Julie Parham didn’t run cross country during her four years at Dalton High School or two years at Point University. She was a soccer player.
But at Dalton State College, she isn’t being asked to run and score, or run and block shots. She just needs to run, and she’s catching on pretty quick.
The junior is in her first season running for a cross country team, and she’s doing it for the inaugural Dalton State College women’s team this fall. Parham and the Roadrunners have competed in three of six meets this season, finishing third Saturday at the Mercer University Invitational 5K race in Macon.
Parham didn’t join the program with a whole lot of cross country experience. She has ran a few local road races and trained for soccer, but she never thought of the sport as the top priority.
“I ran around 3 miles to train for soccer and did a half marathon,” Parham said of her competitive running experience before this fall. “That was about it, though.”
That changed when she transferred to Dalton State, which doesn’t have a women’s soccer program yet. The Roadrunners started sports this fall after three decades without it and men’s and women’s cross country joined men’s basketball, women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s tennis as the starting blocks for a relaunched athletics department.
Even with women’s soccer, Parham believes that career ended when she left Point, which is located in East Point, an Atlanta suburb.
“It’s hard in college to get a good group of girls to play together and also get along with one another,” Parham said.
Upon joining Dalton State’s cross country team, Parham had to change how she trains.
“In soccer, you can run for 3 miles to train and that’ll be fine for a game,” she said. “In soccer, you run and then stop for a while and then speed back up. In cross country, you have to keep going. We’re doing 10 miles instead of 3 miles, like I’m used to.”
She joined the cross country team at Dalton State for three reasons — she loves sports, wanted “to stay in shape” and she wanted the financial aid from a scholarship. Whatever the reason for her decision, she made a good choice. Parham is the No. 3 runner for Dalton State, with Natalie Espinoza-Hensley of Heritage-Catoosa and Nayeli Jacobo of Murray County the top two runners. She finished 14th overall with a time of 23 minutes, 13 seconds at the Bobcat Invitational two weeks ago at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.
Parham’s times are scoring points for the Roadrunners in meets — the top five runners score for each team — and her leadership brings even more positives.
“I think she’s a natural leader,” said Margie Bruner, who co-coaches the Dalton State program with Andy Meyer. “She just has that personality and is such a strong character.”
Bruner classified adding Parham to the program “a risk,” since she didn’t run competitively in high school or in her first two college years.
However, Parham’s competitive side made the rewards shine against the odds of learning how to be a long-distance runner at a later age than most.
“When you’re out there competing in road races, you may feel like you’re a fast runner, but in college you realize how much quicker the pace is,” Bruner said. “You have to start out fast, run hard in the middle and finish strong. You have to run the whole race hard. That’s a big difference from road races.”
Meyer said it was a shock when Parham came in and immediately posted times in the top half of the team.
“At the beginning of the season coach Bruner and I discussed how if she could score for us, it’d be great and beyond what we would hope for,” Meyer said. “What she is doing now is just blowing us away.”
Even Parham admits she was surprised when she was running with “the top girls,” Jacobo and Espinoza-Hensley, in the first practices.
“No, I didn’t think I’d do that well, but I’m happy my body has this much endurance,” Parham said. “A soccer game is 90 minutes, so I’m used to running for a long time, but I didn’t think I’d be able to do it this fast.”