Cross Country: Brittany Blossoms

Brittany Aikens
Brittany Aikens

When Brittany Aikens in the eighth grade announced that she wanted to run cross-country, her mother – perhaps a tad too informed by the Forrest Gump movie – replied, “To what part of the country are you going to run?” The now-19-year-old, who recently completed her freshman year at Brenau, answered that question last fall. She ran in almost the diagonal opposite corner of the United States from her Braselton, Ga., home at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site on the Washington-Oregon border made her own history as the first Brenau runner to compete in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Cross Country National Championship meet.

Aikens finished the 5K run in 20:28, placing 242nd out of 323 runners, but setting the grueling pace of 6:35-minute mile on the course near the home running grounds of fabled U.S. Olympian distance runner Steve “Pre” Prefontaine. She qualified for the nationals by placing seventh in the Southern States Athletic Conference meet.

“Brittany kept her focus this season and accomplished what no other Brenau cross- country runner has done,” says her coach, Susan McIntyre. “Now that the path has been created, we hope others will journey it as well.”

McIntyre has been recruiting some “intramural” competition, signing incoming freshman Alyssa Sale from South Forsyth High School in Cumming, Ga., where McIntyre began her coaching career. Sale, who earned a 3.2 grade point average and also competed in track and field and swimming, already has a personal-best 20:14 in the 5K and a 12:13 on the two-mile course. Her high school coach, Jerry Edmondson, who formerly coached at Riverside Academy in Gainesville, thought his star would be a strong fit for Brenau, and McIntyre agreed. “Alyssa can bridge the gap between our number one runner and the next three solid runners that score for the team,” McIntyre says. “This will improve our score as a team at the invitationals we attend.”

The Tigers have signed speedster Amber Curney from Druid Hills High School in Atlanta; Hunter Creswell, from Sonoraville High School in Calhoun, Ga.;  and Tyana Luna from Burkmar High School in Lilburn, Ga.

In addition, the cross-country team has become a touch point for other gifted Brenau Tigers athletes. Following in the footsteps of former Tigers tennis player Nelli Martirosyan, who used up her courts eligibility before she finished her degree in May 2012, three-time All-American LynSee Choo won’t finish her studies until the end of the fall term, and will run cross-country during her last semester.

Aikens, meanwhile, has not let up since her return from her Pacific Northwest triumph.  She runs seven to eight miles a day. In high school she was the first athlete to go to state championships four years in a row and still holds school records in several events, including the 5K. Her best time at that distance is 19:13. She also has a 10K best time of 39:37. One suspects the biggest competitor she detects on her heels is Brittany herself. “I love to run,” she says, “because it allows me time to think and clear my mind.”

In personal moments, Brittany recalls some rough patches in high school in spite of her role as a star athlete. But, she adds, Brenau helped her leave that all behind. “My freshman year at Brenau was great. I loved the small classes and the teachers, not to mention my fabulous teammates and coach.  I was scared when I started college, but my teammates supported me and made me feel welcome.”

Check the Tigers cross country Web page at www.brenautigers.com for the fall meet lineup.

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