Not long after her 2007 Collins Hill graduation, Jackie Drouin enrolled at Columbia University and her parents moved to New York.
With home base no longer in Suwanee, her visits back were rare for the past years. She can count them on one hand — once after graduation, once for a friend’s wedding and once for induction into the Gwinnett County Cross Country/Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Another honor brings the decorated distance runner back home this week.
Drouin is one of the six inductees into the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame’s 2014 class, a group that also features two longtime NFL football players, two Olympians and a legendary high school coach. While a few of her fellow inductees frequent Gwinnett or live here, the return visit is rare for Drouin and her family.
That’s one of the nicest parts of the 25-year-old’s week.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Drouin said. “It’s really exciting because I didn’t realize how everyone knew about it. I got texts and Facebook messages from friends in Georgia. I haven’t gotten to visit much, so hearing back from those people has been a neat experience. I’ve got 10 guests right now. We’re making a big party down there for it. It’s a nice end to my career, to get to sit back and reflect on it all and go out in style. It’s a great honor, especially with the company I’m getting inducted with.”
Drouin’s competitive running career was a long one, starting when she was 10. A year later, her father Bob, a former college runner himself, became her coach. The two worked together during her Collins Hill career and still talked the sport daily throughout her college days at Columbia and most recently at Florida State, where she ran as a post-graduate while finishing a master’s degree in urban and regional planning (her Ivy League degree is in political science).
Their long relationship as father-daughter and coach-runner made Bob, who only missed two of her college races, the ideal choice for the role of introducing his daughter at Friday’s banquet.
“They asked, ‘Do you have any coaches (to introduce you)?’ And I said, ‘Yeah I can think of a guy,’” Drouin joked. “It was hard because I have had so many good coaches but you can’t beat Coach Bob. People always say, ‘That must have been hard having your dad as your coach. Is he too tough on you? Is it too crazy? No, it was never uncomfortable. It was the best. We were just a really good team
“It wasn’t ever like a pressure situation. It was something we both wanted equally the same and we both really loved it. At Collins Hill, it was one of the highlights of my whole career with him coaching me. It was a neat situation. It was so much fun.
“The role he plays as coach and my dad are one in the same. Now that I’m not running, we still talk about different things. It’s the same scenario, we just talk about school and other things and he still gets equally pumped for me. Anyone who’s ever met my dad will say that he’s the person pushing you, helping you, excited for you.”
Drouin’s running is more leisurely these days. It’s not ultra-competitive like it once was, when she was an All-Ivy League runner in both cross country and track and field.
But the sport is still a part of her life.
“I still run for fun,” said Drouin, a seven-time individual state champion at Collins Hill, five in track and two in cross country. “I always tell people I’m retired and they laugh at me. But it’s such a different thing running competitively and then jogging once a day because you eat an extra cupcake. I go to the gym twice a week and still run because it’s relaxing. I still meet up with the girls at FSU some and go jogging if they promise to go easy.”
After this week’s induction, Drouin will rejoin her family in New York while she searches for jobs. Her boyfriend is a contract worker for Nike and if he lands a full-time position, she will focus her job search on Portland.
The future can wait, though. This week is about remembering the past, as well as seeing what has changed in Gwinnett since she’s been gone.
“The first thing I thought of was that (Gwinnett) has become more racially and ethnically diverse and unfortunately some people think that this is a bad thing,” Drouin said. “So much of my success is due to Collins Hill’s diversity. A key component of my high school track team’s success is that the coaches don’t classify athletes by skin color, making the white kids distance runners and the black kids sprinters.
“During my time at Collins Hill, some of our program’s best distance runners were black, with runners like Nicky Akande, Brianna Crawford and Sydney Williams. At the same time, some of our best sprinters were white with runners like Rayven Tirado, Lindsey Luce and Pauline Ventura. And it is within this era that Collins Hill had its greatest success, winning six cross country state championship titles in a row. So how is Gwinnett changing? It is becoming more diverse. And this is a great thing. I think Collins Hill has proven that and will continue to do so, both in the classroom and on the track.”