By Eric DeSalvo, NAU Media Relations
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Rochelle Kanuho is on a mission.
The redshirt sophomore has recorded two top-five finishes this season, including a win at the Grand Canyon University/Southwestern College Invite in her collegiate debut. But life in the lead pack is something new to Kanuho at the collegiate level.
The Flagstaff native arrived at NAU with solid credentials, having won the 1,600 and 3,200-meter runs at the 2006 Grand Canyon Region Meet for Coconino High School. She was named the Grand Canyon Region Athlete of the Year in 2005 and 2006 for her strong efforts on the track and looked to parlay that success at the next level.
After arriving on campus, Kanuho learned she wouldn't be eligible to compete her first year, so training hard during her redshirt season was what she would do. The 2009 season brought more of the same for Kanuho as her training in the offseason didn't translate into better times.
"My freshman year I was all excited and ready to compete, but then found out I couldn't and then last year I thought I trained hard over the summer and I came back and just wasn't the same," Kanuho said. "I went through the whole year being anemic and not even knowing it."
Not knowing her condition existed until earlier this season, Kanuho contemplated giving up on the sport she loved entering the 2010 campaign.
"I came back this year not even sure if I wanted to compete because it was so frustrating going to every practice and getting my mileage in and not improving at all," Kanuho said. "It really hit me hard."
A meeting with Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Eric Heins resulted in Kanuho having blood work done to find out if there were any medical conditions holding her back. After learning of her anemia, Kanuho began taking medication to combat the condition.
"Two weeks," Kanuho said of the turnaround she felt after starting on the medication. "It was pretty crazy. I was really excited because I felt really good and wasn't as tired as before. I just have so much more energy."
With her new-found energy intact, Kanuho began training at a more rigorous pace in an attempt to make an immediate impact on the team. After capturing the women's title at the GCU Invite, Kanuho saw a new found confidence in her ability to lead the team.
"I wasn't expecting that at all," Kanuho said of the victory. "It is hard to win any race at the collegiate level, and for that to happen definitely boosted my confidence and helped me a lot."
Assistant coach, Mo Huber, has also seen a dramatic change in Kanuho from the beginning of the season.
"From the beginning of the season up until now, she looks like a completely different person," Huber said. "She is more confident stepping on the line, in workouts and it is good to see that out of her. All of her teammates are excited for her."
With Kanuho's fifth-place finish in the 'open' race at the Pre-Nationals Invite, Heins believes her front-running abilities have helped to inspire her teammates.
"I think it has gotten her teammates fired up," Heins said. "To see her from where she was at to begin the year, to the win two weeks ago and for her to finish top five at Pre-Nats has really inspired the team. It shows them that we have a front runner and someone we can look up to, which ultimately gives them confidence."
Kanuho will look to lead her teammates once again at the conference championships this weekend, as the squad will be vying for its fourth-straight Big Sky title.
With an All-American award on her mind for the future, Kanuho is keeping things simple for now, and knows bigger things are in store for her down the road.
"I love running and it is a big part of my life and who I am," Kanuho said. "Hopefully I can continue to do well and continue to enjoy it."