By Steve Holt, Opinion Editor
Her high school dream was to be a rare, white, American sprinter to compete in the Olympic games. The dream may have been born even earlier than that, however-in the 100-meter dash on field day at Aledo Elementary School.
By all accounts Angie Waters was meant to run very fast for short distances.
But the 5-foot-3-inch, slightly built senior is now one of two women’s cross country runners who will represent ACU at the Division II National Champion-ship Saturday, a feat that comes as a surprise even to her.
“I didn’t think I would perform this well in cross country, especially this year,” Waters said.
In addition to qualifying for nationals with a fifth place finish at the South Central Region Championship on Nov. 10, Waters has finished first on the team at three of the five meets in which ACU has run this season. Waters finished fifth out of 65 runners overall and second on the team at the ACU Classic on Sept. 13, 47th of 147 at the Missouri Southern Stampede on Sept. 21, 43rd of 117 at the Oklahoma State Cowboy Jamboree on Oct. 5 and 19th of 137 at the Texas A&M Invita-tional on Oct. 12. She finished second at the Lone Star Conference Championship in Ada, Okla., on Oct. 26, earning all-conference honors for the third straight season.
All this cross country success is a relatively new thing for the 21-year-old, however. She was better known for her success on the track team at Aledo High School. After running the shorter sprints her first three years, Waters tried out the 800 meters for the first time her senior year.
She won the Texas AAA state championship in the event.
Waters was with her high school team when it passed through Abilene on a trip. Sitting in a Luby’s restaurant, Waters’ coach told her that she should consider coming to ACU to run. Having never heard of the university and not knowing about the Wildcat dominance in Division II track and field and cross country, Waters scoffed at the idea.
But a few years later Wa-ters is a senior leader on a team that came just shy of qualifying for na-tionals, and is making her na-tionals debut individually.
Waters was recruited primarily to run the 800 meters in track and field, and cross country was originally viewed as a training device for Waters to prepare for races on the track in the spring. “I know it’s good for me,” Waters said. “I know that if I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t be as good. I knew it’d be harder because the distance is longer than high school, but I knew it’d help me.”
She doesn’t remember ever enjoying the fall sport, though, until recently.
“I liked the team part of it more,” Waters said, “but it’s just so long. I just liked the competitiveness of track more,” Waters said.
Vickie Waters, Angie’s mom, said Angie was fearful of doing cross country when a track and field coach suggested she run.
“She was really afraid to do it,” Vickie said. “She thought she’d be last. We just told her to look at it as training for track and field.”
Waters’ speed on the track was one of the things that attracted Murray most to her as a recruit.
“One, she’s very competitive-she hates to lose. The second thing is she has some speed,” Murray said. “Those were probably the two main reasons why we wanted her.”
In her freshman and sophomore years at ACU, Waters was still known more for her performance on the track than the course. Her freshman track and field season was outstanding, as she finished sixth in the 800 meters at the Division II National Championships with a then-career-best time of 2:11.16. Her sophomore track and field season was up and down, but Waters managed to notch season bests of 2:14.05 in the 800 meters and 5:06.65 in the 1,500 meters.
In 2001, Waters followed a fourth place finish at the LSC Championship with a 21st place run at the South Central Region Championship.
The last three cross country seasons Waters ran in the shadow of one or more Wildcat runners. This season, however, Waters has led the team by example both on and off the course.
Murray thinks her cross country success this season and last is due in part to a mental revelation of her potential. He said Waters has gained confidence after doing longer runs in practice and having success on the cross country course, and that has translated into her qualifying for nationals.
However, Waters said she doesn’t think her stellar performance this season has been a big influence on the performance of others.
“I don’t think it has an effect on them,” Waters said. “I think we are all hard workers. Our other senior, Amy [Lindley], helps a lot too. Even our freshmen help us. We all help each other.”
In addition to being an exceptional runner, Waters is a quality person, Murray said.
“She’s almost always in a good mood,” Murray said. “You really appreciate that.”
Murray added that Waters is often the female runner who shows recruits the ACU campus and gives them a positive view of the university.
Waters attributes much of her success to motivation from Murray and fellow runners.
“A lot has to do with my teammates and Coach Murray, because I never think I can do it in long distances,” Waters said. “Whenever we have a big 13-mile run, I never think I can do it, but everyone will say ‘Yes you can! You can do it! You’re a hoss, you can do it.'”
Family and Future
Waters’ three biggest fans, however, share her last name. Her parents and grandfather have only missed two track and field or cross country meets in her three years at ACU, and those were at Stanford Univer-sity and the Penn Relays. Her parents also investigate the times of her competitors, calling her and encouraging her to beat them.
Waters’ mom said their presence is the biggest way they can support her.
“She’s an only child,” Vickie said. “We knew that while she was competing in college we wanted to be there for her. We’ve driven quite a ways.”
Waters said the three are always welcome at meets or on the phone.
“It means a lot because they are that comfort of home,” Waters said. “And no matter how I do, I can go up to them and they’ll be supportive.”
Waters’ family is also an encouragement to the rest of the women’s squad.
“It means a lot to the team, too,” Waters said. “They always ask, ‘Where’s Mom? Where’s Dad? Where’s Pee-Paw?’ It’s fun. I like them there.”
Prior to her college days, the Aledo native rarely traveled to major metropolitan areas in other parts of the country. But since she became a Wildcat, Waters has enjoyed trips to Pennsylvania and California, among other places.
Murray said Waters makes team trips fun with her innocent naivet‚, and that she is fun to tease because she teases back.
“We went to California last year and that was a big deal to her because she’d never been there,” Murray said. “She learned a lot there. She’s not from a small town, but she acts like she’s from a small town sometimes.”
The senior will graduate in May with an interdisciplinary degree in exercise and sports science and Spanish. She wants to be a coach and a Spanish teacher, a career inspired by her love for running and a summer 2002 trip to Torreon, Mexico.
“I love giving advice to my teammates, and I feel rewarded whenever I help somebody and I see their improvement,” Waters said. “I’ve always wanted to be a teacher too, so they go together. Teaching is coaching-that’s what they teach us in our classes.”
She is pretty certain she’ll still be running on the side after college, however, whether it be competitive or recreational and eventually she wants to train for a marathon.
In response to a team joke that Waters can’t handle long distances, she boldly declared one day at practice that she was going to run a marathon someday.
“I think everyone would drop dead if they saw me do a marathon,” Waters said. “So I just want to do it to tell everybody, ‘See, I can do it!'”
And that has been her attitude throughout her entire running career. The senior has shown again and again that she can be successful at any race distance. From grade school field days to ninth grade dreams of becoming an Olympic sprinter, to a potential ACU record in the 800 meters and her nationals berth in cross country, Angie Waters has consistently proven others wrong in her success.
And, quite often, herself.