A decorated high school distance runner has turned down an historic athletic scholarship to pursue ministry and missions.
In February, Madalyn Walters became the first Dawson County High School female student to sign a Division I cross country and track scholarship.
Walters did so with the intention of running at the University of Georgia starting this fall. Recently, however, she announced her plans have shifted.
"I want to take on college focused on ministry with a side of cross-country instead of cross-country with a side of ministry," she said.
Walters, who will still attend UGA, said the journey to her final decision started in November after her last high school cross country meet.
"Back in November I finished my last cross country race and I prayed at that point, ‘God, just get me close to you,'" she said.
While her Christian faith had always been important, Walters said she felt a yearning to go deeper to prepare for college and a spring break mission trip to Guatemala. It was at this time her left Achilles' heel began hurting.
"I remember sitting in the doctor's office crying because I couldn't run for two weeks and it ended up lasting till recently, eight months long," she said.
"Every time I would go to the doctor they would say, ‘We don't know what's wrong with you. There's nothing wrong with your foot.' But every time I would go run it would hurt so bad. It was so weird."
Throughout the pain she kept running, sometimes ignoring doctor's orders, but more and more she began focusing on her church, Lakewood Baptist in Gainesville.
"On Saturdays I started to go to Atlanta with this organization called 7 Bridges to minister to people living on the streets," Walters said. "I started leading worship at my church and singing, which is something I always wanted to do but could never do because of cross country practice.
"The Guatemala trip [in April] was the best experience of my life. We did vacation Bible school with local children and visited an AIDS hospital, a malnutrition center, a special needs hospital and an orphanage."
Walters said her mother was the first to suggest God may be trying to tell her something with her injury. A short time later, a revelation in Matthew 14 changed her mind about "God's plans" for her life.
"I was praying to God, saying, ‘I do not want to give up running in college at all, but I want you to tell me what to do,'" she said. "Later I was reading a story in Matthew about Peter, who wants to step out on the water, but he's too afraid of the wind and the storm.
"I felt that was God telling me, ‘You need to step out of the boat in faith with me. Don't worry what the coach is going to say ...You just need to step out and trust me.' So that was big."
Jeff Pigg, UGA's cross country coach, said he supported Walters' decision, though he was initially disappointed.
"The fact that she did this was proof of one of the best qualities I saw in her - her strong character and values," he said. "When she told me I wasn't completely surprised.
"While I would like to have had her on my team, I respect what she's doing and am thrilled she's doing it."
Before beginning college in the fall, Walters is returning to Guatemala for mission work.
She is also holding a "Washed by the Water 5K" on June 23 at Veterans Memorial Park.
To register, visit www.active.com. Cost is $20 pre-race and $25 the day of. There will be water activities for participants.
At 6 p.m. June 23, there will also be a summer worship night at Harbor Worship Center at 310 W. Hightower Drive, Suite 100, Dawsonville. All proceeds go to Lakewood Baptist Church's mission trip.