Fabiola Andujar has never been one to take the easy road.

Not when the round-about way is so much more interesting. A sprinter growing up, the Copperas Cove senior switched gears at the beginning of her senior year and became a distance runner at the behest of her mother.

And while she always envisioned herself as collegiate track athlete, the 5-foot Andujar was just as dedicated to the classroom and secured several academic scholarships after compiling a 4.89 GPA in high school.

All of it paid off this month when Andujar — nicknamed Fabby — was given an opportunity to walk on as a member of the Rice track and field program after gaining early admission to the university in December.

“Most people use athletics to get to college, but through my academics I was able to run where I wanted,” Andujar said. “It’s a little backward, but that’s how it usually works with me.”

Switching her specialty so late in the game, transitioning from a 400-meter sprinter into a mile and two-mile distance runner in her last year of high school, Andujar put herself behind in the recruitment battle — especially at the Division I level.

“I fell in love with distance because it came easier to me, I don’t know how to explain it really, but the distance between distance and sprinting is ... the more you run (distance) you can see it reflects more in your (ability),” Andujar said.

But she never faltered in her dream to be a collegiate runner.

“I even told my mom I couldn’t picture myself going to college and not being able to run, because I’ve been doing it for a long time,” she said.

The where, usually the biggest question mark for prospective college athletes, was the least of Andujar’s concern. She took care of that even before the start of track season, earning early admission to Rice — her preferred college destination.

Then she laid the rest of the ground work. Securing academic scholarships with her plus-4 GPA, she didn’t even have to worry about how. All that was left was the “what,” and she took care of that on track, lowing her times enough to draw the attention of the Rice track coach Jon Warren.

“He said that he’d welcome me onto the team because of my times,” Andujar said.

Warren offered Andujar an opportunity to walk on and earn her spot, given her times were better than many of the other freshmen he had already recruited. But for Andujar, her walk-on status will only serve to push her harder to be a contributing member of the Owls track program.

“It does motivate you to work harder, and always feeling like you’re the underdog, because just when you feel like you’re the best at something, that’s when you start getting complacent and you get people that start working harder than you and pass you,” Andujar said. “That is good fuel.”

After winning every 3,200-meter race leading into the District 8-5A meet this season, Andujar had her first taste of complacency at the worst time when the Lady Dawgs senior was bypassed over the final 50 meters by baby-faced Harker Heights freshman Charlotte Flemming to finish second. Andujar redeemed herself at the area meet a week later, though, winning the 3,200 in 11:56.41, just ahead of Heights’ Lauren Reynells.

“It was a wake-up call, but at the same time it could have been avoided,” Andujar said. “It was very frustrating finding (out she was a freshman), and then finding how close it was.”

Andujar first realized she was a distance runner during the District 8-5A cross country meet, when she was able to keep up with three-time district champion Brittany Mitchell of Killeen.

With each runner Mitchell passed, Andujar was right there keeping pace. And while Mitchell eventually pulled away, and Andujar fell back to finish sixth, it was then that the round-about way turned out to be her best option.

“All I focused on was trying to beat her and I got this far — I qualified (for the region meet) and I was the only one from Cove to do that — but for being a beginner, I really did like that,” she said. “It felt like it came easy if I focused.”

Contact Alex Byington at alexb@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7566

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