November 8, 2013

Cross Country More Than a Sport for Cook

HARTSVILLE, S.C. – Hannah Cook, a junior college transfer, has been at Coker for less than a semester. But that's all the time she has needed to build a name for herself on campus.

Cook, who transferred in from Lorain Community College in Ohio this fall, has exploded on the scene for the women's cross-country team. In her first event as a Cobra, the Catawba Invitational, Cook not only won the race, but also shattered the school 5K record with a time of 19:02, beating the previous mark by 30 seconds.

"It was the first time I ever finished first in a race in my career," said Cook, who transferred to Coker this year from Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio. "I had a good week leading up to the race, and it seems all the hard work paid off and I was able to take home the title."

Cook has continued her success by finishing 11th or better in all but one meet after her impressive debut as a Cobra. She'll continue her strong season this weekend, as Cook and her teammates will participate in the NCAA Southeast regional in Charlotte, N.C.

Although she has seen much success thus far in her Coker career, Cook has made it clear that she is more than just a good athlete.

"I love to run; it gives me peace and allows me to better myself as a person," she said. "But running is not who I am. I use it as a platform to better myself in every aspect of life daily."

Cook's father worked for United Airlines, so the family moved a lot. She was born in Northglenn, Colo., where she lived with her parents and six older siblings before moving to Nova, Ohio, at age 5. She would get a seventh sibling and move to Florida by the time she entered high school. The family eventually returned to Ohio for good when Cook was a junior.

Moving so much really helped Cook figure out what she wanted to do in her life. She started her education by being homeschooled until sixth grade. During middle school she took up dancing and eventually added basketball, but it wasn't until later in high school that her love for cross-country began to blossom.

"My friend asked me to go running with her one day," said Cook. "After running with her I started to take running seriously."

Cook started to run competitively for Mapleton High School in Ashland, Ohio, as a junior. It wasn't long before the dancer-turned-runner started to get the attention of college scouts, landing at LCCC after a brief stay at Ohio State University.

In her two years at Lorain, Cook played basketball and ran cross-country. In cross-country, she received the honor of first team National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division III All-American as a sophomore. That campaign led Cook to opportunities to run at the NCAA Division II level. One call was from none other than Coker cross-country coach Vic Finora, who took a strong interest in Cook's exploits as a runner.

"What really stood out about Hannah was her competitive drive and tremendous work ethic," Finora said. "Not many athletes have the mindset she possesses. She finished 18th in the nation as a freshman and 3rd overall with All-American status as a sophomore. That improvement showed me that she never got complacent and worked hard to get better."

Cook was flattered by the interest, but uncertain of what would ensue.

"My coach told me Vic saw my times and wanted me to visit Coker," said Cook. "I was a bit skeptical at first when the opportunity presented itself, but when I came on the visit I was sold."

As Cook started to settle into Coker she was hit with another tough obstacle. Her new husband, Mason, a United States Marine, was assigned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to complete his training while she was left to be alone at a new school in a new state.

"It was really tough on me at first," said Cook. "Not many college kids are married, so when he was assigned to camp and I came to school it was very different to hang out with friends and not be able to do so with my significant other."

Cook used the obstacle as a motivating factor instead of letting it get the best of her.

"I cannot allow myself to be unhappy right now," Cook said. "I use the fact that Mason is out working hard doing everything he can to prepare himself for his future as a driving force behind my every move. I have to give my best every day because I know he is doing the same."

That mental toughness and drive has propelled Cook to greater heights than she previously thought possible. She is physical education and sport studies major with a concentration in exercise science and has had success thus far in the classroom. She cites the Coker atmosphere as a main reason she has stayed so calm and focused.

"I love Coker!" she said. "The small campus, the academic integrity, the southern weather and the people here are amazing. Even though I am going through a tough time, it is refreshing to know that the people you see each day genuinely care about you, even if they do not know you personally."

So as Cook's first season as a cross country runner at Coker slowly comes to a close, she believes that her best days at Coker are still to come. Whatever those days hold, she plans to meet them head-on with a smile.

"I don't believe in setting goals – I set checkpoints and continue to build on my success," Cook said. "I believe you can create potential, and when partnered with the right situation, you can exceed the plateau that you and others may have thought was impossible. Coker is my right situation, so I'm just creating the potential needed to do something special."

Story written by sports information intern Sharod Williams '13.