SUWANEE - At the Region 7-AAAAA track meet this past spring, Nicky Akande couldn't believe what happened to her.
The Collins Hill runner just qualified for the state meet in the 1,600-meter run when she got the bad news. Akande was disqualified after a member of her team aided the runner from the infield.
She was distraught and upset. Then she composed herself and like all great athletes took out her frustration on her opponents. Akande qualified for state in the 800 an hour later and went on to win the state title.
That day at the region meet shows what kind of athlete Akande is. If you take something away from her, she'll fight back. You think she can't do something, she'll prove you wrong.
It's that stubbornness, or "spunk" as her coach likes to call it, that has carried over to cross country, where Akande is one of the top runners in the state.
"She's got a little bit of spunk about her and we kind of work that to our favor," Collins Hill coach Andrew Hudson said. "You kind of ruffle her feathers a little bit and she's got a 'I'll show you' mentality."
Hudson first got a taste of Akande's competitiveness last summer. Akande was just coming off her first year of cross country as a freshman where she typically ran 5Ks in the 25-minute range. Hardly impressive. Akande was in Hudson's room with teammate Allyson McGinty when she decided to go for a run.
"I said, 'Allyson I think I'm going to run with you today,'" Akande recalled. "That's when it all started."
McGinty was coming off a strong sophomore campaign where she placed fifth at state, and Hudson was hesitant for the two to run together.
"I wasn't even in her league, I guess you could say," Akande said. "I ran with her after that, and at first it was really hard and I couldn't stay with her, but eventually I was staying with her every single run."
Once Hudson found out Akande was training with McGinty, he tried to get the young runner to be careful. Hudson was afraid Akande would get injured trying to keep up with a much faster runner. Akande took it as a challenge that Hudson didn't believe in her and that she couldn't do it. It only fueled the fire.
"I guess I just like proving people wrong," Akande said. "I don't think anyone really thought I would get to where I am now because it's such a huge change."
By the time the season rolled around, Akande was one of the top runners on the team. She placed third in her first varsity meet at the Carrollton Invitational behind nationally ranked runner and teammate Amanda Winslow.
In the eight meets Akande raced in last year she placed in the top three in seven of them, including second at region and at state.
"I knew she was going to be good, I knew she was talented, but she ended up being way better than I thought she ever could have been," Hudson said. "I don't know if she thought she could be that good, but she was."
After the Carrollton Invitational last year, Akande showed she wasn't just a one-race wonder. She placed third at county the following week and set a personal record at the Mill Run with a time of 18 minutes, 7 seconds for second place.
The only runner that is faster than her is Winslow, the defending state champion.
"I just look at it as long as I'm trying the best I can and if that makes me No. 2 or No. 3 then I'm happy," Akande said. "If she's the only one beating me and if I'm running with her, and training with her that definitely makes me better."
In her first race of the season last week, the junior placed second behind Winslow at the Carrollton Invitational with a time of 18 minutes, 52 seconds.
She's proved doubters wrong, and Akande is content - at least for now.
"I wanted people to know that I could do it," Akande said. "I wanted to be an example that anyone can do it and it doesn't matter where you're at now. You can put in the hard work and do it. Anyone can do it. That's what I wanted to do, I wanted to show people."
SideBar: The Akande File
· Who: Nicky Akande
· Sport: Cross Country
· School: Collins Hill
· Class: Junior
· Favorite TV show: Secret Life of the American Teenager
· Favorite sports team: Georgia Bulldogs
· Dream job: Heart or brain surgeon or professional runner
· Favorite class: Coach Ramsey's weight trainning class
· Placed second at AAAAA state cross country meet last year
· Won 800-meter state championship in track
· Daily Post all-county selection last year in cross country and track
· Maintains 3.4 GPA