WVU runner’s journey helped her turn from student to teacher
When Ahna Lewis was 11 years old, she won her first bronze medal in the mile race.
The Morgantown native had never realized her talent in long-distance running before. But, that feeling of success changed her.
West Virginia University cross country and track coach Sean Cleary called Lewis a childhood prodigy. However, that’s not a particularly promising description as a middle schooler. In long-distance running, it is common that those runners who succeed in middle school will burn out prior to college.
That trend looked like it might continue with Lewis, as her times during her senior year at Morgantown High School were worse as a senior than they were in the other three years.
“I’ve learned to never give up. I’ve been through injuries and performances where you are less than your best. There are times when you wonder, ‘should I keep doing this?’ but you learn to have a fighting attitude and persevere,” she said.
Since Cleary had such a long-standing relationship with Lewis and her family, he saw the potential and knew that she could become a big-time contributor to the Mountaineers’ team.
“She was a tremendous talent as a young girl, but many people in our sport write off someone like Ahna a prodigy who struggled and struggled at times, especially female distance runners. It’s a stereotype that drives me insane,” Cleary said. “If someone is given the necessary attention, nurtured and dealt with correctly, a runner can be revived. As long as there’s love for the sport, they can come back, and Ahna’s living, breathing proof of that.”
Now, every day, Lewis runs. She runs or swims each weekday morning, heads to class after and then runs later that day before picking up her textbooks and finishes homework or studies.
“When I tell people I’m a runner, they look at me weirdly and say, ‘why would you do that?’” she said with a smile.
It would surprise anyone that the 5-foot-5, mild-mannered WVU student who was home-schooled for much of her youth would have such a passion for victory. But, she strives for perfection in every facet of life.
“Running teaches you a lot of life lessons and helps you deal with adversity, challenges and hardships. I’ve been so frustrated at times, but you have your teammates to support you and your belief in God,” she said. “It shows you a lot about courage. It has made me better prepared to take on the world.”
Lewis has never run away from challenges the classroom, either. The secondary education Master’s student who has already fulfilled the requirements for an undergraduate degree in English is one of the best student-athletes on campus and in her sport.
“I’m used to tough situations and fighting through them. I think of the final two pages of a research paper like the final two laps of a race. You just have to get through them and to the finish,” she said. “I love to accomplish things. It’s that drive and determination to work through things.”
Her accomplishments in the classroom are as long as her runs each morning. She was one of the valedictorians of her graduating high school class among many high school academic accolades. In college, she has been named to the Garrett Ford Academic Honor Roll, an 2011 Big East Conference Institutional Female Scholar, a 2011 USTFCCCA All-Academic Team and hasn’t received a grade lower than an A in her five years on campus.
The biggest honor came at NCAA Championships in cross country last fall. After recording her best time in an NCAA Championship competition and helping the team to a top-10 finish, she was awarded the Elite 89 honor, which is given to the individual with the highest cumulative GPA at NCAA Championships.
After graduation, Lewis will go from being a student to a teacher. She spent the last year of her time at WVU student teaching at local schools.
Because of her ability to multitask successfully, Cleary called Lewis, “one of the greatest student-athletes we’ve ever had here.”
“Ahna has got tremendous morals, she’s driven, she’s got goals and she’s liked by every single person in our program,” Cleary said. “Sometimes, you can look at her and just see her being Anne of Green Gables. She could’ve been a teacher in any era in history. She’ll be a great teacher.”
She said the family she was able to build at WVU over the last five years is one of the main reasons for her success academically and athletically.
“I grew up in Morgantown, but being at WVU was a whole new experience. I had a team already there waiting for me,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to wear gold and blue. I’ve wanted to represent our team, our school and our state. I loved every minute of it.”
By Tony Dobies