Slocumb leads the charge at Lovejoy

<p style="text-align:right;">Lovejoy freshman Nichole Slocumb is favored to win today&#8217;s Clayton County Cross Country Championships at Lovejoy Park. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

Lovejoy freshman Nichole Slocumb is favored to win today’s Clayton County Cross Country Championships at Lovejoy Park. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

HAMPTON — Nichole Slocumb sort of accidentally got hooked on running.

Before cheerleading practice begin, she would have to run a few laps as part of warm-ups. The coaches noticed how she would always be out in front.

Finally approached about joining the middle school track and field team, Slocumb became hooked on the sport.

“I love running now,” said Slocumb, a freshman at Lovejoy. “It is my No. 1 hobby. I sort of pushed the other sports behind.”

And for good reason.

Heading into today’s Clayton County Cross Country Championships, Slocumb is the top contender for the individual title.

She spent the summer prior to her first year of high school earning medals in national meets to prepare for the step-up in competition this season.

So far, she has lived up to all the expectations.

“She is extremely valuable to our entire team, as far as both the boys and girls teams are concerned,” Lovejoy coach Rick Francis said. “She pushes everybody to become better. She is the second-best runner in the entire program, and we are talking about the boys and girls combined.”

Francis says it has been the combination of her commitment to the sport, and her parental support that drives the talented freshman to be the best.

“When you have that kind of support and determination, only good things will happen,” Francis said. “She has the talent, and that spark in her eyes that she wants to succeed. You see it everyday in practice. She has been a very consistent runner, and she hasn’t disappointed in any of her meets. If I was a betting man, I would be willing to say that she will be the top runner at the county meet.”

But Slocumb remains humble about her many accomplishments, which includes earning silver and bronze medals at national track meets throughout her career. She was sixth in the AAU Nationals in track while earning a bronze in the 800- and 1,500-meters.

She began her track career seven years ago, and continued it at Rex Mill Middle School.

Slocumb admits that track is her best sport, and that cross country is a way to stay in shape for the season.

“I’m not a true distance runner,” she said. “I can go about three miles. I do this to build my endurance for track. It would mean a big deal to win the cross country championship. I know there are some talented runners out there. I’m 100 percent devoted to my running. I have to focus on it if I want to be the best.”