Cross Country: Home on the range – Decatur runner finds comfort spot

By Reece Waddell | Published Wednesday, January 24, 2018
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Hitting Her Strid3

HITTING HER STRIDE – Decatur runner Hanul Lewis poses for a photo with her dog. Lewis lives on a 400-acre farm in Paradise. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

On a farm spanning roughly 400 acres in Paradise, dozens of cows graze in the field. Aside from the occasional moo and passing car, nothing but the wind can be heard rustling through the trees.

It’s calm. It’s serene.

And perhaps a step away from reality, especially for Decatur track star Hanul Lewis. Because for a fleeting moment any time she is outside in one of the many pastures, she is able to disconnect.

“Running is my life, but the farm is my escape,” Hanul said.

KEEPING PACE – Hanul Lewis has competed at several private meets this year, including the Nike South Cross County Invitational. Lewis’ best mile time is 5:08. Photo by Chance Kirby

Lewis didn’t always grow up on a farm. In fact, it wasn’t until last summer when Lewis went to live with her grandparents that she got to experience daily rural life. For her first two years of high school, Lewis lived in suburban Weatherford with her parents and younger brother.

In two years with the Kangaroos, Lewis nearly advanced to the University Interscholastic League state track and field meet twice. She qualified for the regional meet individually as both a freshman and sophomore, continuing to shave time off nearly all of her events.

Despite the success, Lewis needed a change of scenery.

“My entire life I’ve been wanting to live on the farm with [my grandparents],” Hanul said. “I’m a country girl, I’m sorry.”

The move, however, wasn’t just to accommodate Lewis’ desire to live on the range.

As her grandfather, Bill Lewis, described it, quite a few factors went into Hanul transferring to Decatur. One reason was because last year, Hanul’s father was deployed in Iraq and not scheduled to return until March 2018.

In addition, Hanul’s mother is South Korean, and at one point last year, was concerned she may have to return to South Korea due to her parents’ health. Bill said with so many moving parts, Hanul’s family agreed it would be better for her to transfer in the summer rather than risk moving her in the middle of the semester.

“It’s kind of a unique situation,” the grandfather said. “Normally you don’t like the idea of splitting a family up. But when the situation arises and especially with military situations you have to look at it from a different view. [Her parents] are fully supportive.”

Since she no longer lives with her parents, Hanul’s grandparents have taken legal guardianship of her. Hanul remembers a lot of paperwork changing hands over the summer, but both her and her family see it as a way to ease the transition when she goes to college.

“Her mother and dad look at this as the first step to going off to college,” he said. “She’s moved away from home and she’s getting the feeling of what it’s like to be away from home, although she’s here with us.”

Currently ranked first in her junior class, Hanul sports a 4.7 GPA and is taking a slew of AP classes ranging from U.S. History to English III. She has aspirations of becoming a veterinarian, and for now, wants to go to Texas A&M and join the track team.

Except Hanul doesn’t want to go to a university just so she can continue to compete.

“I kind of get stuck between I want to run for a DI or DII college, but I don’t know how their academics are,” Hanul said. “I don’t want to just run for a school just to go run and not come out with a nice degree.”

While her academics continue to thrive, Hanul’s running career encountered a hurdle when she arrived at Decatur.

Due to UIL transfer rules, athletes are ineligible to compete at the varsity level with their new school for a year. Hanul and Decatur track and field coach David Park submitted a waiver that would have allowed Hanul to start running immediately, but the appeal was denied. As a result, Hanul ran junior varsity on the cross-country team in the fall and will run junior varsity track in the spring.

To compensate, Hanul has competed at several private events to stay in shape and competitive. She placed ninth at the University of Arkansas High School Invitation on Jan. 13, logging her career-best mile time of 5:23 in the indoor meet. A week later at the Texas Tech Under Armor High School Classic, Hanul took home fourth place in the 800-meter with a time of 2:25.25.

Even though she hasn’t officially run for Decatur at the varsity level yet, Park said Hanul has taken everything in stride.

“I think the way she’s handled this whole [thing], a lot of kids would get down,” Park said. “She embraced it from the word ‘go’. It’s not the adversity that hits you, it’s how you handle the adversity.

“When the word came down that the [UIL appeal] was denied, I think the other kids on the team were more disappointed for her than she was. She was like ‘OK, how are we going to do this?’ That was her first response when she found out.”

Although Park has not coached her for long, he raved about the technique Hanul displays when she runs. He said her foot strike is always over her center of gravity, helping her to become a faster and more efficient runner.

But more than anything, Park gushed about Hanul’s character and the impact she has had on the team in such a short amount of time.

“She came in and really fit in with our kids and our culture here,” Park said. “She’s the kind of girl you want your daughter to be.”

Hanul can start running on varsity for Decatur in August when the next cross-country season begins. In the meantime, she will continue to train, seek other avenues for competition and support her team.

Just don’t expect her to be on the track if she has a moment to herself.

“I love the farm,” Hanul said. “It may not seem like it, but I love the farm. I love fishing. I love hanging out with my cows and dogs. It’s very peaceful. It gives me a lot of places out there to run.”

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