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Walters runner of the year
Madalyn Walters pic
Dawson County Highs Madalyn Walters is The Times girls cross country athlete of the year. - photo by Scott Rogers DCN Regional Staff

To many, running is nothing more than putting one foot in front of the other. It's a means to an end: Getting from one place to another or staying in shape.

But for Dawson County's Madalyn Walters, it's much more. It's become a way of life.

"It's fun just to go out and run," said Walters, who placed first at the Region 8-AA cross country championships and fourth at state this season. "I like getting out there with my friends, getting away and having some time to think or talk to God. It's not so stressful. You just do what you do."

What she's done is, in four short years, transform herself from a basketball player looking for a way to condition in the offseason to a bona fide cross country star.

In 2011, Walters placed first in five races, including the region championship, and third in two others to go along with her fourth place finish at state.

For her efforts, she has been selected as the 2011 Times Cross Country Girls Athlete of the Year.

Walters began running cross country during her freshman year of high school. Her plan was to prepare herself for basketball, which, at the time, was her passion. But when her ability and love for cross country became apparent, it was clear the sport deserved more attention.

"I used to want to play basketball," Walters said. "It was hard to give it up, but it was definitely worth it. I just like running a million times more."

Dawson County coach Brian DeRose was the one that helped Walters realize her future in the sport.

"I'm kind of embarrassed to say that it actually took me three or four races to figure it out," he said. "After we woke up and realized the talent that she had, I told her that if she wanted to compete with others around the state for scholarships, she needed to focus on running."

Surprisingly, that turned out to be a fairly easy task for Walters.

A dedicated person, Walters said that when she decides to do something, she feels obligated to put her best foot forward, so to speak.

"If I decide I want to do something and don't do everything I can to do it, I get disappointed in myself," she said. "If my coach tells me to run six miles, I'm going to do it, or I'll beat myself up over it. I want to feel like I've done my absolute best."

DeRose explained her work ethic by describing how closely she followed a training schedule he had written up for her during on offseason.

"I was taken aback when I saw the schedule she had for herself because it was everything I suggested she do," he said. "She loves running; she loves training. We encourage kids to take a few weeks off between (cross country and track and field) seasons, but she won't do it. She loves to run."

"I guess I was just born to run," Walters added with a laugh. "It sounds cheesy, but it's true. It's really hard, but it's worth it."

DeRose said that she has steadily progressed from her freshman year, taking on a more strenuous workload each offseason.

"Every summer, we up the volume," he said. "And I think she has the potential to run at a high level in college."

Walters will attend the University of Georgia on an athletic scholarship beginning in 2012.

She said that she hopes to succeed at that level, but that she is honored to be given the opportunity no matter what happens.

"They're so fast," she said of the runners at Georgia. "I'd like it if I can just run with them. I'd like to run even faster, and I'm going to try my hardest to see how far I can go."

To do that, she'll need to continue to lower her time, which is not quite at the same level of her future teammates yet.

But DeRose has no doubt that she can get to that level if that's what she wants to do.

"A lot of girls go in there running an 18:50," he said. "Now they run sub-17:30s. Maddy's at 18:30 right now. So, with the right coaching she could possibly crack that 17-minute mark."

Walters said she'd have no problem doing what it takes.

"I'm just going to listen to everything the coach tells me to do," she said. "I'm sure he's a genius, so I'm just going to listen to him and do everything I can to improve."