Jacqueline Rushford started off her career at Northwestern State with minimal experience in the steeplechase, but by the time she left the university, she was the best to ever to do at the school.
Rushford, a DeRidder native, set the NSU school record in the steeplechase in her last collegiate race at the Southland Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships in San Antonio in early May.
"The team travels to the meet and gives us a full day before our race," she said. "The days leading up to it, I was kind of freaking out but trying to not look like I was. There was a lot of talking myself down and doing what I was supposed to, running-wise. The day of, I didn't race up until 8 p.m. so even the day of the race, I still had 12 hours before I had to race.
Rushford's time of 11:21.57 broke the school record time, previously held by Allison Fontenot, of 11:28.7.
"I knew going through on the last lap that I needed to be between 10 minutes and 10:05, because I came through at LSU at 10:05 and ended up less than a second off," Rushford said. "At that point, I wasn't worried about the time because I was sitting in 13th place with a lap left. The whole last lap was a blur, so when I crossed the finish line, I didn't know for sure what my time was or what place I was.
"My adrenaline held on long enough to see what time I finished in, and when I saw it, I was able to give in and let it sink in."
The steeplechase is an unique event that is not ran in some part of the country but is more popular in the Midwest. The is a 3,000-meter run combined with 28 hurdle jumps and seven water jumps.
"I didn't start steepling until the summer after I graduated high school because the high schools that do steeplechase are way up north," Rushford said. "When I did the steeple in the Junior Olympics the year after I graduated, the only girls that had done it regularly were from Ohio and steepled year-round in high school.
"As a distance runner, there is no hurdles in high school. I saw that the steeple had hurdles so I was excited about that. Then I saw the water jump and thought that looks fun. Little did I know I would have to do it seven times in a college race. I only had to do it four times in the Junior Olympics."
With her college athletic career wrapped up, Rushford says her teammates are what she is going to remember down the line.
"I'm going to remember my teammates, especially through the long practices, hard runs and tempo workouts," she said. "I'm not going to remember all the workouts or even every meet. I'll remember the really good meets and competition atmosphere. Even when I forget those, I'll always remember my teammates and competing with them and cheering for them."
Rushford has one year of eligibility remaining in cross country but elected to graduate in May and pursue her career in physical therapy at LSU Health and Science Center in Shreveport.
Not one to shy away from a challenge, Rushford went straight from NSU to her new school with little time in between to get back to work.
"The dream job would to be a sports medicine physical therapist," she said. "I'll always keep my open for that because every athlete that goes into physical therapy wants to work with other athletes. With the experience I got during my observation hours and working in a clinic, I'm more open minded."
During her time at DeRidder, Rushford finished 10th at the state cross country meet as a senior, was district MVP in soccer and the district pole vault champion.
"Training with my dad is what stands out to me about my time in DeRidder," she said. "Not that DeRidder didn't have good coaches, Coach (Joshua) Beard was definitely great. He collaborated with us on everything, and Coach (Edwin) Kelly was the distance coach. He was the one that made all basketball girls run cross country. What was so great about them was that they allowed my dad to come in, give input, do his research and tell them what kind of training I responded to. It really helped them collaborate and make workouts for me."