Freshman Feature: Rishabh Prakash of Men’s Cross Country
It is very rare that one witnesses automatic, breakthrough achievement during a freshman athlete’s first collegiate season; there are so many new adjustments to college life that it takes a while for an athlete to develop a routine and to begin to have time to focus on immediate athletic success. However, for freshman Rishabh Prakash, success came almost instantly, as he broke onto the scene and was the Cornell men’s cross country team’s first place runner at both of his first races. The Burlington, Massachusetts native set standards high in high school, as he won several championship titles and even an All-American title, and continues to keep pushing to raise the bar as he starts to really kick-off the cross country season.
BRSN: Why cross country?
RP: Cross country, but running in general is so unique in that you are – for the most part – in complete control of your success (and failures). All the work that you put in WILL translate into improvement, whether that be massive jumps in times or just slight, consistent improvement. So, the improvements that you see are attributed to you and only you. Your teammates, friends, and family can motivate and support you, but can’t run workouts for you. Your coaches can write workouts for you, but they aren’t the ones who can get on the line and run their heart out. Also, cross country is unique in that it is the ultimate team sport in my mind. Five runners score, and so middle-pack runners are just as important, if not more important, than the front running studs. So, every single runner needs to run their best possible race, because every point matters.
BRSN: How were you first introduced to cross country ?
RP: I originally started running track my freshman year of high school to stay in shape for soccer (which I considered to be my main sport at the time). At the end of my freshman year, I ended up running some really fast times (for a freshman) and ended up really loving running, so I decided to stop playing soccer and pursued running full-time, which included joining cross country in the fall.
BRSN: Was the recruiting process easy or difficult for you? What challenges did you encounter along the way?
RP: Going through the recruiting process was definitely a challenging and stressful time, but it was very rewarding in the end. Initially, contacting coaches of schools I was interested in got to be quite chaotic, and figuring out what to say to them to express my interest was daunting at first. Additionally, after I took all of my official visits, I loved several different aspects of each school, and simply narrowing down my choices and deciding where I wanted to spend the next four years of my life was a huge decision. Looking back, although the process was stressful and tiring, I had a lot of fun on all of my official visits and I’m really grateful to have had that opportunity.
BRSN: Why did you ultimately choose Cornell?
RP: Cornell, to me, was the place where I could best pursue my athletic career at the highest level, while also getting a world-class education. Cornell Engineering is a top ranked school that I know will set me up well after graduation, and I see the Cornell distance/mid-distance squad as a young team that I can contribute to instantly, and help build a program that can hopefully be at the top of the Ivy League in the next couple of years. Additionally, I felt I fit in very well with the upperclassmen on the team and loved the team culture, and Coach Henderson was the most receptive and personable coach I encountered, and someone who I can know can help me get to the next level in my running career.
BRSN: If you could have gone to college for another sport, which would it be?
RP: Definitely either football or basketball. Those are the two sports that I follow the most outside of running, so to be able to compete in one of those at the Division 1 level would be really cool.
BRSN: What is your go-to pre-game meal and ritual?
RP: My pre-race meal, like most runners, is a pasta of some sort. Whether it’s ravioli, spaghetti, or chicken, broccoli, and ziti, it’s all the same to me – as long as I get my pasta, I’m good. In terms of a ritual, I try to stay pretty flexible, just so that if things don’t go my way, I don’t get too flustered about it and let it affect my race. I do have a pre-race playlist that I like to listen to, which consists of chill vibes music at the start to dispel my pre-race nerves, followed by hype hip-hop and EDM music to get me hyped up to race. I also have a lucky pair of racing socks that I’ve been wearing since junior year of high school, so I make sure to always race in those – I’m pretty superstitious about stuff like that.
BRSN: Who is your role model?
RP: My running role model is definitely Eliud Kipchoge. Seeing him break the two hour marathon barrier really drives home his message to me that “no human is limited.” However, the fact that he is a multi-millionaire but still lives a simple, humble life like a normal Kenyan, doing his daily chores, tending to his farm, etc, is what really inspires me.
My other role model would be my high school coach, Matt Carr. He is the person who got me into running and got me to love this sport, and has instilled in me the values of commitment, hard work, goal setting, and failure, while also being someone I could talk to whenever I needed.
BRSN: Where does strategy come in to play when preparing for a race?
RP: I try to incorporate a couple different race strategies from a few different professional runners. I draw a lot of inspiration from Matthew Centrowitz, and the way that he is able to stay calm throughout the duration of a race, and weave his way through crowds throughout a race to put himself in the right positions. I also draw a lot of inspiration from the finishing kick of Mo Farah, something he has used to win multiple Olympic and World Championships.
BRSN: If you could describe the Cornell cross country team in one word, what would it be?
RP: Brothers. or Family. one of the two.
BRSN: What are some goals you have for this year and for the rest of your college career?
RP: One of my goals for this cross country season is to be the top true freshman finisher at the Ivy League Championships. For track, I would like to score at the Ivy League Championships by finishing in the top six, and hopefully snag a freshman record in either the 1500m, Mile, 3000m, or 5000m.
For the rest of my college career, I would definitely like to win an Ivy League Championship in an individual event and in a relay, and I would also like to qualify for the NCAA Championships. Time wise, I want to strive to run sub 4:00 in the Mile and sub 8:00 in the 3000m, and around 13:30 for 5000m. Those are definitely ambitious goals, but if you achieve every single one of your goals, then your goals were too easy.
BRSN: Anything you want to add?
RP: Go Big Red!