Best Season Yet

Senior commits to SFA for track and field


Sitting and smiling, Amani Graham takes her senior pictures on the Cedar Park High School track. Graham said that she has always wanted to pursue track as a college career and SFA is the perfect place for her. “I fell in love with SFA,” Graham said. ”The campus immediately felt like home. It was a place I could see myself growing not only as an athlete but an individual as well, and I am really excited to start there next fall.” (Photo Courtesy of Amani Graham)

Branae Jackson, Guest Reporter

Hoping the rain holds off, senior Amani Graham stretches, shakes and mentally prepares herself for the gun to go off as she lines up for her second race of the day. Even though she had already run the 100m hurdles and placed fourth, she knew she could better. 

As she crossed the finish line with a time of 43.31, breaking her personal record as well as a school record, tears fell as she realized she would be stepping up on the podium at the state track meet on May 12.

“The state meet was definitely a nice way to leave my high school track career behind,” Graham said. “I was excited to make it to state again in all of my events. Words can’t begin to describe how I was feeling once I saw I placed in the 300m hurdles. It was truly the best day of my life.” 

Amani Graham wakes up for track practice at 6:00 in the morning, heads to clinicals every other day, proceeds to hurdling practice after school, and then heads home to repeat this cycle. Graham finishes her homework during the school day because she knows that hurdling practice after school will take up most of her evening. Next year, she will both continue her passion for running and pursue her dream to become a nurse at Stephen F. Austin University. 

Graham has done track for as long as she can remember, and this year was her best year yet. 

“Track has been a huge part of my life for a while now,” Graham said. “My favorite part about track would definitely be the meets and team dinners. Dinners are a time when we can bond, hang out but also get prepared for the meets. Its nice to take it all in with my teammates before meets as well as cheer them on.” 

Graham participates in school track and has done club track since she was eight years old. 

“I put countless hours into track weekly,” Graham said. “In between school track and club I spend about 16 hours a week practicing hurdles and preparing for the 4×4 relay.” 

Throughout her high school career, she has been preparing herself for college track and has set multiple goals to break records. This year she accomplished many things and has reconnected with the sport all over again. 

“This year we broke quite a few records,” Graham said. “I broke the 300 hurdles; which is my own record, and the 100m hurdles which was a record that was standing for 20 years. Us girls as a whole broke the 4×4 record that was upheld for 20 years at the Round Rock relays. We also broke the SMR record again and that was a huge accomplishment because now we are sitting number one in the nation and it feels really good.” 

Similarly to any other sport, Graham has faced many impactful events and injuries that have set her back. 

As for coaching Amani, she has been an absolute joy to work with. She is everything that you want in an athlete. She is willing to listen and learn. She is a hard worker and a student of her sport, always looking to find ways to better herself and her teammates.

— Hunter Russell, track coach

“My sophomore year I had a cyst on my pelvis and I was out for three weeks,” Graham said. “I wasn’t able to run and I was in a lot of pain. I felt that an event like this was was going to affect me and my future collegiate track career. I had to do a lot of physical therapy to heal and ease my way back into running.” 

Track competitors traditionally have the same coach throughout all their years at the school, but this year Graham experienced a brand new coach. It initially made Graham question everything, from who was going to help her with college recruitment to who would be her hurdle coach. It took some time for her to adapt to it, but now that she has, she does not regret it. 

“I am a person that believes that everything happens for a reason,” Graham said. “But with losing coach Edwards, who I had the previous years, who I created a bond with, who knew me like the back of his hand, it was really hard. I did not know coach Russell really well and I knew it was going to take me a while to adjust. I had to bring myself to realize that he was here to help me, to support me, and to make our team better.” 

Graham’s relationship with Coach Russell grew throughout the season, and they grew very close. Russell went to SFA, and he is the person that helped get Graham into contact with the head coach there. 

Senior Amani Grahams signs to run track at Stephen F. Austin University. (Photo Courtesy of Amani Graham)

I am honestly super grateful for Coach Russell,” Graham said. “He helped me a lot with college, and encouraged me to be the athlete that I was this season. I now don’t just see him as a coach, I see him as a parent at times. I can always talk to him about anything, he is always there with advice, and he has helped me through very hard times. The kindness and welcoming side he has shown this team doesn’t go unnoticed and I am glad I had him to coach me for my last high school season.” 

Coach Russell thinks Graham is just as great, and he said he has really appreciated the relationship they have created.

“The first year always has it’s ups and downs but overall this year has been a good experience,” Russell said. “As for coaching Amani, she has been an absolute joy to work with. She is everything that you want in an athlete. She is willing to listen and learn. She is a hard worker and a student of her sport, always looking to find ways to better herself and her teammates.” 

In addition to her coaches, her dad has pushed her hard throughout her life because he wants to see what the future holds for her. 

“Growing up I always found it hard to balance whether I was doing track for me or doing it for my dad,” Graham said. “I did go through a bump in where I felt I was doing this sport for him and it made me initially not want to do college track, but I realized that it is for me. I am the one who practices everyday, puts in the work, the hours, and I do it because I love it. It’s something I want to do and I am doing this for me.”  

Graham’s dad has seen so much potential in her and is very passionate about her being in track, but according to Graham, at times, it can be overwhelming. 

“I always wanted to do to college track but I also knew that after, I will be done,” Graham said. “I will finally hang up my spikes and pursue my degree in nursing. My dad has pushed going to the Olympics forever and it is just not something I want. I have always wanted to be a nurse.”

Graham recently committed to SFA and plans to run track there while majoring in health sciences so she can pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. 

“SFA was not always my top choice,” Graham said. “I was looking at a lot of other schools and they were much bigger, but when I talked to the SFA coach I just formed a connection with him and I couldn’t ignore it. I felt at home when I visited the campus and I was just drawn to it. I just immediately knew it was the school.”