STAMFORD, Conn. – Stamford’s Michael Rueda won a national championship as a member of the University of Connecticut men’s soccer team in 2000. But after knee issues forced him switch gears, he will race in his first triathlon Sunday at the Navigators Stamford KIC It Triathlon.
“I always wanted to do a triathlon,’’ said Rueda, a corporate associate with Kelley Drye & Warren in Stamford. “But I needed to improve my swimming. I couldn’t do high impact because I hurt my knee playing soccer.”
Rueda was a soccer standout at Westhill High School, where he earned All-West honors in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference in 1995 and 1996. He went on to UConn, won a national title and continued to play in recreational leagues. He also worked as an assistant coach at Westhill. But a knee injury that required surgery forced him off the soccer field.
He lived in New York but after moving to Stamford last fall, Rueda signed up at Chelsea Piers Connecticut. He joined the Full Throttle triathlon training program and found out about the KIC It race.
“I didn’t know about it,’’ he said of the fundraising race. “I was told about the race, and then I started learning how to swim properly. I thought, 'Why not make my first triathlon in Stamford?' It worked out perfectly.”
Making the transition from a team-oriented sport to individual competition was seamless for Rueda. “When you’re playing as part of a team, it’s still an individual effort,’’ he said. “The thing I really enjoyed about playing on a team was the camaraderie, being in the locker room and being part of a team. Training for a triathlon, I never felt like I was training on my own. I was always training with the other people at Full Throttle. You build those bonds, and it feels like a team.”
Swimming has been the biggest challenge for Rueda. “I was running as a soccer player my whole life,’’ he said. “Starting my first day in the Olympic pool and going from essentially drowning to being a fairly proficient swimmer was awesome. I wanted to try something to get out of my comfort zone. Swimming, especially in open water, is a different challenge.”
His eventual goal is to get back to playing soccer. He is finding, however, that triathlon training is a nice option.
“I knew I was going to have to mix it up and I can’t play as much as I would like,’’ Rueda said. “I’m surprised by how much I enjoy it. This has been good training for me. I don’t miss soccer quite as much as I thought I would.”
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