Rutledge relishing his return to multis competition

Carson junior wins pentathlon event in comeback from broken leg

Carson High’s Tristan Rutledge takes off out of the blocks, during a meet in 2023. Rutledge returned from a broken leg to win the California Winter Championships February 3.

Carson High’s Tristan Rutledge takes off out of the blocks, during a meet in 2023. Rutledge returned from a broken leg to win the California Winter Championships February 3.
Photo by Carter Eckl.

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Winning the pentathlon at the California Winter Championships less than two weeks ago was a surprise to Carson High’s Tristan Rutledge.

Roughly 10 months after breaking his leg, the Carson High junior was setting personal records only a couple months after getting cleared to compete.

Since middle school Rutledge has wondered if he could conquer the decathlon.

As an eighth grader he opted to try his luck at the long jump and discus, ultimately winning both events.

That sparked the initial idea of competing in track’s toughest competition.

His prep worked laid the foundation for a potential breakout season until he traveled to the Big George Invite in Minden in April 2023.

During the high jump, Rutledge said he felt a pop in his left knee.

A volunteer helping with the event feared she heard the same.

“I took off and I heard a giant pop in my left knee. I looked at the lady holding the standard and I asked her if she heard the pop,” said Rutledge. “She covered her mouth, gave me a nod and pointed at my leg.”

Instantly, Rutledge knew something was seriously wrong.

He spent the next several minutes laying on the rubber athletic surface fearing the worst.

His mind turned over with worst-case outcomes.

“It was so many emotions. At first, I thought I tore my patella tendon, instead of breaking my leg, which would’ve been terrible,” said Rutledge. “That would’ve been much, much worse. I was more worried than I should’ve been. It was overwhelming.”

Roughly 48 hours later Rutledge was in surgery, getting four screws put into his tibia in all different directions underneath his knee.

The road to recovery

Rutledge was couch-ridden in a brace for weeks following the surgery.

Once he was cleared to move around, it was another three weeks on crutches before he could begin walking.

“It was terrible. My entire life is athletics. Whenever, I’m bored or depressed I’ll go to the gym and go run, swim or anything like that,” said Rutledge. “Not being able to do anything was tough on me mentally.”

Before he could walk again, Rutledge was battling deep aching pains in his left leg.

Every cough, every twitch would remind him of the new pieces of metal, holding the bone in his leg in place.

Twice a week he was in physical therapy, straining through painful strength-building exercises.

The pool became a resource for rebuilding strength without putting the full brunt on his surgically repaired leg.

Rutledge had never dealt with a serious injury and has had to overcome other lower body injuries that have come with overuse since he’s returned to the track.

(Tristan Rutledge (third from left, in green) stands in the middle of the award winners after taking first place in the pentathlon in Southern California in early February. It was Rutledge’s first competition since breaking his leg last spring. / Courtesy)

A win to remember

He’s still not at 100 percent.

In fact, Rutledge said he feels like he’s only 50 percent of the way back in his ability to run like he used to.

In early February, about 10 months after breaking his leg, Rutledge was back to competing.

His first event in his return was the California Winter Championships in Arcadia, Calif.

He entered into the pentathlon competition he had been a part of a year prior where he finished fifth.

Rutledge even surprised himself by winning the event.

“I had no idea that I was capable of doing any athletic endeavor where I’d win a meet like the California Winter Championships,” Rutledge said. “It was a dream competition.”

The Senator junior put up roughly the same results as he had 12 months prior in the 1,000-meter run and long jump.

However, his 60-meter hurdles, shot put and discus events substantially outpaced his previous results.

Rutledge threw the shot nearly 10 feet further; his final discus measurement bested his throw from a year ago by more than 40 feet.

His 60-meter hurdles time had dropped from 10.55 to 9.11, setting a personal record.

Even the high jump, the event in which he broke his leg, Rutledge outperformed his previous marks, clearing five feet, nine inches and setting another PR.

Despite feeling ‘short and wide’ in his running events, Rutledge has shown how capable he is at overcoming a potential life-changing injury.

His family and friends have been by his side both physically and emotionally through his recovery.

“All my friends were a big support for me every time I needed them, hanging out with me and helping me recover. It really meant a lot after I broke my leg.” said Rutledge. “My parents, my family members and all the kind words that I received. Just want to say thank you.”

Rutledge is yet to compete in an actual decathlon, but his aspirations for the competition remain as self-assured as they were before the injury.

“That’s the fun part. It’s all speculation right now,” Rutledge said.

His goal is 7,000 points, which would rank him in the top 10 nationwide.

His eye-opening journey back into competition from a grueling injury may have shown Rutledge that there isn’t a bar too high.


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