HANNIBAL — Hannibal High School senior John Ruggio experienced the 110-meter hurdles at states in outdoor track last season.
This Saturday, Ruggio will take on competition in the 55-meter hurdles at the New York State Indoor Track Championship Meet at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island.
Heading to states adds to Ruggio’s impressive list of accomplishments this season, including being a Section III Class B and OHSL champion in the hurdles.
“We’re extremely excited and happy for him. He’s a hard-working, dedicated and goal-oriented kind of kid,” Hannibal Coach Dan Pawlewicz said. “He’s a humbled guy, but he also wants to be the best person he can be. He’s a captain and a team leader.”
Pawlewicz added, “John set realistic goals at the beginning of the season and achieved most of them. He works his tail off.”
Ruggio punched his ticket for states at last week’s state qualifier when he finished second in the hurdles with a time of 7.66 seconds.
“He had the best race when he needed to have it,” Pawlewicz said.
The time for Ruggio was his career best. He also broke the school record that was set by Jordan Skipworth in 2013.
“When I looked up at the board (at the state qualifier), I was dumbfounded,” Ruggio said. “It’s satisfying when you complete goals. It’s like going further and further past that goal.”
In the first meet of the season at Onondaga Community College, Ruggio finished with a time of 7.91. The time already ensured his ability to run with the best at states, but Pawlewicz wanted him to keep that consistent time throughout the season.
“He hit the state standard in the first week of December,” he said. “As excited as we were about that time, it didn’t mean anything because he had to do that three months down the road.”
In the postseason, Ruggio’s times in the OHSL (7.9) and sectional (7.92) meets were fast enough to take home titles.
Ruggio’s time at the state qualifier gave him even more confidence to pull off something great at states.
“The state qualifier was definitely my best race,” he said. “I feel like when I go to states, I’ll run even better. I want to get on the podium, but if I win it I’ll take it all.”
Pawlewicz likes Ruggio’s chances at states as well.
“If he can post a time like he did (at the state qualifier) or shave off another tenth of a second, he’s going to be really close to getting on the podium,” Pawlewicz said.
Ruggio fell short at last season’s indoor track state qualifier. Once he didn’t reach his goal of states that season, he focused on qualifying for outdoor track states in the 110-meter hurdles.
“I took in new training habits and put them into what I had already,” he said. “It helped me improve a lot.”
Since last year’s outdoor track season, Ruggio has been training with Eddie Mahana, an All-American hurdler for St. John Fisher College. Mahana is a former track star with Cicero-North Syracuse High School.
Ruggio described Mahana as an “excellent coach” in the steps to improve his skills in hurdling.
“(Eddie) has helped me go through some mobility drills, how to get over the hurdles quicker, how to lead with your knee instead of your foot and how to get a faster trail leg,” Ruggio said.
Ruggio, who takes inspiration from Olympic hurdlers like Grant Holloway and Aries Merritt, takes his ability in stride and does more so on the big stage.
“Hurdles are scary. John is confident, but not cocky. He knew he had to get at a certain time to qualify, and did just that,” Pawlewicz said.
The 110-meter hurdles are a completely different ballgame as compared to the 55-meter hurdles. Pawlewicz, however, knows Ruggio challenges himself with anything that’s thrown at him.
“For outdoor track, everything is a little spread out. In indoor track, everything is packed in,” Pawlewicz said. “John has done it enough where he’s confident going into races.”
Ruggio said, “It’ll be more intense and quicker. It’ll be over by the time the gun goes off so I’ll just have to do my best as fast as possible.”
Ruggio is a Section III finalist for the New York State Sportsmanship Award. The award would be just a small example of how “incredible of a person John is,” Pawlewicz said.
“John is a class act. He shakes hands with his opponents before and after every race,” Pawlewicz said. “He’s the first to arrive and last to leave a track meet, and even helps set up.
He added, “John is a scholar-athlete and a good role model.”
Ruggio’s sportsmanship runs deep in his will to compete. As he prepares for his last indoor track race this weekend, Ruggio has built up the momentum to run over hurdles and clock in his attempt at a new personal best.
“I feel more calm. I’m going to treat it like it’s another race,” he said. “I just need to stay mentally and physically focused.”