Two Banks County runners have been putting in extra hours this summer.
And for Makayla Hewell and Andrew Elliott, training is about more than just improving their times – it’s a lifestyle.
The two Leopard runners have been competing in the USATF (United States of America Track and Field) Junior Olympics circuit, and both posted impressive summer seasons.
Running for the Lanier Lightning, Hewell and Elliott both qualified for the USATF Junior Olympics outdoor nationals in Houston, Texas, in late July.
Hewell placed eighth in the 3000-meter run at nationals, setting a personal best time of 11:36.15. Her eighth-place time was just quick enough to earn a medal and a spot on the podium.
Both runners qualified for nationals after placing in the top-five in their respective events at the USATF Junior Olympics Region 4 qualifier in Rock Hill, S.C. Hewell finished fourth in the 1500-meter run (5:05.82) and second in the 3000-meter run (11:36.15). Elliott took seventh in the 1500-meter run (4:36.95) and fifth in the 3000-meter run (10:12.20).
The runners advanced to the Region 4 qualifier after earning top finishes at the junior Olympics state meet in Carrollton.
For coaches and peers who know the two athletes, their off season achievements are hardly a surprise.
Rising senior Hewell has been running track and cross country and Banks County for six years and has broken nearly every school record at BCHS. She currently holds the girls’ record in the 1600-meter run, 3200-meter run, 5000-meter run and the 800-meter run.
Likewise, junior Elliott is entering his fourth year of competitive distance running and set school records in the 1600-meter run and 800-meter run last season.
The two friends began off-season training at the Lanier Running Club two years ago after being introduced to Lanier coach Wes Wessely.
“We went to meet (Wessely) and see if he was a good coach,” said Elliott. “He started coaching us my 9th grade season and you could tell we really improved. Our times got a whole lot better. When we first met, he didn’t tell us about Junior Olympics. He wanted to see if we were going to develop and were worth it. Thankfully, we were.”
After joining the run club, Hewell and Elliott began competing in the Junior Olympics last summer. Hewell advanced to nationals last season, but failed to earn a spot on the podium.
This year, she reached that goal, which she called a “rewarding and satisfying” experience.
Both runners aren’t necessarily motivated by coaches or outside factors. The Lanier Running Club only meets on Sundays, so Hewell and Elliott take it upon themselves to train nearly everyday – sometimes by running around neighborhoods and sometimes on a track.
Finding motivation is no problem for Hewell, who describers herself as goal oriented.
“To me, I just like to prove to myself that anything is possible if you put your mind to something and dedicate yourself to it,” she said. “I like to set goals and achieve them.”
As graduation slowly approaches, Hewell finds herself with some extra motivation. She aims to get her times as low as possible to make herself a prime prospect for college track and cross country teams. She recently has been in contact with Georgia State University and is strongly considering running for the Panthers.
Elliott is considering running in college, but he acknowledged that his times aren’t where he’d like them to be just yet. Still, aside from scholarships and the obvious benefits of health and fitness, Elliott views competitive running as a way to branch out and experience different people and places. He noted meeting new friends from places such as Nigeria and New Hampshire. He also was enthused at the opportunity to travel to new places and try different foods.
But as the summer season comes to a close, the two runners are more focused and honed in on success at home. They both are intent on taking the Leopards to region and state championships in cross country and track.
“My goal this season, is to at least break my own record again,” said Hewell. “I’d also like to win state.”
“I want to help my teams become region champions and make it to state as a team. We stand a good chance of that this year,” said Elliott. “As a group, we’ve gotten a lot deeper and a lot faster. Both teams are going to be really good and stand a strong chance of being able to handle top competition.”
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