Nick Rude can't fathom a life without running.
The recent Newman graduate overhauled his diet about midway through his high school career.
He did so in part to combat an esophageal illness born from years of eating poorly, but also to take his game to the next level.
After making the changes, Rude's Comets made their first 3A football state semifinal appearance, then won the 1A state track and field team title.
And his digestive issues?
"The doctors are saying it's getting better," said Rude, who takes medication daily. "And that's because I changed my diet."
But Rude isn't chasing a quick fix.
"I just like to feel good," Rude said. "I really don't want to let myself go for the rest of my life. Not just while I'm young. I'm going to keep running, even though I'm not in track now."
Importance of pedigree
Without his work ethic, Rude just wouldn't look quite right in family photos.
His father, Brock, is still a physical specimen. His kid brother, Brady, who will be a high school sophomore in the fall, was the one who recommended his big brother take protein after workouts.
"Everyone around me knows a lot more than I do," Rude said, with a laugh. "So they just tell me what to eat, and I do."
His run to not only a state team title, but also gold medals as the anchor of the 400 and 800 relays, were fueled by peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and, interestingly, coffee. Before his Comets shined at the indoor state meet back in March, Rude drank some coffee and won the 60.
"So I figured, 'I'm drinking coffee the rest of the year,' " said Rude, who says his father insisted upon the beverage's benefits.
"I think there probably are some physiological benefits," Newman boys track coach – and athletic trainer and assistant football coach – Andy Accardi said. "But any habit you have before a race – I go buy a lottery ticket, or I always put this shoe on first – could become a psychological edge."
Some habits don't form easily.
For years, Rude enjoyed Hot Fudge Sundae Pop Tarts for breakfast. Often, lunch consisted of a tray full of cookies and brownies.
"The lunch lady would give me crap, too, but I didn't care," Rude said.
Somewhere between Dad's "influence" and a trip to the doctor last summer, things changed.
Rude admits he knew the doctors would point to his diet as a reason for why his stomach was a mess all the time and why drinking pop made him sick.
But he didn't see erosive esphagitis coming. Those with acid reflux have a very small glimpse of the ailment, which is basically the next step – the reflux destroying tissue in the esophagus.
How did it come to that? How could a diet be so bad for so long?
"It's probably just because it tastes good," Rude said. "When you're little, that's the stuff you like. And if you can eat it when you're older, then why not?"
So Rude made a change. Not a wholesale, one, though.
"It's not the super-healthy stuff," Rude said. "I mean, I need sugar, because my diet used to be horrible. I knew if I changed it too much, my body would just go nuts on me and I'd be even worse if I was just eating straight good foods.
"My diet is really not the best, but it used to be the worst."
His condition meant Rude had to practice caution and even give up his favorite recovery drink – chocolate milk.
"I love chocolate milk," Rude said, smiling but shaking his head.
So does Accardi. He'd much rather have his athletes taking chocolate milk than expensive – but often no more effective – recovery drinks.
It's wild to think that Rude's diagnosis came in the summer of 2012, mere months before he spearheaded the Comets' unprecedented playoff run on the gridiron.
He credits the new diet for the team's locomotive never breaking down.
"My body felt better. I could stretch farther and run without getting fatigued as much," Rude said. "That helped with injuries, too. Because the more tired you get, the more injuries happen."
And in the spring, recovery from sprints was easier, as was climbing the podium. Three times.
Such great heights
Rude has no plans of coming down from this high.
A regular joie de vivre, he even has a blast working for the steel mill. Especially when his less-fit co-workers tell him they need him to pick up the slack.
"A bunch of the guys, when they have to cut down trees, they tell me I have to do it," Rude said, "because I'm in the best shape out of most of them. So they have me cutting down trees – which is a blast."
But, while the money and the aforementioned benefits are great, working five 8-hour shifts has its detriment. Rude hasn't been lifting weights as often, and he aches for it.
"But I definitely need to get back in there," Rude said. "I feel guilty not lifting. Lifting, really, is what changed it. It's the main reason why I'm such a good athlete."
He didn't get into lifting until he was in the sixth grade, and it was predicated by his then-third-grader brother hitting the weights hard.
It just goes to show everyone starts at a different points in their life.
The one thing all parties involved know is that the desire to be fit is one that Rude never will lose.
"He won't have to have the lecture when he's 40 years old from the doctor about how he has to cut back his cholesterol," Accardi said.