Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Track star Sonikqua Walters a recent graduate of Peachtree Ridge has been selected as the Gwinnett Daily Post's girls track runner of the year. Walters placed third in the state for the 400 meter race and placed first in the state in the 800 meter race. In the fall Walters will be attending Ohio State University studying political science.
When Sonikqua Walters was a sophomore, her language arts teacher asked her to make a bucket list.
The 100-item list included things like visit California and take the Ben and Jerry's ice cream challenge.
The Peachtree Ridge runner also had some track and field-related items on the to-do list. Things like win a state title, be on the front of the Daily Post as the runner of the year and earn a college scholarship.
Walters accomplished all those goals in the last month. She won the Class AAAAA state championship in the 800-meter run, which propelled her to a scholarship to Ohio State, and is the Daily Post's Runner of the Year.
"When I got injured my junior year, I was like 'Oh my God, this is never going to happen,'" Walters said. "Now I can cross it off my bucket list."
As a sophomore, Walters appeared to be the next great female sprinter from Gwinnett County. She was second in the state in the 200 and 400-meter runs that year. Then Walters injured her hamstring as a junior and for six months she couldn't run.
"It's been very up and down. My sophomore year, everything was great," Walters said. "My junior year, I was trying to keep to where I was on top and I started out strong, but I got injured and everything went downhill from there."
Walters came back this season healthy, returning to the 200 and 400. But her times in the 200 didn't compare to the ones prior to her injury. So she was moved to the 800, a switch she wasn't too keen on when she first heard about it.
"She's pretty versatile," Peachtree Ridge coach Ron Clanton said. "We knew she probably couldn't win the 200. She could have placed, but I don't think she could have won. She was good enough to win the 800."
Walters' move to the 800 helped bolster the Lions' lineup. She only ran four 800 races all year, but each time she got better and better.
"The whole season I was against it," Walters said. "The 800, I don't know what it is. It's not a love-hate relationship because there's no love. I didn't want to do it, but towards the end of the season sometimes you have to take one for the team and I got in it."
Walters qualified for state, but her time placed her on the outskirts of earning a medal at state.
"I wasn't even supposed to make it to the finals," Walters said. "I just got this boost of energy where I was just like 'You're a 400-meter runner, so just run it like the 400.' I did it and I got first."
Walters won the 800 with a time of 2 minutes, 13.56 seconds, which was the second-fastest time in Georgia this year. She also placed third in the 400 with a time of 54.34. She scored 16 of the team's 39 points to help Peachtree Ridge tie for fourth in the state.
"We were rolling the dice at state by taking her out of the 200," Clanton said. "Everyone was like 'What are you doing? You better know what you're doing or you're really stupid.' Her running the 800 made her entire season. It made me feel pretty good, too."
The state championship time grabbed the attention of colleges and Walters signed with Ohio State, where she'll run the 400 and maybe the 800.
"I claim myself to be a sprinter," Walters said. "I never really tried to say I was a distance runner."
Walters is still not convinced she's a middle distance runner, but she can't deny the switch's benefits, including reaching a few items on her bucket list.
"I'm really happy with how the season went," Walters said.