. No one from his school had shown up. None of his peers were there to watch or cheer him on. It’s puzzling because the dramatic storylines on this day were infinite.

Trujillo was attempting to become the first boy in his high school’s history to place at the state meet. He was running on two strained Achilles tendons. He was racing against his longtime rival. It had all the drama and excitement of a reality TV show and a championship game rolled into one. You would think at least some of his Sierra High teammates would show up to support him, but no.

Even being spurned be his teammates, his classmates and the majority of his friends, Trujillo didn’t care. He was only worried about one person being there. The one person that had always been there. His coach and mentor, Mike Marty.

“Coach Marty is the biggest influence of my life,” said Trujillo. “I don’t really have a father so he has really been a father figure for me.”

With Coach Marty helping him every step of the course, Trujillo ran the race of his life. He kept up with his longtime rival who had “whooped” him in just about every race up to that point. He stuck with the lead runners even through the suicide pace over the first two miles. The lead pack had gone out so fast in fact that over the last mile, with each runner on the verge of collapsing, it became a shear battle of wills.

“As I was coming across the second mile I just wanted to give up,” explained Trujillo. “But Coach Marty supported me all the way. I stuck with the leaders and I passed my rival. It was a great day.”

Trujillo fought for each foot over the last mile, eventually clawing his way to a 10th-place finish and beating his rival for the first time. He became the first boy from his high school to place at the state meet and much of it was because of his longtime friend, Coach Marty.

Coach Marty was the first to inspire encourage Trujillo to run at the college level and make him believe he could. So when it came time to begin looking at colleges, Coach Marty was there to help his pupil.

Trujillo knew he wanted to attend an out-of-state school. It would give him a chance to meet new friends and start a new chapter in his life.

“I wanted to get an out-of-state experience because I didn’t want to go to a school where all my buddies from high school were going,” said Trujillo. “I just wanted to start fresh and new and KU was perfect for that.”

As Trujillo looked through the list of schools and coaches, the Kansas program kept sticking out. It had everything he was looking for in a school: Top-notch academics, an elite athletics program and a close group of teammates and coaches.

“Coach Whittlesey invited me to come on a recruiting visit,” Trujillo recalled. “And I liked everything about it. It’s such a positive atmosphere in which to learn, the success of the athletics program and the way they treat their athletes is great.”

091511aad_84_6920531.jpegTrujillo shot onto the Kansas cross country scene as a freshman in 2010 with boat-loads of talent and potential. He recorded top-15 finishes in his first two meets and it looked as though he would be among the Jayhawks’ top six-to-seven runners for the remainder of the year.

But as happens with far too many cross country runners, promising seasons can get shot down by injury faster than you can say `stress fracture’. This is exactly what happened to Trujillo in 2010.

He fought through a host of ailments. Knee problems at the beginning of the year. Sickness midway through the season. As soon as his health seemed to be taking a turn for the better, doctors discovered a stress fracture in his tibia. His season was over. He was given medical redshirts for the remainder of cross country season as well as indoor track and would have to watch his teammates from the stands for the next five months.

As any athlete can tell you, the mental hit from an injury can take a bigger toll on a person than the injury itself. Having to work twice as hard training and rehabilitating for hours upon hours isn’t easy for anyone. Trujillo had to deal with this on two fronts. While recovering from his string of injuries, problems at home in Colorado didn’t do anything to help his focus.

Once he finally got healthy, Trujillo returned with a less than ideal mindset. His home situations had drawn his focus away from his sport, he wasn’t in the shape he needed to be in and his competitive drive was almost non-existent.

“When I came back for outdoor track, I had lost my focus and I wasn’t as competitive,” Trujillo explained. “I really had a week mentality and it showed.”

Assistant Coach Michael Wittlesey sat down with Trujillo and discussed where his priorities were. They waded through everything he had been through over the past six months and concluded it was time to put it in the past. Whittlesey told Trujillo he should take the summer to regroup and decide where his priorities were, and he did just that.

“It took him almost all of last year to rebound from everything he went through,” Whittlesey said. “He just needed to take some time and figure out what he wanted to do with his life.”

Trujillo knew he wanted to continue to run as a member of the Kansas cross country team. He loved KU and he had become close friends with his teammates, using both as motivation to come back to the team stronger than ever.

“Over the summer I thought about what I need to do to get going again,” Trujillo recalled. “I feel like I really got my tough mentality back and am once again in the position to help the team.”

Even though Trujillo lost a year of competitive racing for KU, he thinks that period of time made him not only a better runner, but a better person as well.

“I’ve learned a lot from that experience,” Trujillo explained. “To take care of my body, get the proper nutrition, and work hard in school. If you struggle in school then you’re not going to perform well in athletics.”

Also helping Trujillo through his year of hardships was Coach Marty. Every week to this day he talks to the mentor who has helped him work through so many difficult times.

“Coach Marty really helps me stay focused,” Trujillo said. “I tell him what problems I have and what I’m doing and he always helps me work things out.”

091511aad_84_5643525.jpegTrujillo also credits Coach Whittlesey with his progression as a person and runner just as much as anyone.

“There have been so many times when I have been slacking but he always pushes me,” said Trujillo. “If I’m struggling in practice he yells, `You have to want it. You’ve got to work as a team.’ He helps me out a lot.”

As Trujillo traverses courses around the U.S. with KU cross country he is also working toward earning a spot in the Air Force. He is currently taking classes so he can get into the Air Force ROTC program at Kansas and will join the service once his running days are over.

There’s little doubt where Trujillo’s focus lies right now. Just two meets in to his redshirt freshman season, he has already put together two great races and has helped the KU men’s team move toward their ultimate goal of sending the team to the NCAA Championship meet.

“Emilio has really matured as an athlete,” said Whittlesey. “He’s been doing great in practice and because of that, his first two races have been very solid.”

Trujillo is excited for the rest of the 2011 season, especially for when the Jayhawks travel to Madison, Wis., on Oct., 14 for the Wisconsin adidas Invitational. It was at that meet a year ago when his strain of injuries began and he is looking for redemption. Overall, he is excited for what this team will be able to accomplish this season and far into the future.

“We’re a much better pack this year because we’re closer to one another,” said Trujillo. “We have some great team captains and we’re a lot more communicative. Both will really helps us as we move forward.”

Trujillo now has a much brighter look on his sport and his life. He has survived a year’s worth of pain and has emerged on the other side a more motivated and focused individual. It’s evident he’s loaded with talent and potential and the only thing he needs to do now is wait for his moment to shine.

“Emilio has got some really good talent,” Whittlesey concluded. “If he combines that with great confidence then he’s going to be a really great runner.”