My name is Hunter Heaton, and when I was in the third grade, I was diagnosed with a learning disability. The school system labeled me a statistic until I graduate from high school. After I graduated, my thoughts were always like then what? Only 5.7% of students with a learning disability enroll at a four-year institution, compared to 28.3% of all students.
The roadblocks did not stop there when I was in the sixth grade; my mother was diagnosed with a rare form of stage three cancer. Eventually, she had to get 85% of her leg surgically removed, all while both my older brothers were fighting in Iraq. These circumstances lead me to grow up fast and learn to use my pain to push me in everything I do.
After getting through high school, I did not have the grades to get into a University. At the time, I thought my running career was done. Luckily, my friend found a junior college in Illinois (Rend Lake College) for me, because I was not looking. At Rend Lake College, I was fortunate enough to become an All-American indoors on the DMR and win Outdoors Nationals in the 4×8.
Three months later, I dropped out of college. After one semester at Rend Lake, I dropped out. My grades weren’t the best, and the coach said I had to take summer classes and get A’s in them if I wanted to return to run. I registered for the courses at home, but I didn’t have the discipline or the right motivation to care about my grades. I wasn’t thinking about how my actions would dictate my future. I was just thinking “here and now.”
That next year became my transformation year. Hitting rock bottom, hanging with the wrong crowd, didn’t have a job, was not doing anything with my life, but I made a decision that would change my life.
I contacted a man (my coach now) and asked if he would coach me, not knowing where it would take me, but I just wanted to train. He told me to go back to college, but I told him “no.” When I finally came to my senses, it lit a fire under me. I enrolled at a community college and starting training every day alone. After three years of sacrifices, I graduated with my Associate’s degree and ran fast enough to be able to walk-on The University of Oklahoma’s track and cross-country team. Where I recently graduated with my Bachelors in December of 2016.
I always wondered if I had any eligibility left from when I dropped out. Finding out that I had one indoor and one outdoor track season of eligibility, I knew I wasn’t finished yet. After making some phone calls, I landed at Ashland University, just 45 minutes away from my home in Medina, Ohio. At Ashland, I became an All-American indoors on the DMR and captured two school records. Outdoors, I was the 800-meter conference runner-up.
In April 2018 I will finish up my M.Ed in Administration and Leadership. I am still training with hopes of making the 2020 Olympic Trials. I always thought I had to become a sponsored athlete and train in Colorado or Oregon with these elite guys to get faster. But I am the living example of that not being true. Yes, it helps, but if you set your mind to something and keep moving, anything can happen.
Even if I do not make the 2020 Olympic Trials, if I can help others in a similar situation regain hope and keep fighting, that is more important to me. I have a lot of friends who did not make it out. If you are an athlete reading this just know that your current circumstances do not have to be your future. If you have an athletic dream to achieve whatever it maybe go for and keeping fight despite any roadblocks to make it a reality.
I am chasing the dream. If you would like to help support my Olympic Trails journey please click the link below and anything will be much appreciated.
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