Photo: Andrew McMurtrie. Collins Hill's Sydney Williams is the Daily Post's Runner of the Year after winning the Class AAAAA 800-meter state championship.
After last year's track and field season, Collins Hill coach Andrew Hudson put Sydney Williams on a path to win a state championship.
Just two weeks before this year's state meet, it looked like she had fallen off course.
Williams struggled through the track season as she took care of her sick mother and then right before the state meet, she injured her leg.
Even in the final race of her high school career, Williams trailed nearly the entire time.
"I had to stay focused and really know that I could win it," Williams said.
Williams battled adversity throughout the season, but ending it as the Daily Post's Runner of the Year was an ideal finish.
The Collins Hill runner gutted out the final 10 meters in the 800-meter run to claim the Class AAAAA state championship.
"It's such a long, meandering road," Hudson said. "To go with the journey analogy, you get off path, a lot of things happen, things don't go as well as you planned. She had a very stressful senior year."
Williams' mother, Lynda Freeman, got sick with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disorder, and that left the senior with a more active role around the house.
Then things got really bad at the Region 7-AAAAA meet when Williams strained her patella tendon. That forced her away from two weeks of on-track training for the biggest meet of her life. Instead, she went to constant physical therapy and rode a stationary bike.
"I don't like to use my injury as an excuse. But it did freak me out a little. I was worried," Williams said. "As I rode the bike, I tried to visualize my race and to stay focused on what my goal was and that was to win state."
Williams didn't step back on the track until qualifying at the state meet in Albany. She didn't post an impressive time, but it was enough to get her in the finals.
Then in the championship it looked like the stressful senior year and injury had caught up to her. She trailed Brookwood's QuanDra Shanks the entire race. She was a full 10 meters behind her at the halfway mark and it looked like Shanks would pull away for the win.
"Just like her career and just like the season, it played out over a long period ... that last 500 meters was in slow motion because QuanDra was way out there. She just ever so slowly reeled her in over 500 meters," Hudson said. "The gap was like 10 meters, but to see her close it over 500 meters, it was like is she ever gonna get there? Then finally the last five meters, bam, there it was."
Shanks began to falter in the final steps of the race and Williams made one last surge. Four years of working towards a state championship were in her grasp as she gutted out the last few meters.
"For a minute she did have it, but when she looked back at me I figured she was dying and that was my cue to push it and give everything I had," Williams said.
Williams finished with a time of 2 minutes, 14.62 seconds, fulfilling two of her final goals. Prior to the season her coach, Richard Ramsey, made the athletes write down their goals for the year. Williams' was to win county, region and state and post a time of 2:14.
"Normally we just fool around when we write our goals, but now that I think about it, it really helped me a lot," Williams said.
At times it was hard for Williams to stay on that path for success, but she joins the long list of Collins Hill state champions. It's the 10th straight year Collins Hill has had a state champ.
Williams will continue her path as a runner at Kennesaw State University next season.
"I think we all kind of had it in the back of our mind. When she came to our practices before her freshman year, we knew her background in summer track, we knew she'd been at this for a long time," Hudson said. "Somewhere in the back of her mind, state champion in the 800 was on the list for her to do."