2016 Boys Track Athlete of the Year: Taste of success sparks Strasburg’s Waters to state title

Strasburg's Elijah Waters, center, was able to edge out Central's Donivan Armstrong, left, and Daniel George, right, to win the 110-meter hurdles during the Bull Run District track meet in May. Waters won the 110-meter hurdles Group 2A state title this season. Rich Cooley/Daily file

STRASBURG — Strasburg’s Elijah Waters tasted success in track and field last year, finishing fourth in the 110-meter hurdles, and it fueled his hunger to improve and enjoy further success.

In the offseason, Waters realized he needed to lift weights and change his diet in order to get to the next level. He did it and it worked, propelling him to a state championship in the 110-meter hurdles this year.

“I watch what I eat very closely. I watch the amount of calories I eat,” Waters said. “I try to avoid anything that has any kind of bad sugars in it. I can eat fruit and stuff because they have natural sugars. I don’t drink soda. I drink unsweetened tea. I drink a lot of water obviously. I try to stay away from fatty foods. I try to stay away from red meats. I eat a lot of carbohydrates, but I try not to get my carbohydrates from bread. I try to get it from rice, noodles. I’m definitely very conscious about what I put in my body.”

Waters said at first it was difficult getting used to a new diet, but now it’s become a habit. He said he noticed a big difference this year, especially in the 300-meter hurdles.

“Last year I felt more lethargic. I felt more tired. I feel more energetic now. I’m in better shape,” Waters said.

Waters, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Boys Track Athlete of the Year, said he was also helped greatly by working with Strasburg head coach Emily Brandon and hurdles coach Glenn Proctor.

Brandon said she knew before the season started that Waters was going to have a great season.

“I think he got a taste of it when he placed last year at the state meet. He really got a taste of what he could be, and at the state meet he realized it and he got in the weight room and changed his diet and started training,” Brandon said. “We were out here in November. He asked me if we could go outside. We were out during hurdle drills in November. It just showed that he set a goal for himself to break that school record, maybe take home a state title, and he knew what he had to do to get it done.”

Waters said working with Proctor was also a huge benefit for him. He said Proctor made sure he was conditioning right, and also made him be even more strict with his diet than he already was.

“This is the greatest coach somebody could ever ask for,” Waters said of Proctor. “He knows athletes. He just doesn’t make up a workout and say go run this. No, he learns who you are. He’ll ask you questions about your family. He really learns who you are as a person. I don’t know how the man does it. He makes the perfect workout for you, like he knows exactly what you can do.”

Waters started his season off strong. He set a personal record in the 110-meter hurdles in his first race of the season, topping his time from last year by almost 30 seconds.

It was on track to have another strong season until he suffered a hamstring injury midway through the season.

Waters said he could have come back after about a week, but the coaches decided to hold him out of races for a few extra weeks.

“I was definitely worried. I was still practicing, but I couldn’t practice at the same pace or intensity that I could before,” Waters said. “So when I came back I was definitely worried that I wouldn’t be able to be where I was at before. I knew the other guys, they were still racing, still getting better, and I was just trying to get back to where I was.”

Waters came back in style. His first meet back was in the Shenandoah County meet and he won the 110-meter hurdles, the 300-meter hurdles and the long jump. He also finished third in the 200-meter dash.

Just a few weeks later, Waters had a record-breaking day. He broke the school record in both the 110-meter hurdles and the 300-meter hurdles at the Region 2A East meet. He broke the 110 hurdles record with a time of 15.07. The previous record was set by Brian Strejcek in 2005. The 300 hurdles record was set by Darren Alsberry in the 1980s, Walters broke the record with a time of 40.79.

“This year that was my main goal. That’s’ kind of what I’ve been working for the entire season — the entire offseason was breaking that school record,” Waters said. “When we started practice, I really knew that I could do it because I was a lot stronger athlete. I was faster.”

Once Waters had the school records there was only one more meet and one more goal left — a state championship.

He entered the meet with the top time in the 110 hurdles. He had the top time in trials to earn the top seed going into the finals.

The Group 2A state meet, which was held at Radford University, was moved up an hour due to anticipated rains. Waters didn’t know it, and didn’t have as much time to prepare as he would have liked, but said he adjusted to it. Waters said he felt fine until he went up to the starting line.

“Then I got super nervous again because it’s the state meet, and when he tells you get set —  you’re nervous — it’s just natural,” Waters said. “So when that gun went off I was gone. I tensed up. I’m surprised I didn’t false start. I was so ready to go. But I ran a pretty good race. I only hit one or two hurdles. …I could feel (Appomattox’s Delonta) Kelso right beside me the entire race. So that definitely pushed me harder. I think he ran his PR. I think he ran a 15.04. So feeling somebody that close next to me — it was scary because I knew he could pass me anytime. So I knew I had to run hard the entire race. We went over the last hurdle almost at the same time. I guess I got my foot down a little bit faster because I took off over the last hurdle and I beat him by a tenth of a second.”

Waters won the race with a time 14.94. He said he felt a lot of pressure to win in part because he hadn’t lost a race all season in the 100 hurdles. He then finished third in the 300 hurdles with a time of 40.77.

Waters said that after Strasburg 2015 graduate Cody Darr won the state title in the 200-meter dash last year that also helped inspire him to win a state title this year.

He said he’s hoping he can inspire some future state champions as well. Waters said next year he wants to continue to break his own records and to win state titles in both the 110 and 300 hurdles.

Waters said that he had a lot of people congratulate him over the next few days after he won the state title.

“It’s nice to have everybody recognize you. People I don’t even know have congratulated me,” Waters said. “It’s really cool that people recognize that I did something like that. Like it’s a big deal becoming a state champion. I didn’t realize it was this big until I did it.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com