Nearly 8 million students currently participate in high school sports in the US, but less than 2 percent of those athletes are given the opportunity to play in Division 1 schools. They are the section champions, the record setters, and breakers, the most elite level of high school athletes. Here at Eagle Rock High School, we have been blessed to see 3 of these next-level athletes: 50/100m free stylist Kailee Ruiz, shortstop/center fielder Elianna Reyes, and two-miler James Corrigan. Each of these athletes has a combination of unreal talent and incredible work ethic. Although their times, stats, and marks are high above the rest of us, a quick chat with them shows us what’s behind the scenes of their accomplishments.
Elianna Reyes started playing softball when she was only 8 years old, giving her almost ten years of experience on the field. Her whole family is big baseball fans, so they knew that eventually, Elianna would play. She loved to watch her older sister play, so she took up the sport as well. Elianna’s biggest motivator to work hard is her dad, a father who’s “sacrificed a lot for me to be where I’m at, and the one thing I could do for him makes him proud.” Some athletes crack under the pressure of stepping up to the plate, but not Elianna; it’s her favorite part. “I love the thrill of having the game on the line and coming through for my team. Of course, there are times where you fail but nothing is better than the feeling you get when you win”. Continuing her softball journey at San Diego State University, she hopes she can be a vital asset to their team’s ability to secure a conference title.
James Corrigan realized he had a knack for long-distance running back in 7th grade, where he felt no trouble keeping up during SRLA long runs and “enjoyed [himself] running the long distances preparing for the marathon.” He says the ability to improve is a big motivator for him but also believes that intrinsic motivation is also important as there’s “a lot of times that your motivations are challenged or you feel dejected”. Although blessed with the talent of long-distance running, he has thought about other sports simply because he just loves team sports. He has found ways in running to be part of a team, even if it’s not explicitly a team sport. His choice to attend BYU, a national championship-winning team, was supported by the fact that “I wanted a school that would uphold my standards and beliefs and be surrounded by people who were trying their best to live good lives.” He also wanted a team that excelled in running, but also one where he would be challenged. Happy with the team dynamic and coaching he experienced during his summer trip, he ultimately decided to sign with the Cougars. One of the most testing times of James’ career occurred during his senior cross country season where he had hoped to impress BYU with fast times, “...but due to health concerns, my condition grew worse which made it hard to perform at my max capacity. Although very disheartening, I had to overcome this adversity by staying patient and doing what I could to be happy in the circumstances.” Although he still hasn’t found the solution to his medical issues, he has learned to be happy with his career thus far and live in the present.
Kailee Ruiz’s biggest motivator is the people around her. Her teammates who get her pumped up and push her to the max, her family who always shows up to every single swim meet, no matter how small, her cousin (and number one supporter), and lastly her school friends. She loves the people she practices with and those who she meets at international swim meets, some of whom she considers close friends. Meeting people from international meets also motivates her to continue working hard so she can attend more of them. “There are many times where I become discouraged because I might not be doing well, or I never get to spend time with school friends, or especially when I don’t want to wake up for 5 AM practices. So above all, I don’t think I would still be swimming if it weren’t for my teammates. I love being around them because we all have the same goal: to work hard and have fun!” She doesn't really know what to expect when she gets to UC Davis but would like to continue doing her best to become a better athlete and person. She also looks forward to getting to know her team and coaches better. Currently, Kailee doesn't have a specific goal, but “if I were to have a goal right now, I’d say my goal is to get as close as I can to the 2024 Olympic team.” Although making the Olympic team would be great, it has never been a dream of hers. Instead, she’s always wanted “to have fun and get the best I can out of each workout and meet. Competitive swimming isn’t something you can do forever, but I hope when I decide to stop competitively, I will be content with everything I have achieved.” For Kailee, it’s hard to imagine who she’d be if she never started swimming. She’s met so many people through high-level meets and events, and that's what she loves about it. Even if they live in a different city, state, or country, she’ll always be able to see them at swim meets, so she’s learned to really build her communication skills and learn from other people. “Whenever I’m sick and take the day off of practice, I just stay in my bed the whole day sleeping. It makes me realize that I probably would have no life without swimming... I’m at a point in my life where I’m genuinely happy with who I am and I wouldn’t want my life any other way.”
To Elianna Reyes, James Corrigan, and Kailee Ruiz, we would like to say congratulations on your D1 signings, and we hope to see you excel in your future academic and athletic endeavors.