By Brad Fauber
WOODSTOCK -- Central senior Emily Walker could have never predicted the positive impact that taking up cross country would have on her life when she started the sport back in seventh grade.
Walker simply enjoys everything about it. The friendships she's made, the lasting experiences, the competition -- those are all things that she cherishes from her high school cross country career.
"I never thought that a sport could change my life as much as it did, until I started running," Walker said. "It just became something that I really enjoyed doing."
Walker decided that the sport was simply too invigorating to give up when she graduates from Central next month, and she guaranteed herself at least a few more years of cross country by signing to run for Division II Glenville State College next school year.
"I've done it forever, for six years. I love it and I want to continue doing it because I can't see myself not doing it," Walker said after a brief signing ceremony at Central High School on Wednesday evening.
Walker's interest in Glenville State, which is located midway between Morgantown and Charleston, West Virginia, happened by chance. Walker said she was attending a college fair last year at Central and noticed the school's booth while waiting in line to speak with a representative from George Mason University.
Walker, who wants to major in criminal justice, was sold on Glenville State after chatting with the college's representative.
"He looked at me and he said, 'What do you want to major in?' I told him and he was like, 'Do you want to be doing experiments or do you want to have to watch from a big class.' And I was like, 'I want a hands-on experience,'" Walker recalled.
Walker's decision was made even easier when the school offered her an athletic scholarship worth $11,000. Between that scholarship, a pell grant and the honor's program, Walker's education will be entirely paid for.
"I'm proud of her. Super proud of her," Walker's mother, Sherri Walker, said. "If someone would've told me that I would have a kid that would get an athletic scholarship, I probably would've laughed. Let alone an honors scholarship -- that's just as big."
It became fully apparent that Emily Walker -- who will also compete on Glenville State's track and field team -- was making the correct choice when she visited the school last July.
"The campus was gorgeous," Walker said. "I really loved the area down there."
Emily Walker said she met with Glenville State athletic director Janet Bailey and former cross country/track and field coach Cam Perry during her first visit. Bailey impressed Walker -- who attended Strasburg High School for the first half of her high school career -- by remembering Strasburg and Glenville State graduate Lloyd Willis, who was a track and field standout at Strasburg in the early 1980s.
"You don't get that at bigger schools," Emily Walker said.
Glenville State competes in the newly formed Mountain East Conference, which consists primarily of schools from the now defunct West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The Pioneers finished ninth in the MEC cross country championships this past fall, and the track and field team placed sixth out of seven teams in the conference championship meet this past weekend.
This past fall, Walker competed for Central for the first time in cross country, and noted the Falcons' win in the Bull Run District meet as a highlight of the season. Walker placed 22nd in the Conference 28 meet by turning in a time of 21:49.80 on the Falcons's home course, and 55th (23:39) in the Region 3A East meet at Culpeper High School.
Walker also runs the 800-meter, 1,600-meter, 3,200-meter, 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles for the Falcons' track and field team.
"She's not afraid to try anything and work hard at it and do whatever it takes to help the team," Central cross country coach and assistant track coach Melissa Wright said.
"This year, especially, she was our solid number five runner for us [in cross country] and you knew you could count on her to always be there for you. Her consistency, it's nice to have that too.
"It's exciting to see Emily continue her running. We haven't had a lot of Central runners recently go on to run in college."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD