By AARON MANAGHAN
If it hadn’t been for an injured rotator cuff, Rustin Winger’s sports days might have ended after the Central Kitsap senior graduates this year.
“When I would try to do baseball-related things, my shoulder would dislocate,” Winger said.
As a result, he’s been a force on Central Kitsap’s cross country and track and field teams as a distance runner, parlaying his high school running career into a collegiate scholarship, as Winger signed his letter of intent last Wednesday to run for Seattle University.
“It’s really cool,” said Winger, the son of Russ and Diane Winger. “It’s great to go to school for college. Running will help the cost and I still get to run. It’s great.”
A baseball player until his injuries got the best of him as a freshman, Winger got into running through friends.
“One of my friends did track,” he said. “Originally I was going to be a sprinter. But then another one of my friends got me into distance running.”
Winger, who took 12th in the 800-meter run at last year’s West Central District postseason meet, also runs the 1,600 and 3,200 races as well as cross country in the fall. This fall, Winger advanced to the state cross country meet with his team.
While the rotator cuff injury ended his baseball days, he was more than happy to run through the door that opened.
“I was good at baseball, but was never really going anywhere with it,” he said. “It’s kind of cool. That injury got me somewhere. It was a blessing in disguise.”
Seattle University was an easy decision for Winger, who had narrowed it down between Seattle and Western Washington University.
“It’s small,” he said referring to the campus. “And I really like the Northwest. I love it. I’ll live here the rest of my life. I love Seattle. It’s cool living here and knowing Seattle’s just a boat ride away.”
The CK harrier is excited to take his game to the next level.
“I’m totally ready,” Winger said. “They did a great job (preparing me). Coach (John) Emery got me where I was in cross country. Coach (Mark) Ward, even though this is the first time I’ll have him directly coaching me, he’s been a great support. I feel like I’m ready to go on to the bigger level.”
But he knows he still has unfinished business this year too.
“It’s a big season,” Winger said. “Hopefully I can get a school record in the 800. That’s my goal. It’s also a good opportunity to show the coaches even more.”
State also is a goal for his high school finale.
“I just need to post some strong times,” he said.
Winger, who added the 800 last year in addition to the longer races, will train more for speed this season, having already built up lots of endurance through cross country and distance running.
“I’m training with coach Ward this year, working more on speed,” he said. “Everything about it is different.”
But it’s a challenge Emery said Winger is ready for, as evidenced by his college signing.
“It’s great that Rustin is going on. That’s fantastic,” Emery said. “I’m just proud of him. I’m proud of him being able to succeed and have the opportunity to compete at the collegiate level.”
With college signings usually focused on football, basketball or soccer, Winger said it was nice to show prospective athletes that hard work running can pay similar dividends.
“That’s why is was cool,” he said. “People were like, ‘I’ve never really been to a signing for a distance runner.’”
With the paperwork out of the way, Winger is looking forward to showing what he can do for one more season.
“I’m glad to have it done,” he said of the signing. “I don’t really have to worry about it anymore.”
Because he didn’t get into the sport until he was already in high school, Winger never envisioned it would take him so far.
“Not at all,” he said. “When I was a sophomore, I hadn’t really developed into a runner yet. I never thought I’d be able to go to state or anything.
“It’s cool to know I got something on my own feet.”