HANOVERTON-Just days from her fourth straight appearance in the state track meet, United senior Allison Parks vividly recalled her first experience.
As a freshman, Parks qualified in the 1600-meter run. She fell behind early and was dead last by the second lap on her way to an 11th-place finish.
"I remember looking at the big stadium and being so intimidated," Parks said. "I felt like I was on the coattails of all the seniors that went down that year. They were like gods to me."
Four years later, things are much different.
Parks is set to make one final trip to Columbus as a seasoned veteran and one of the most decorated runners in school history. She qualified in the 1600 run for the fourth straight year with a second-place finish last week at the Austintown Division II regional. Her time of 5:10.20 is the best in the area this season. Parks is also adding the 800 run after a third-place finish (2:17.39) at the regional meet.
"I feel so comfortable going down there now, Parks said. "After four years I'm used to everything that goes with the state track meet. It feels like my home."
Parks is the only distance runner from Columbiana County to make it to Columbus. Unlike in previous years, she is the only United girls representative. In each of the last three years she also qualified as a member of a relay team.
"It's really sad not going down with any other girls my last year," Parks said. "One of the things I loved most was going down with a relay team. It felt like more of a team atmosphere than when I went to state in cross country. I'm happy to have the boys though."
Parks won't be all alone as teammate Maggie Briceland has acted as her training partner this week and will accompany her to the state meet.
"Maggie has been amazing," Parks said. "She has taken time to help me get ready this week. She has been a great teammate."
Parks' finishes in the 1600 run have gone up steadily each year, from 11th to seventh to fifth. However, there is a new challenge this year, as United has moved up to Division II. Last week's regional time places her towards the middle of the 16-runner field for the state meet.
"I try to stay away from looking at times," Parks said. "I'm much better if I focus on just competing instead of worrying about times. I try and think of the place I want and compete as hard as possible. The times will follow."
While she expected to make another state run in the 1600, the 800 emerged as something of a surprise for Parks. She did not place in the event at regionals last year, but entered this season determined to make it to state in two individual events.
"I was on the podium last year for the 1600 and (at regionals) had to jump right off and run the 800," Parks said. "It opened my eyes at how hard it was to make it in two individual events. This year I had the mentality that it's now or never. I never stopped running in the offseason. This year I ran with the boys a lot in practice and it really pushed me."
After making her last run in Columbus, Parks' focus will shift to preparing for the U.S. Naval Academy, where she hopes to study medicine and join her sister Sierra-a 2011 United graduate and a junior at the academy-on the track team.
"My sister is the captain of the team," Parks said. "It would be awesome to run with her again," Parks said. "You are required to play one sport there and I'm going to give everything I have to making the track team."
Parks comes from a naval family and has bounced around quite often during her life, living everywhere from Virginia (three years) to Italy (three years) to Hawaii (two years). She has attended United for the past eight years, but is eager to travel again, citing it as one of the big attractions to a Navy career.
"I miss traveling all the time," Parks said. "It's weird for me to stay in one spot. I like moving around and seeing new cultures and different points of view on life."
For the time being though, she is still representing United. Over her career, Parks has developed a strong attachment to the school district and couldn't think of a better way to go out than a final trip to state.
"I've never been in one place so long my entire life," Parks said. "I just want to say thank you to everyone here at United. Everyone really took me in and made me feel like I was at home. I've had the best coaches and teammates. At the end of the day, I'm really happy I ended up here."