Abate Hennessy will never forget how his 2012 cross country season ended.
Hours of work pounding the ground with his running shoes, hours of training and countless reps preparing for a trip to Old Settlers Park in Round Rock were gone in a matter of seconds.
Hennessy literally watched other runners go past him during the final mile of the 2012 regional meet after getting tripped up and falling to the ground forcing the then sophomore to attend the meet as a spectator instead of as a competitor like he wanted.
“It was really hard for me,” Hennessy said. “The day of the state meet, I just went to watch.”
In 2013, Hennessy had a new drive, resolve and result, which helped the Gatesville junior earn the Killeen Daily Herald’s All-Area Cross Country Team’s Most Valuable Runner honor.
Hennessy finished 12th in the boys Class 3A state race with a time of 16:49.62 in the 5K course in Round Rock.
“I have a goal and I make sure I achieve it every time,” Hennessy said.
Salado’s Ashley Adams, Katey Ewton and Preston Kimbrough and Florence’s Alfredo Pena are the other members of the all-area team as each runner also made it to the state meet.
For Gatesville cross country coach Katie Kelley, the trip to state couldn’t have come for a better runner.
“I was super excited for him,” Kelley said. “How hard he worked all season, and he really talked before the season how much he wanted to make state. I knew he had it in him and to see him bring it out was something else.”
Hennessy got to state after finishing sixth (16:11) at the Class 3A regional race in Lubbock, but his journey started long before the 2013 season began.
Hennessy was adopted and came to the United States from Ethiopia when he was in the seventh grade.
There were many adjustments, but his love of sports and his ability to excel in them helped Hennessy fit in with his new classmates.
“It was kind of hard getting used to it,” Hennessy said. “I had to get used to speaking English, get used to making friends and it was hard.
“That’s how I fit in, through sports.”
Since soccer wasn’t offered in middle schools, Hennessy began running cross country in the fall.
Ever since, Hennessy has had a full schedule: kicking for the football team, playing forward for the soccer team and running the 1600- and 3200-meter races for the track team.
The state meet brought a lot of new attention to Hennessy and he admitted being nervous before the race.
But as soon as the run went off, everything went away and it was only him and the course.
“It was a relief because I finally made it,” Hennessy said. “I made my family and my teammates proud. They supported me the whole time and it was a relief for me.”
With a taste of the big stage, Hennessy is eager and motivated to return to the state meet as a senior.
“I just don’t want to go there by myself next year, I want to go with the team,” Hennessy said. “It motivates them because I made state, they know what it takes to be there and all of us want to get medals.”
Adams, Ewton and Kimbrough helped the Salado cross country team make it to the state meet.
Adams and Ewton helped the Lady Eagles finish sixth overall with a team-score time of 1:05:16.07 and an average time of 13:03.21.
Adams, the team’s senior captain, finished fifth with a time of 12:30.71.
Ewton had the second-best Lady Eagles time and finished 12th individually in 12:46.08.
The Salado girls won the regional title with 62 points, posting an average time of 1:05.01.
Kimbrough helped the Eagles finish 10th overall and had a team-leading time of 17:11.53 in the boys 2A race. He placed 16th individually.
Pena, a junior, ran a time of 17:05.39 and finished 22nd individually in the Boys 2A race.
Pena qualified after finishing fifth at the regional meet with a time of 17:12.
The state meet was a culmination of a successful season in which Pena won two races and placed in the Top 5 in seven of his 10 races.