BY DENNIS SILVA II | DENSILVA2@GMAIL.COM
It was during her freshman year that Cinco Ranch senior Sophie Atkinson was dealt an awakening of sorts.
A metatarsal fracture limited Atkinson to two cross country meets during that year. Then she suffered a stress fracture to another metatarsal on the same foot that wiped out her track season.
But after eventually coming to terms with the devastation of two setbacks within months of each other, Atkinson found a wat to move forward. She leaned on her faith. Her focus turned to becoming a better teammate. And, most importantly, she realized there was a lot more to her life than running.
“I was able to focus on other things,” Atkinson said. “It’s easy to get lost in the practices and all that time. I believe everything happens for a reason, and I used the time to become stronger mentally and physically. That period was tough. I had to work my way back up and had to learn how to be mentally engaged even when I couldn’t race or finish in the top of races. I had to be persistent.”
That perspective and commitment earned their keep. On Sept. 12, Atkinson announced she will be running cross country and track for the University of Virginia.
Even with the COVID-19 pandemic prohibiting official recruiting visits, Atkinson said she was able to get the information she needed from coaches, who sent videos of school facilities and different places where the team trains. She is confident she will love Charlottesville once she gets there.
The most important thing was the strong relationships she established with track and field and cross country director Vin Lananna and assistant track and field distance coach Nicole Freitag.
“I wasn’t able to have the opportunity to do an official (visit), but I just felt really confident in it being the right place for me,” Atkinson said. “I was looking for a school that had academic and athletic success, and I felt Virginia was the best option in that case. Also, their vision was something I felt aligned with and excited me. Coach Vin and Coach Nicole … I’m really excited to work with them and I feel I mesh well with them.”
Verbally committing to compete at the NCAA Division I level is an impressive feat for Atkinson. Sure, there is a reason she was a well-decorated runner out of the Class of 2021, but injuries and unfortunate circumstances have hindered opportunities to showcase her considerable ability.
Not only did Atkinson essentially lose her entire freshman year of competition, her track season this spring was abruptly canceled because of COVID-19.
However, there is no denying her talent. As a sophomore, Atkinson was an all-state cross country and track runner, finishing ninth at the 2018 cross country state meet and qualifying for the state track meet in the 800-meter, 1600-meter and 3200-meter runs in the spring.
The day before the novel coronavirus caused the shutdown of the 2020 spring track season, Atkinson ran a United States No. 2 time of 4-minutes, 48.95-seconds in the mile.
And there is more to come. Atkinson said she is fully healthy and has never felt better. She said she is in the best shape of her career, clicking off paces that she’s never been able to in the past. Her offseason training around area neighborhoods and the soft surfaces of Katy’s bayous has her optimistic about what’s to come this senior year.
“I feel I’ve gotten back to the level of competition that I was at before my injury,” Atkinson said. “I’m just trying to go into each meet with the mindset of being grateful that there is a meet and that there is a competition, considering everything that has happened. I want to see what I can do. I don’t want to put limitations on myself. I want to go into each race just seeing what I can do, going forward and giving my best.”
Atkinson started running at nine years old, when she joined a youth track club. From there, she fell in love.
“It’s a sport that you really get out of it what you put in,” she said. “My performance depended on what I did. If I trained hard and worked my hardest at practice, I have a good meet. That’s attractive in a sport.”
But as attested, it’s not all she is. Atkinson no longer solely identifies herself with her sneakers. Her freshman year taught that.
She is much more than an impressive athlete. She is part of the Best Buddies program at Cinco Ranch, which builds friendships between people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities. It’s something Atkinson is passionate about and takes a lot of pride in.
Atkinson also aspires to study business in college. She has been trying to cook more. She likes to cook sweets—“I have a really big sweet tooth,” she boasts—and thinks it’s fun to decorate cookies and cakes.
“I’m not very good at it,” Atkinson said, “but it’s fun.”
And fun is what she is looking most forward to in her final races as a Cougar this year.