Tennis Hall of Famer and women’s rights activist Billie Jean King once said, “Pressure is a privilege. It only comes to those who earn it.”
Western Albemarle cross country star Joe Hawkes identifies with that statement every time he toes the line for a race.
“When we actually start, I try not to think about anything,” Hawkes said. “I tend to overthink races.”
The junior standout capped off a sensational fall season Friday with an individual and team championship at the Class 3 state cross country championships at Great Meadow to garner Schewels Athlete of the Week honors.
Hawkes completed the 3.1-mile course in 15 minutes, 39 seconds to secure his first individual state title. He joins Gannon Willcutts as the only runners in the Western Albemarle program’s successful history to secure an individual state championship. In addition, the junior guided Western Albemarle to the program’s fifth team state championship, including title in back-to-back seasons.
“Joe has been blessed with a huge aerobic capacity which he augmented in his early years by essentially staying in perpetual motion daily,” Western Albemarle coach Lindy Bain said. “He is one of, if not the most driven and most competitive runners I have ever coached. He works tirelessly on all of the little things that are needed to become a great runner. Joe is humble, which seems to make it easier for him to work on personal improvement.”
Growing up, cross country wasn’t even on the radar for Hawkes, who preferred the traditional team sports. Basketball and baseball were his main sports and he even played a year of football before discovering that he was not heavy enough to play. In high school, he started running cross country to help out with conditioning for winter basketball tryouts. That’s when he discovered his calling.
“As the season went on, I found that I really liked the idea of being good at something, so I continued with it,” Hawkes said. “I remember a conversation with my mom at the start of my freshman year running, and I told her if I was going to run, even though it was for basketball, I was going to give it my best, so that’s where it all started.”
The results are astounding. He won every race he competed in this season, including the Ragged Mountain Cup and the Albemarle Invitational, and did so in convincing fashion.
“Usually, I don’t need much motivation, just because it is fun for me to do something well, and that usually means leading [the race], so I am perfectly happy to do that,” Hawkes said. “There are a few days when I do not want to work out or run hard, but I really stress finding a way to turn what could be a mediocre day into a great one. It always starts with just beginning the workout fast and hard, usually once I do that, I can fall into a good, hard rhythm.”
That success didn’t happen overnight and includes a rigorous offseason schedule to prepare him for big races.
“We train every day over the summer and sometimes I go run twice a day,” Hawkes said. “We all start the summer with pretty low mileage, but as we progress through the midseason, we will get up to around 65 miles a week.”
Hawkes admits distance running can get monotonous at times, but he’s developed a way to challenge himself every day.
“I think the only key I have learned, besides just simply running every day, is finding a way, by changing what I eat, wear or think, to turn what could be a bad workout into a good one,” Hawkes said.
Hawkes credits his teammates for making running fun. Jack Eliason, Cyrus Rody-Ramazani and Joseph Taylor crossed the finish line right behind Hawkes at last week’s state championship meet, which made the win even more special.
“I thought this year’s team was the most fun out of my three years at Western,” Hawkes said. “I think we generally like to be around each other and joke around, so that helped build a pretty good team. I think my favorite part of the season was when I turned around after finishing and I saw Joseph beat another runner right beside him for us to go 1-2-3-4 and then see Will coming in soon after that.”
He credits Eliason and Rody-Ramazani for not only making him a better runner, but also a better person.
“ Jack is a great teammate to have because he is super positive and encouraging all the time,” Hawkes said. “It makes it a lot easier to run hard when the person right beside you cares more about how the team does then anything else. Cyrus is probably who I try to emulate the most because he has more perseverance than anyone I will probably ever know.”
Outside of running, Hawkes is a free spirit.
“This may sound weird, but I probably spend about 90 percent of my free time just dreaming,” he said. “Usually about big races.”
The next challenge for Hawkes is in two weeks when he and Eliason will take part in the Foot Locker South Regional meet in Charlotte, North Carolina. The event features the top runners from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and many others.
Hawkes said this meet will be a good measuring stick for him.
“I’m hoping to qualify for the national meet, and if not, at least run a really fast time,” he said. “I wouldn’t call myself successful yet, we will have to wait a little longer for that.”