Rylee Pustilnik on Embracing the High School Running Journey

Spanish River alumna and future University of Florida athlete, Rylee Pustilnik, shares her advice in a letter to current and future high school runners.

By Rylee Pustilnik, Spanish River HS c/o 2020 

I wrote this letter to reflect on my years as a high school runner and what I have learned. Running is a sport that pushes your limits, not only physically but mentally. Now, as a high school graduate who will run at the University of Florida, I am so thrilled to have had a multitude of experiences from which I have grown. Here are my thoughts that I would like to share with the future and current high school runners.

I remember the first time "toeing the line" my freshman year in a cross-country and track meet. I felt terrified. Mortified. Anxious. I felt like that one dual meet would determine my entire future. The thought of losing a race felt like failure to me. Even if it could potentially be my personal best, it had to meet my standards.

Winning a race was not good enough for me if I did not literally tear myself apart from pushing my body to run faster. Yes. Those very thoughts kept me driven and kept me hungry for more, over time those thoughts would overwhelm me and stress me out. It took me 3 years to realize that it is okay to not be perfect and running does not define all of who I am.

The truth is you never lose a race, you win or you learn. Accepting the realization that running is not all of what makes me who I am today is the most important lesson I feel that I have learned.

My mom and dad have always reminded me that I need to be careful to not put all my eggs in one basket and motivated me to find balance in my life. A social, academic, and athletic balance, along with other hobbies outside of running. Finding my balance allowed, I believe, for me to be successful in my sport, along with other areas of my life.

I had a tough senior year, and this created an opportunity for me to gain perspective on why I run.

I do not run to be the best, but to get the best out of myself while doing what I love.

I discovered the true fight and determination within me. I learned that I was able to step to line continuously (week by week) through sickness, setbacks, and fatigue from low iron levels. I found myself struggling to find an optimistic mindset during those difficult times, but I would show up and give it my all.

My advice is to do the best you can and if you know that you gave it your 150 percent effort then that is all that matters. 

Social media certainly impacted me throughout high school, and I wish that I could have resisted it more. I tried to pay less attention to social media throughout high school, especially when it came to posts that were focused on running. Social media has many benefits. It can bring people together and share pure moments, but there are also many disadvantages. At times social media made me feel as if I was not good enough and because of this, I felt the need to compete with others. I was focused, maybe even fixated, on runners who had posted their runs on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. This caused additional stress on top of an already stressful high school environment. I had to remind myself that runners tend to only post their good runs for others to see, never the ones that were a little slower or not as long as usual. With that said, I took this as an opportunity to remind myself that social media is not always an accurate representation of the big picture.

So, I want to share my advice to not fixate on what others are doing and to instead focus on yourself. I had to learn how to trust my own training and to become the best version of myself and I feel this is important for other runners too.

Throughout the ups and downs of my high school running career, I have met incredible people, been given countless opportunities, and have grown as a person. I can reflect on my mistakes and setbacks and have learned from them in order to be better next time. I have always aimed to be uplifting to those around me and to inspire them to strive high.

Time flies and you will miss it, so do not be afraid to take risks and live in the moment. Embracing the journey will leave you with memories that you will cherish for the rest of your life. So, take it all in while you can and embrace every moment.

Last, I want to thank my family, my teammates, my coaches, and my friends who have supported me throughout my past 4 years. Being a part of Spanish River's cross-country and track has made all the blood, sweat, and tears worth it. I am so grateful that I was given such amazing opportunities and to have been surrounded by so many incredible individuals.

Moving forward is tough because I have such a comfort in what I'm essentially leaving behind. I owe everything I have learned about myself and about my life to my high school running experience.

These memories will stay with me forever and for that I will always be grateful.

- Rylee Pustilnik