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Sacramento, CA, JUne 28, 2014 -- Ben Bruce had extra motivation racing down the final stretch of Friday's 3000m steeplechase preliminary at the USA National Championships hear at Hornet Stadium. Clearing the final water pit and pulling away from Dan Huling, Bruce began to celebrate in style, interlocking his hands and bringing them side to side before finishing in 8:39.44. To the casual observer, the gesture may have raised an eyebrow. To those are familiar with Bruce and his wife, Stephanie Rothstein Bruce, it was a symbol of family love and pride. Ben was symbolically rocking a baby.
Bruce, 31, made the rocking motion--then blew a kiss to the sky--in honor of Riley Bruce, Ben's two-week-old son. On June 14, Stephanie gave birth to Riley, a healthy nine-pound baby boy. Since then, the couple have been on cloud nine, frequently Instagramming pictures of the happy family.
"It was amazing. It was a long, wearing night, all night long," Bruce recalled, the emotional joy of becoming a father in his voice. "Steph was pushing for five hours and it just gets your heart going because you can't help her. She's in pain. Once you see him come out it's amazing, just to hear him cry. It's great."
Rothstein Bruce, also a professional runner, could not make this weekend's championships. Knowing that his wife and son would be watching, Ben wanted to make his first race as a father a memorable one.
Bruce pushed the pace from the beginning before Huling, a member of the Bowerman Track Club, pulled into the lead.
Over the final water barrier, Bruce appeared to say something to Huling, who turned his head twice in response.
"I came over the last 100 [meters] and I said to Dan, I said 'I want to take this one for my son,'" recalled Bruce. That he did, pulling away after hurdling the final barrier. "Regardless of how the final goes, at least that was great to come back after becoming a father two weeks ago and race well... I guess it's something I can look back on. I'm just glad things felt OK out there."
Interestingly, Friday's race was Bruce's first steeplechase since last year's USA Championships final, where he finished seventh in 8:36.82. Having transitioned primarily to road racing in the last twelve months --at least, in part, for financial reasons-- Bruce has moved farther and farther away from the oval. He won the Suja Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon on June 1 (2:23:50), and his only steeplechase workout of 2014 came just last week.
"First race as a father, I just wanted to get out there and compete," he said. "I've been doing this a long time, so some days you feel terrible and you can run well, and some days you feel great and do bad. I got through it."
Bruce hopes his second race as a dad turns out like the first: with a win. It'll be very tough, considering the field of finalists includes Huling, American record holder Evan Jager and Olympic finalist Donn Cabral.
"Jager and Huling are running really well right now, it's clear. You'd have to be a fool not to call them the favorites," he said. Though in the steeplechase, Bruce quickly added, anything can happen, especially considering forecasts call for a temperature of 93 degrees Fahrenheit (34C) during Sunday's final. "It's kind of wide open when it's hot and it's windy. Some people crack, some people have bad days. I'll just go out in the final and finish as high up as I can.
Of course, he'll have two very special fans cheering from home in Flagstaff, AZ.
"Steph and Riley couldn't make it out here for this race, but we'll be traveling with that guy all over the world and country so he can see his parents race," he said with a beaming smile.
Photo: Stephanie Rothstein Bruce and Ben Bruce before the 2012 Honolulu Marathon, where Stephanie finished third. Photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly.