Six up-and-coming U.S. distance runners receive $5000 each in financial support; development program has awarded more than $500,000 since 1996
Arlington, VA – The Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) announces and proudly introduces and congratulates its 20th Roads Scholar® class: Luke Puskedra, Juli Accurso, Eric Fernandez, Lauren Jimison, Griffith Graves and Katy Moen. Since 1996, RRCA has awarded grants totaling more than $500,000 through its Roads Scholar® program. The goal of the program is to assist American post-collegiate runners who show great promise to develop into national and world class road running athletes. The grants awarded by the RRCA go directly to the athletes to help support their goals and training needs.
“Every year, our selection committee makes tough choices in deciding our Roads Scholar grant winners from such a deserving pool of dedicated U.S. runners,” said Jean Knaack, RRCA executive director. “Like past Roads Scholar classes, we look forward to the successes of our newest grantees, particularly in an upcoming Olympic year.”
The RRCA Roads Scholar selection committee for 2015, including Carl Sniffen (Chair), Amy Begley (2002 Roads Scholar, 2008 Olympian), Don Kardong (1976 Olympian), Phil Stewart, Bee McLeod, Brent Ayer and Jean Knaack, made the final grantee selections on September 15, 2015.
During 2015, the RRCA has awarded a total of $80,000 to Olympic hopefuls through this round of Roads Scholar grants plus the special elite development Olympic Trials grant project announced in September.
2015 Roads Scholar grantee snapshots:
Luke Puskedra (Eugene, OR): Puskedra found his love for running in the 3rd grade when running the mile in P.E. He started competing in Cross Country during middle school in his native Ogden, Utah. Running competitively continued at Judge Memorial High School where he won individual and team state titles in Cross Country and Track. He was recruited and attended the University of Oregon where he was an 11-time All-American – graduating with a Sports Business degree. Puskedra’s highest finishes at Oregon were: NCAA Team title in Cross Country, third individual place in Cross Country and fourth individual place in the 10,000 meters.
In 2012, while in his junior year at Oregon, Puskedra made his road running debut, clocking an impressive 1 hour, 1 minute, 36 seconds at the Houston Half Marathon. From that moment on, he found a love for training and road racing. That same year, he also finished national runner-up in the New Haven 20K, the USA Championship, with a 58:48, and eighth overall at the Olympic Trials 10,000m in 27:56. His road racing career has progressed steadily since then. In 2015, Puskedra won the Rock ‘n’ Roll Portland Half Marathon in a course record 1:05:10, and also won the Vancouver Sun Run 10K in 28:53. Following receipt of his Roads Scholar grant, Puskedra was first American and 5th overall at the 2015 Bank of America Chicago Marathon finishing in 2:10:24, the fastest U.S. time since 2014 for 26.2 miles.
“My main focus this coming year is to make the U.S. Olympic Marathon team and race well at the Olympics,” Puskedra said. “To help achieve this goal I will continue to compete in road races to sharpen my racing skills.”
Juli Accurso (Eugene, OR): Discovering a passion for running on the country roads in Casstown, Ohio, Accurso joined the Ohio University Cross Country and Track & Field teams in 2010. As a Bobcat, she achieved Cross Country All-American honors in 2011-13 finishing 36th, 38th and 19th, respectively. The Great Lakes Regional Runner of the Year in 2012-13 was a six-time Mid-American Conference Champion. During her career, she clocked a 4:48 in the mile, 9:21 in 3000m, 15:58 in 5000m and 33:51 in 10,000m.
Accurso graduated from Ohio University hungry for faster times, a supportive team and a community in which to grow. She attended the 2014 RunPro Camp and shortly thereafter moved across the country to join Team Run Eugene. This past spring Accurso ran a PR of 33:16 in the 10K and gained valuable experience on the road circuit.
“It is a pure privilege to be one of this year’s Roads Scholar grant recipients,” Accurso said. “The RRCA embodies the same traits that first drew me to the sport: community, support and belief. The Roads Scholar grant will be the impetus for a goal-achieving year, and it will enable me to give attention to every aspect of my training.”
Eric Fernandez (Flagstaff, AZ): Growing up in St. Louis, Fernandez enjoyed running so much that his parents had him join an AAU/USATF Youth Track team, the St. Louis Blazers. From there, he fell in love with running, and later earned Youth All-American titles and two state titles for his St. Louis area high school, Parkway West.
Fernandez was recruited by legendary Coach John McDonnell of the Arkansas Razorbacks for college, and ended up running for Chris Bucknam upon McDonnell’s retirement. Highlights of his collegiate career include a freshman 10,000m PR of 28:37, a sophomore 5000m PR of 13:52 and a 3000m PR of 7:59. During his junior season, he was the SEC Cross Country Individual Champion, All-American at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, and was also the SEC Outdoor Track 10,000m Champion. He also competed for the USA Junior Cross Country team, and contributed to 9 SEC Team titles as well as the 2013 NCAA Indoor Track national title.
College injuries resulted in reconstructive joint surgery on both of his big toes, and burnout impacted Fernandez’s desire to run professionally. However, he contacted HOKA ONE ONE NAZ Elite coach Ben Rosario with the goal of developing structured training runs for him. Rosario, who agreed to coach Fernandez, believed that Fernandez had what it takes to be an elite athlete and encouraged him to take the steps to run professionally. Fernandez moved to Flagstaff, AZ to become one of the original members of Northern Arizona Elite. Professional running highlights so far include 15th place at the 2014 Bix 7 Mile Road USA Championship in 35:35, fourth place at the 2014 Great Harbor 10K in 29:39, 2nd place at the 2015 Newport 10K, clocking 29:38.
