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Posted July 30, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Woodstock girl heading to national track meet

By Jeremy Stafford -- jstafford@nvdaily.com

MAURERTOWN -- This won't be the first time 14-year-old Amber Hawkins has competed in the Hershey Track and Field North American Final; nor will it be the first time she expects herself to be one of the fastest distance runners at the meet.

But it will be the first time she's ever flown in a plane, a feat she says makes her just as nervous as racing against some of the best young mile-runners in the continent.

What awaits Amber outside of the plane, though, is well worth the tribulations of overcoming her fear of flying.

"They have all this candy and you get these little packets of information and stuff like that," Amber said. "It's kind of a big celebration when you get there."

The Hershey Track and Field meets, which are held across the continent in local meets before culminating in the North American Final each summer, promote athletic activity among adolescents ages 14 and younger. The program comprises competitions in distance running, sprints and throwing events.

Running in the North American Final for the first time since she made it as a fifth-grader, when she placed third in the 400-meter run, Amber has come a long way since her days living in Wardensville, W.Va.

In Wardensville, there were no youth track and field programs save for the annual Hershey meets, which Amber first participated in as a third-grader. She enjoyed the experience so much that her father, Keith Hawkins, began coaching her independently.

Hawkins, a James Wood graduate who ran cross country as well as the 400- and 800-meter runs for the Colonels, soon entered his daughter in local AAU meets once the Hawkinses moved to Maurertown.

But it wasn't until Hawkins took his daughter out for a 5K run a few years ago that he saw that distance running was Amber's forte.

"I noticed she was stronger in the longer distances, and that's how I kinda stumbled across that," Hawkins said. "It was really shocking to see the time that she ran for her first 5K."

While at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School in Woodstock, Amber's competition could only watch as she went undefeated through two seasons of cross country and track and field to become an NVJL champion in both sports.

And so, following a short hiatus from the Hershey meets, Amber decided to compete once more in her final year of eligibility, and she swept through the county, regional and state meets, winning the 1,600 in the state meet in 5:14.

The North American Final will begin today in Hershey, Pa., and will last until Sunday. Amber will run the 1,600 on Saturday.

Amber said that, with the experience she's gained having run in the North American Final four years ago, she doesn't expect to run into any surprises when she steps onto the track Saturday.

"When I went in fifth grade it was a great learning experience," said Amber, who will attend Central this coming school year. "You know that there are other people out there that are faster than you, and that you're not just the one."

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