RJ Alowonle (left) competes in a hurdles event. Photo courtesy of Gerri Sutton
To paraphrase the late Herb Brooks: A broken hip is a long way from the heart. Park of Cottage Grove's R.J. Alowonle lives that message. Just try keeping him out of the lineup.
"I don't like to sit out – at all. Even if I'm hurt," the three-time track state champion and soccer standout said. "I just love the sports so much."
During a hurdles run as a freshman, Alowonle suffered a hip avulsion fracture, where the muscle pulls off a chunk of the bone. He finished the race. Heck, he didn't even go to the doctor. Alowonle continued running track and playing soccer.
After finally hearing the news from a doctor, that still didn't stop him. He would show up to practice with the intention of sitting out and watching. That was torturous for him – and it didn't last.
"I wanted to take [time] off but I just couldn't," Alowonle said. "Whenever I'm there, I just go as hard as I can, no matter what."
He had to stop bringing his gear to soccer practice. Park coach Jason Arnebeck had to shut him down for a while to let him heal as the season wore on. Important conference games and section playoffs were on the horizon and the Wolfpack wanted him healthy.
"He's a tough kid, and he's a competitor. He wouldn't not play unless someone else made that decision for him," Arnebeck said. "He wanted to be out there competing and that speaks volumes to who he is."
The speedy midfielder/attacker scored 13 goals for the Wolfpack as a junior last fall. With his quickness and ball-handling skills, opposing teams need to mark him accordingly. He also plays soccer for the Minnesota Thunder Academy, which can make for a hectic schedule during track season.
Alowonle helped lead Park to a third-place finish in the Class 2A meet this spring. He claimed the 110-meter hurdles title and repeated as 300-meter hurdles champion. As part of the third-place 4x100 relay team and finishing fourth in the triple jump, Alowonle is a special athlete. Neither of his coaches wants him to focus solely on one sport, even though sometimes it can be difficult.
"I realize he's not in it for one or the other," track coach Mike Moran said. "It doesn't occur to me to worry about it. I want him to be in track and I realize he's got a split duty. That's the way it is and we live with it."
Alowonle is also a star in the classroom, registering a grade-point average close to 4.0. Some days he'll have soccer practice, then track. If he is too tired for homework, he will sleep for a couple hours – then wake up around 1 or 2 a.m., finish homework and then sleep for another hour or two before school.
"It's pretty exhausting, but I know it's going to be worth it," said Alowonle, who could potentially play either sport in college. "When I get to college, I'll have to do a lot of work because training is going to be hard and there's so much to do. Juggling all these things now is just preparing me for that."
Don't ask him which sport that will be.
"I don't even know," Alowonle said. "I love them both equally so when I'm going to have to decide for college, it's going to be one of the hardest decisions I make."