Run­ning helped Rock Hill na­tive over­come NCAA re­gional

The Herald (Rock Hill) - - Front Page - BY BRET MCCORMICK bm­c­cormick@her­al­don­

Let’s set the scene at the fin­ish line of Fri­day’s NCAA South­east Re­gional cross coun­try meet, held at Winthrop: chaos. Blood, mud and vomit. Snot, tears and more mud. Run­ners col­lapsed as they plowed across the crowded fin­ish line.

Col­lege se­niors bawled into their par­ents’ necks, the real­iza­tion they’d run their last race plopped on their shoul­ders like an anvil.

And there was hap­pi­ness too, like shocked and elated win­ners or top-10 fin­ish­ers (this meet was like the Sweet Six­teen in bas­ket­ball), and those happy to have sur­vived the 6-kilo­me­ter race in con­di­tions more apt for Net­flix and Campbell’s Soup on the couch, than run­ning (al­though ev­ery­one kept say­ing this was “great cross coun­try weather!”).

And then there was Olivia Pax­ton, in the lat­ter cat­e­gory of hap­pi­ness, beam­ing as she gath­ered with her Wil­liam & Mary team­mates fol­low­ing the race. Pax­ton, the South Pointe High grad­u­ate, ran her first two years of col­lege at Winthrop, where her dad, Ben, has been the cross coun­try and track and field coach for years. Olivia had grown up help­ing her dad and mom, Wendy, paint the lines for cross coun­try meets at Winthrop Farm, had run the cir­cum­fer­ence of Earth sev­eral times over those rolling hills and around Winthrop Lake.

“I raced well, and re­ally just thrived off the en­ergy of be­ing at home,” she said.

Pax­ton stopped run­ning that course when she trans­ferred to Wil­liam & Mary this sea­son. She spent an en­tire col­lege se­mes­ter in Ar­gentina in 2017, an ex­pe­ri­ence that made her nearly flu­ent in Span­ish and changed her fu­ture. Pax­ton de­cided to look for an im­mer­sive Span­ish aca­demic pro­gram that could equip her for a ca­reer in im­mi­gra­tion law. Wil­liam & Mary of­fered that, along with an ex­cel­lent cross coun­try pro­gram — the Tribe an­nu­ally wins the Colo­nial Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion ti­tle.

“For me to be chal­lenged and just to get away from home a lit­tle bit, even though I love be­ing here, I needed to go some­where else,” Pax­ton said.

Ben and Wendy Pax­ton had to be par­ents first when think­ing about Olivia’s fu­ture.

“They’re fa­ther-daugh­ter, and they com­part­men­tal­ize, then they’re coach-ath­lete,” said Wendy Pax­ton. “It’s in­ter­est­ing to be a fly on the wall and watch them do that.”

Olivia Pax­ton has slot­ted right into Wil­liam & Mary’s young and tal­ented team. She said school is very hard — classes in her ma­jor are taught en­tirely in Span­ish — but that’s what she wanted.

She also wanted to run in the

South­east Re­gional at Winthrop Farm. Winthrop was an­nounced as the host last year, so Pax­ton’s goal was to qual­ify for the event, and she did, her sec­ond ca­reer re­gional.

“I’ve been look­ing for­ward to it ever since I left be­cause I still re­ally love Winthrop and Rock Hill, and I love this course,” she said. “A lot of good en­ergy.”

Pax­ton was happy with her 107th place fin­ish, in the top half of the 245run­ner field. She es­ti­mated she passed over 100 peo­ple in the last two and a half miles. Pax­ton is just a sopho­more and she fin­ished strong Fri­day in part be­cause of her su­pe­rior knowl­edge of the course. But also be­cause every 200 or 300 me­ters she ran past some­one she knew, or some­one that yelled her name, shouted at her to keep go­ing, to pass some­one else.

“I re­ally wanted to surge when­ever I had a fam­ily mem­ber, or friend or fam­ily mem­ber of a team­mate cheer­ing for me,” said said. “I thought I re­ally did that.”

That’s why, when she crossed the fin­ish line and stiffly walked past other run­ners dou­bled over or draped over vol­un­teers’ arms, and the burn­ing sub­sided slightly and her wind came back, it didn’t take long be­fore she was smil­ing.

Olivia Pax­ton

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