Knoxville native Preston Ruth has loved the sport of running for years, ever since he was little. In 2019, he was a freshman on UT’s track team. In April, he ran his last race for the Vols.
While attending Bearden High School, Ruth spent a good portion of his time outside of classes playing sports. He played football and basketball throughout his middle school and high school years. But those sports did not interest him, at least during that time in his life.
His grandfather, Sam Stone, was a tremendous influence on him as a kid. Stone has done some great things in his life, particularly as a runner. His home office is full of medals.
“I would see his office with all his medals, pictures from all his marathons,” Ruth said. “In middle school, I knew that he had a pretty good career with running, so that’s what put that initial thought that, ‘I think it would be really cool to do that.’”
Ruth’s dad, Rodney Ruth, also had a substantial effect on him. He was on the ‘89-90 track team as a sprinter. He then used that ability to play wide receiver on the football team during the ‘91-92 season. Ruth understood from a very young age what it takes to be a student athlete.
“Obviously growing up and seeing what he did at Tennessee, it’s always been a dream to follow in his footsteps,” Ruth said. “Seeing that he got to do that is something that has always been on my mind the whole time, that I would get the chance to do what he did,” he said.
Both his dad’s legacy and his grandfather’s legacy leaned heavy on Ruth’s shoulders.
He knew that he wanted to pursue a sport too, but he just couldn't decide which. In high school, he decided to go full-time with track.
“I think track was the sport that was able to separate itself from the others, and I was able to find a passion for it,” Ruth said. “All the opportunities that I could get just gave me signs that it was the right sport to stick with.”
His reasons for picking track were obvious to him.
“One was just having the natural ability for it,” Ruth said. “Two, I knew that it was a way that I could go to college and be able to play a sport, and I quickly found out that I have a love for competing and seeing that track was something that I had a talent for.
“At first it was just a love for being good and kind of competing, but as I continued it was more of a love for the actual sport of running, I think more than basketball and football.”
Senior year of high school came, and Ruth had to make a decision about his future with track. He had many offers, but ultimately chose to attend UT and stay close to home. He felt that UT was his best option, academically and athletically.
Fast forward to today, Ruth has competed in many events, trained with some of the best athletes UT has to offer and made meaningful friendships. He has also made mistakes — and learned from them.
“You learn that you should have done this, or should have done that, and that’s the way you learn,” Ruth said. “There’s plenty of things that I made mistakes in, but I think it’s helped me grow into a better athlete, better person, better student.
“There’s times that I should have studied or should have done things. If you’re always pedal to the medal, full-grind 100% of the time, you’re going to get tired and burnt out.”
His time as a student-athlete has tasked him with the daily challenge of being at his best all the time — not just on the track.
“You want your school to come first, so that’s putting in the time to go to class, time to study,” Ruth said. “Just make sure you’re doing well there. With the athlete part, trying to be at your best, which means, practice, meetings, going to recovery, getting good sleep.
“It’s a lot of discipline. You still want to have a social life, you still want to do things, but you have priorities. It’s a lot of saying ‘no’ to things that you want to do but knowing that there’s certain sacrifices that you have to make if you want to succeed and do well.”
Needless to say, this type of grind has paid off well for him.
“You kind of push through those hard days, because you know, you’ll be thankful that you did when the time comes,” he said.
Ruth competed in his last race at his hometown school recently. When reflecting on his journey, it was the memories made and relationships built that stood out more than any accolades.
“Just the relationships and all the memories that I’ve gotten to make, really from sixth grade on,” Ruth said. “This is my 10th year of track, so it’s been awesome to run good in races still, but one day I'll forget about that. It’s going to be the people that I’ve met, all the fun races, the trips, just all those memories of getting to go places with my family, my friends, my teammates.”
He added that the work he’s put in over the years has also meant a good deal to him.
“There are a lot of people that don’t see that work, so to be able to show off the work that you’ve put in, is one of the most exhilarating feelings that you can have,” Ruth said.
While his own time on the track has come to a close, he’s not done yet. Ruth is determined to explore the aspects of track that he hasn't had time for, such as making content and exploring his interest in coaching.
“I have recently started doing some running content, and I definitely have an interest in more of the coaching side,” Ruth said. “Just do the more interesting side of running than just track. Track’s been great, but there’s so many cool challenges.”
Now, just wants to enjoy the sport without having the pressure of competing.
“I want to travel to some cool places and just run. I just want to have fun with it, that’s my main goal,” Ruth said. “I might run some actual track races, but it's all going to be what I enjoy doing and what I love doing. If I don’t have time for it, I’m not going to feel bad if I took a day off or took some extra time off.”
When asked if he would do it all again, Ruth gave a smile and without hesitation, nodded.
“Yes. I really wouldn’t change too much about it,” Ruth said. “I think it’s helped me become the person that I am now, so I wouldn’t change anything. I really can’t complain.”
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