Photos Andy Calvert

Unity Christian is the smallest school in Rome and Floyd County, and the athletes who compete there seem to revel in the smaller numbers because they say it makes the teams they’re on feel more like families than teams.

Those athletes include Mary Jack Williams, Lizzy Pardue, and Cooper Giddens. While they like the family atmosphere and closeness of their squads, they also aim to achieve some big goals both for their teams and as individuals.

Cooper Giddens

Giddens, who runs track and specializes in the 400 meters, leads off with the family aspect of Unity’s track team.

“Honestly the numbers are so small, it’s almost like a family,” he says.

The smaller numbers do have some negatives though, as Giddens really doesn’t have anyone to compete against.

“One of the hardest things for me is that I’m really not running with anybody at practice. Every day I’m out there competing against myself. There really isn’t another sprinter on the team, so I’m just out there trying to better myself every day,” he says.

Competing in the 400 meters, or one lap around the track for those who may not know the distances, isn’t easy.

“Everything has to be perfect in the 400. There is a lot more thinking and process for it than the shorter races,” Giddens says. “It’s just the fact that it’s a balance between a sprint and distance. It’s not like the 100 and the 200 where you go out and just blow everything you have, because you have to save for the whole lap.”

When it comes to competing in events, Giddens points to one meet in particular as being extremely tough.

“The Floyd County Championships is always nerve-wracking no matter what. I’ll start getting nervous about it a few days beforehand,” he says. “I just know that no matter what the race is going to be tough and I’m going to hurt. So, it’s just a lot of mental preparation on my part knowing that.”

As far as goals for the season go, Giddens just wants to keep improving.

“I’m just hoping that everybody on the team can get better,” he says. “Personal goals for me are that I want to start the process of trying to get looked at by colleges and hit the times that I need to hit.”

While having to train without other sprinters can be tough, having his coach Bradley Moon by his side definitely helps.

“Coach Moon really knows his stuff. He knows what to do to get faster. I know no matter what, I’m going to be sprinting every day,” Giddens says. “I look up to my coach. It’s not just that he’s physically there. He is a genuinely good person that you can look up to.”

Lizzy Pardue

Pardue, who runs the 200, 400, and 800 on the track team, also mentions the size and closeness of the team.

“We are a smaller team than most schools, but I like it better. It means we get more individualized coaching and get coached intentionally by a guy who ran in college,” she says. “He is always telling us to push with power once our foot hits the track.”

Along with practice, Pardue also uses some mental aspects to help her running.

“I try to visualize myself running the race before I ever run it. I tell myself different affirmations throughout and also tell myself things through the race like speed up, I need to pass people or be strategic and try to save some for later in the race,” she says.

Much like Giddens, Pardue says the Floyd County Championships is the toughest meet.

“The Floyd County Championships has to be our toughest meet because it’s super competitive,” she says. “You’re competing with all the other local schools and everybody wants to come out on top. Preparing for it is more about the mindset, and I just try to control my thinking, remain neutral, and run my best.”

As for personal goals, Pardue has some in mind for the season.

“I would like to hit 2:10 in the 800 and hit a 55 in the 400,” she says. “As a team, we all just want to run our best and improve throughout the season.”

Mary Jack Williams

Much like the track team, Williams says the tennis team is close.

“Not that many people play tennis. All the girls who do play are really into it, and we are all really close,” she says. “It makes practice super fun, because we are all out there and really into it.”

While the team is close and super competitive, sometimes that can be a detriment.

“Our team gets really upset when we lose. Our coach tells us the most important thing is to have fun and do our best,” she says. “I usually tell myself it doesn’t matter (whether I win or lose) and not to get too worked up about it. I just have to block it out and tell myself it doesn’t matter.”

With a close-knit group of competitive players, Williams says the Lions have some definite goals this season.

“One of our team goals is to make it to state, but we usually do. So I think we can get that one,” she says. “Personally, I would like to not get really upset when I lose and not worry about it too much.”

As for a role model, she doesn’t have far to look.

“My dad is my hero and role model. He mentors me when I do get upset, and he lifts me up,” she says. “He’s been coaching me in tennis since I was seven.”

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An injury while running at Auburn ended Jim Alred’s long-shot hopes of possibly competing in the Olympics, so he turned to writing and has been crafting award-winning stories across multiple mediums ever since. Along the way he’s been chased by a grizzly bear, worked as Goofy at Walt Disney World, been nominated for two Emmys, interviewed celebrities like Tiger Woods, Bo Jackson, Bill Clinton, coaches his daughters in cross country and soccer and can often be found running with his wife, Tara, around Rome.