TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Of the 17 Florida State student-athletes graduating this weekend, Althea Hewitt may fly under the radar in terms of name of recognition.
A four-year member of the Noles’ cross country and track & field teams, Hewitt rose from the ranks of walk-on to competing at the 2018 NCAA Cross Country Championships. A graduate of Cocoa Beach High, Hewitt overcame a host of challenges early in her athletic career and was at her best as a senior, posting personal bests over six distance between cross country and track.
Graduating Cum Laude with dual degrees in chemistry and biomathematics, Hewitt is one of six track & field athletes graduating this weekend. Safia Morgan, whose career was cut short by injury, graduates Summa Cum Laude with a perfect 4.0 grade point average and dual degrees in economics and sport management. Also graduating are Elizabeth Cobb (criminology), Shaquania Dorsett (biology), Istvan Szogi (international affairs) and Peta-Gay Williams (sport management).
Hewitt is the recipient of the Tracy Pepoon True Seminole Award, which has been presented to the walk-on who best embodies the qualities of its namesake since 2012.
Tracy Pepoon Ahn, a walk-on from Fort Walton Beach High, was a two-time women’s cross country and two-time track distance MVP over the course of her Noles career, which began in the fall of 1989 and concluded on the track in the spring of 1994. Now living in Southern California, and holding three degrees from FSU, Pepoon Ahn is retired from IBM as a marketing executive in 2011 and works full-time as a mother to her two boys.
“I’m quite honored to win her award.” Hewitt said. “There is definitely a correlation between her success as a runner and her professional success. Achieving goals you never thought were possible gives you a different outlook on difficult situations or tasks. As cliché as it sounds, in some ways it makes an insurmountable task or unattainable job doable. With hard work, dedication, and perseverance you will achieve your best. Your best might not be nationally elite, but it cultivates a sense of pride and satisfaction in your accomplishments, and leaves you always seeking more.”
Fulfilling her dream of competing collegiately, Hewitt joined FSU’s “B” team as a freshman in the fall of 2015, and found her “more” through sheer perseverance.
“My first year was a disaster athletically,” Hewitt said. “I was sick a lot, I had hip issues, and an unbelievably low iron level. After running a 1500 in 5:38, and feeling like I was going to die, I could have given up…I decided after that race that I would do whatever it took to get healthy, strong, and reach my potential.
“Running teaches you to push past the pain, look toward something greater, and fight like hell to get to where you want to go. It has taught me to stay tough in all aspects of my life, stay disciplined and trust the process.”
No one has a better appreciation for Hewitt’s progress than women’s cross country and distance coach Kelly Phillips, who also arrived in Tallahassee in the fall of 2015. From the back end of FSU’s 30-plus walk-ons in 2015 to a spot on the starting line in the snow at the 2018 NCAA Cross Country Championships, Hewitt’s story is inspiring.
“When high school athletes look at our program and see the size and quality of it, they sometimes think that they will never get a chance to be in the top seven,” Phillips said. “Althea has proven how wrong that is! She knew it would be tough because she wasn’t coming in as a top recruit, but she put her head down, worked really hard, trusted the process and not only did she make the top seven but she was on a national qualifying team.”
From this spring’s 4:34.84 1500-meter PB – more than a minute faster than the freckle-faced freshman’s crossroads race – to a 17:21.53 5000-meter PB on the track (and more), Hewitt has plenty of options for choosing a career highlight.
She chose the 2019 NCAA South Region Championships at FSU’s Apalachee Regional Park, where the Noles won the team title to secure their first trip to the NCAA Championships since 2014.
“Every one of us had a great race on the same day, something that is insanely hard to achieve,” Hewitt said. “We all ran for each other, for our teammates cheering us on, and to prove that we were the badass team we knew we were. Despite Coach Kelly hyping us up the night before by saying that we could WIN, the news that we had actually done it was shocking, inspiring and just wonderful.”
So, pretty much a mirror image of Hewitt’s own career.
“Althea really understands that if you want something big, you have to be patient and it takes time,” Phillips said. “She’s always been really focused, but developing as she did as an athlete the last four years will lay a great foundation for the real world and the big things in life.”
Hewitt is moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin this month after accepting a position as an analytic chemist. She will also find time to tutor college students in chemistry and calculus.
The Noles, however, will remain near and dear to her.
“Being a part of such a big team has also been such an amazing experience,” Hewitt said. “Forty girls, all with different backgrounds, interests, and personalities all coming together to support each other and achieve a common goal…We all might have different personal goals, but the ultimate goal is the same: represent Florida State in the best way possible. The friendships I made on this team will last a lifetime, because no one understands you like your teammates do…
“It has been incredible to watch the transformation of the cross country team from the first year Coach Kelly started to where the team is now going into this season. There is a much greater cohesion among the team, and everyone is willing to commit to making sacrifices in order to achieve greatness. I can’t wait to watch them kick butt this season, and I wish I had another year of eligibility.”