“This grant is not only going to provide me with financial security as I train, but it also reminds me that there is support in the running community from people who believe in me,” Fernandez said.
Lauren Jimison (Mammoth Lakes, CA): Jimison grew up in Northern California and discovered a love for running in middle school P.E. When she entered high school, she started her school’s first Cross Country team. Attending Azusa Pacific University, Jimison grew in her athletics and faith, something deeply tied to her passion for running. There, she was an 11-time All-American, a 5-time individual National Champion in the 5000/10,000m, and won 3 team National Championships in Cross Country, Indoor Track and Outdoor Track. Her senior year, she set the APU record for Cross Country in the 5K, running 16:53. In track season, she went on to run 33:58 for the 10,000m at Stanford, hitting the qualifying mark for the 2012 Olympic Trials.
Soon after graduation, Jimison realized she couldn’t give up running professionally yet, and asked her college coach, Preston Grey, to continue coaching her. She debuted at the Carlsbad Half-Marathon in 1:15:47. Running her first half-marathon in a near Trials qualifying mark gave Jimison a spark to continue running at a high level. Seeing that Mammoth Track Club was starting a new group, she contacted Andrew Kastor. That May, Jimison took 10th at the USA 25K Championships in Grand Rapids, MI, running 1:30:46. Just one month after that, she moved to Mammoth Lakes, CA, and joined Mammoth Track Club.
In her first half-marathon after training in Mammoth Lakes, Jimison ran 1:14:29, securing her spot for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. That spring, she took 6th at the USA 25K Championships, running 1:28:15, which set her up for a great debut marathon at Grandma’s where she finished 4th, recording a 2:35:17. In 2014, Jimison took 9th at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, clocking a PR 2:34:38 as 5th American. At the 2015 USA Half Marathon Championships, Jimison finished 9th in a PR 1:12:01 in her build-up to the USA Marathon Championships in Los Angeles, where she took 7th place.
“I’m so thrilled to receive the RRCA Roads Scholar grant, so that I can continue to pursue my dreams,” Jimison said. “I want to encourage others to pursue theirs, and chase making an Olympic team.”
Griffith Graves (Blowing Rock, NC): Graves started running at a very young age. He completed his first 5K when he was just 5-years-old. After moving around a lot during his childhood, he started training seriously in the 8th grade. Graves went to Syracuse University after a fairly successful high school career. At the end of his sophomore year at Syracuse he suffered a torn labrum, snapped ligament and bone spur in his left hip. For two years, Graves could not compete and could barely run faster than a jog, sometimes not at all. He had hip surgery during his junior year.
Because of his injury, Graves was granted a fifth year and sixth Cross Country season at Syracuse. As a fifth year, Graves was a part of the Syracuse team’s third Big East Championship. As a sixth year, Graves was a part of the first men’s team ACC Championship in Syracuse history to win the Cross Country title in the fall of 2013. That year he and Syracuse also went on to finish 10th at NCAA XC Nationals.
Graduating from Syracuse in the fall of 2013, Graves moved to Blowing Rock, NC where he now runs for ZAP Fitness/Reebok with coaches Pete Rea and Ryan Warrenburg. Graves raced on the roads frequently this past year finishing top 15 in two USA Road Championship races and 9th at the Manchester Road Race. In 2015, he qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials at the USA Half Marathon Championships. Graves finished 3rd at the non-team race at the 2015 Peachtree Road Race, and he was the top American finisher at the 2015 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, placing eighth in 2:20:51.
“I am so thankful to RRCA for selecting me as a Roads Scholar recipient,” Graves said. “I look forward to showing my appreciation for the support by taking my running to the next level! This grant solidifies the RRCA’s belief in us as the next great group of top American distance runners.”
Katy Moen (Minneapolis, MN): Growing up in a small town in Iowa, Moen fell into running through her father’s and brothers’ influence. While she was growing up, her eldest brother, Josh Moen, was seeing success at a local D-III program. Traveling across the Midwest in support of him, she fell in love with the sport of running. As her brother became a professional, Moen began to see herself as a future road racer as well.
After success in high school, Moen ran for Iowa State University. Throughout her collegiate experience, she consistently improved times and championship performances. However, it was not until her redshirt junior year that Moen began to perform at the top of the conference. Since then, she has won two Big 12 Championships, two All-American honors, and was awarded the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Midwest Women’s Regional Track Athlete of the Year. Race highlights included first place at the 2014 Big 12 Outdoor Championships 5000m in 17:01, and runner-up at the 2015 Big 12 Outdoor Championships 10,000m in 34:23. Additionally, Moen had the honor of being the Iowa State Women’s Cross Country Team Captain for last two years.
Moen also attended the 2015 RunPro Camp and shortly thereafter she joined Team USA Minnesota to pursue her post-collegiate distance running career.
“I am honored to receive this grant,” Moen said. “Thank you to the RRCA for believing in me and I look forward to validating their support going forward.”
About the RRCA:
The Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) is the oldest and largest national association of running organizations and runners dedicated to growing the sport since 1958. The RRCA champions the development of community-based running clubs and events that serve runners of all ages and abilities in pursuit of health and competition. The RRCA’s vision is to see an organized running club established in every community in the U.S. To learn more, visit: www.RRCA.org