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Although she's just a freshman, Decatur High grad Meghan Hawkins has worked her way into a regular position in Alabama's cross country lineup.
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Although she's just a freshman, Decatur High grad Meghan Hawkins has worked her way into a regular position in Alabama's cross country lineup.

Running down her dream
Decatur's Hawkins grew up cheering for Alabama, and now she runs for the Tide

By Josh Cooper · 340-2460

As a child, on most Saturdays in the fall, Meghan Hawkins sat in front of the television, intently watching her beloved Alabama Crimson Tide football team.

Her mother, Nikki, wouldn't think of bothering her daughter for a few seconds because it would destroy her focus.

"We had to be quiet because she screamed and yelled at the TV," Nikki Hawkins said. "We used to joke that she may become the first female referee at the college level because she calls all the plays before the referees do."

Now a freshman cross country runner at Alabama, Meghan has some difficulty watching all of the Crimson Tide football games with her athletic commitments. But the Decatur High graduate is enjoying turning her lifelong dream of playing competitive sports at Alabama into a reality.

"It's a lot of work being an athlete and being a freshman," Meghan said. "I have no free time to do anything, but I like it, though."

Meghan's foray into the world of distance running began in elementary school.

During the mile-run test she would beat out most other students. And in seventh grade, when she was allowed to play sports competitively on teams, she chose running.

When she entered high school at Decatur, there was one problem — Hawkins couldn't stay healthy. Seemingly before every cross country season, she would break down with stress fractures in her foot. She would recover in time for track and field season, but this made recruiting difficult because coaches couldn't see her perform.

"It was very frustrating for he because she wanted to help her team out," Nikki said. "It was very frustrating for her, having these things happen during cross country season."

Alabama-Huntsville and Birmingham-Southern recruited Meghan, but she held out hope that Alabama would call.

In the spring of 2007, she found out that Alabama cross country coach Randy Hasenbank was coming to Decatur for a track meet at Austin High on April 6. She didn't disappoint, finishing second in the 800 and 1,600 meter races. After the event, Hawkins, still feeling the nerves of a lifelong dream within her grasp, talked with Hasenbank.

"I could tell she was nervous because she was talking fast," Nikki said. "When she is nervous, she talks fast."

In May, Meghan signed her letter of intent to go to Alabama as a cross-country and track athlete.

So far this season, she has put her injury problems behind her.

On Oct. 13 at the Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival in Fayetteville, Ark., she ran the 6-kilometer race in 24 minutes, 31.4 seconds and placed 187th out of 322 runners.

She finished 111th in the Loyola Lakefront 5K race Sept. 29, and 39th in the Crimson Classic 5K on Sept. 14. On Aug. 29, Hawkins placed 46th the Belmont Open 4K in Nashville.

Alabama will compete in the SEC championships Saturday in Lexington, Ky. It is a 6K competition.

To fight the injury bug, Meghan ices her feet after practices and races. She soaks her feet in an "ice bath" — a tub of freezing cold water — after long runs.

Also, she discovered she has low ferritin levels, which means she has low iron in her blood, which causes fatigue. This is being treated with ferritin transfusions through an IV.

Along with solving those issues, according to Hasenbank, Hawkins' improvements this year coincide with her increased experience level. In other words, she is starting to understand what it means to be a Division I athlete.

"It's a tough sport. It's not for everyone, but I think the main thing is consistency with getting your mind in it every day, making changes," Hasenbank said. "Then you come into your own and you become more fit. When you become more confident, you take more risks."

For Hawkins, the biggest adjustment has nothing to do with the 40 to 50 miles a week she logs on her legs. Instead, it's those distances tacked onto all the studying. A nursing major, she is taking 16 credit hours of classes this semester.

"I guess the toughest part is managing my time with classes and homework. My roommate is not an athlete, and she has so much free time," she said. "But I think it's worth it in the long run. I think I'd get bored if I had too much free time."

Meghan Hawkins at a glance

n Graduated from Decatur High in 2007.

n Finished second in the state cross country meet as a ninth-grader.

n Placed third in the state indoor 800-meter dash and fourth in the 1,600 meters as a senior.

n Finished third in the state outdoor 800-meter dash as a junior and senior. Placed eighth in the 800 and 1,600 meters as a sophomore.

n Has made Alabama’s lineup for all four cross country meets this fall, with her best finish of 39th coming in the CrimsonClassic.

Josh Cooper

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