For somebody who never ran distance in high school or college, Rudy Skorupa sure developed an affinity for cross country.
You don't do something for four decades without having a passion for it.
"In this day and age, people don't stick around 40 years, let alone at the same school," said Jeff Rhody, Skorupa's assistant for 15 years at Lake Central.
"That's dedication. Rudy loves runners. He loves to be around them. They hold a special place in his heart."
Skorupa was a track standout at DePauw, where he has been inducted into the athletic hall of fame. After graduation, he came to St. John and immediately got involved in coaching. A year into it, he became boys cross country coach, despite having no background in it.
"It was like, oh, by the way, you're the coach," Rhody said. "He got books on running. He began running so he'd know what they were going through."
In time, Skorupa developed a solid, competitive program and became one of its most respected coaches.
"There are different things you can do with physiology, but cross country is one sport where the more you practice, the better you're going to get," Rhody said.
"That's always rung true with me. If you keep running, you can't help but get better."
As practice for the 2013 season officially started this week, 26 of Lake Central's 30 runners had a new head coach for the first time since the mid-70s. Skorupa retired in the spring and Rhody took the reins.
Pressure? What pressure?
"It's always hard following a legend," Rhody said. "It's hard not to keep a lot of what he did. He perfected it. There are things we discussed. It's a fresh start.
"I've been told by several people, 'You're not Rudy.' I have to be my own person. You always feel pressure. You don't want to screw up something that's been so successful. There are little things you want to change, but you wonder if it's going to take away from the program."
In addition to their track and cross country ties, Rhody and Skorupa were the only physics teachers at the high school. Their families have also become close.
"Rudy's been so great to me," Rhody said. "He's been a great classroom mentor as well as on the coaching side. He and his wife (Peggy) have opened their arms to our family. They're like surrogate grandparents to our kids."
On Aug. 31, L.C. will honor Skorupa with the running of the inaugural invitational bearing his name. In his typical self-effacing manner, Skorupa offered to help however he can.
"Rudy's so well-respected, not just around the school, but the (Duneland Athletic) conference and the state," Rhody said. "It's been great to watch and learn from him.
"He's such a controlled person, extremely humble. It's always been about the kids. That's one thing I want to reflect going forward."
You can be sure the meet won't be the only one Skorupa attends.
"He always had his favorite meets, New Prairie, Culver (Academy)," Rhody said. "If he wants to be there, he'll be welcome there. You don't coach a sport 40 years and not feel ties to it.
"He's in such great physical shape, he can retire and enjoy himself. He doesn't have to ride buses."
Skorupa may have passed along the steering wheel, but his fingerprints remain.