HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Andrea Porter has more than gone the distance as an athlete … and she’s still focused on the prize at the end of this race.
Porter — a 2013 graduate of Point Pleasant High School — recently completed a remarkable four-year run with the Marshall University cross country and track and field programs, a career that included school records, trips throughout the country and life experiences that no ordinary 18-year-old student-athlete can possibly dream of at the time of a college signing.
Porter still has a year of school left before graduating with a Nursing degree in the spring of 2018, but the former Lady Knight standout expended the last of her four years of athletic eligibility during the 2017 MU outdoor track season.
Along the way, she’s been quite an asset for the Thundering Herd programs as Porter has four varsity letters apiece in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. Porter also ends her Marshall career as at least a part-owner of five different school records from the three sports.
In looking back at her four-year body of work, Porter acknowledged that the experience itself was far greater than any amount of work that she had to endure — especially for a young person growing up in Appalachia.
“Running for Marshall has really made me believe in myself and have confidence in myself, which has led me to some really incredible places as a person,” Porter said. “I’ve had my share of ups and downs, but I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity for the experiences I’ve been able to take in over the last four years.
“I guess I just never really thought that a small-town girl could go to the places and accomplish the things that I have done over the last four years. That’s probably the best part of all of it because Marshall got more out of me than I had expected for myself. It’s been an incredible experience since the day I started … and I have zero regrets.”
Porter competed in all 12 Conference USA championships held between the three programs over four years and also participated in eight different events over the course of her track and field career — which is where her five school records stem from.
Porter owns the indoor track record in the mile (5:01.89) and is also part of the indoor distance medley relay record (12:05.97). Porter also leaves the MU outdoor track program as part of the record-holding 4x800m relay (9:11.10) and distance medley relay (12:08.82) squads, as well as also holding the steeple chase mark (10:54.63).
All five records, coincidentally, were accomplished in Porter’s senior season — as was her career-best cross country time of 17:57 at the CUSA championships held in Charlotte last fall. Porter was also a second-team all-conference selection in cross country in her final season.
Porter — a 1,000-point scorer during her high school basketball career — still holds the girls cross country record (20:08.60) at Point Pleasant, as well as the 800m, 1600m and 3200m records in girls track.
Porter is the first to admit that she’s come a long way … and Marshall has had a lot to do with getting her where she is.
“It’s been a surreal experience, but none of it would have been possible if Marshall hadn’t taken a chance on me four years ago,” Porter said. “I feel that I’ve really grown as a person and as an athlete by being able to travel all over the country for competition. Getting to see the places and take in the experiences that I have has been a real blessing, and I owe it all to Marshall University.
“I really thought that I had accomplished all that I could when I left Point Pleasant, and Marshall managed to get even more out of me than I thought was possible. Honestly, I’m amazed at how much more they got out of me over the last four years. As I said earlier, Marshall has really helped me grow into something more than I thought possible.”
And in reflecting a bit about her time at Point Pleasant, Porter noted that basketball was her biggest interest in high school — which eventually led her to an avenue of greater opportunity.
“Matt Cottrill was the one that convinced me to run cross country during my sophomore year at Point Pleasant, mainly to help get me in shape for basketball,” Porter said. “That’s really where all of this starts for me. That was where my passion for running started, right here at Point Pleasant. Without that, none of this would have been possible.”
Porter also spoke fondly of her hometown over the course of her four-year career, mainly noting that the proximity of Huntington proved to be a real boost of confidence.
“Rather it be social media or being there in person, Point Pleasant has been very supportive throughout my Marshall career,” Porter said. “To see how much the community cares about you after you leave, it just really warms your heart and makes you grateful to come from a small town like this. All of it’s been very humbling, but I am thankful for what my hometown has meant to me during the last four years at college.”
The tough part for Porter, at this point, is that competing at the Division I level is over and she is just a student now. However, there are other things between now and graduation that should keep her occupied.
For starters, Andrea is getting married in late June to fellow MU cross country athlete Tony Hayes of Fairmont. Hayes is starting medical school at Marshall in the fall, so both will still be on campus over the next year for studies.
The wedding is also being held in Morgantown.
Porter — a four-year Commissioner’s Medal of Honor recipient in cross country for her academic marks — currently has a grade-point average hovering around the 3.5 mark, and she still has a year left to improve those efforts without having to worry about practices.
As much as she’ll miss doing what’s been the norm over the last four years, Porter acknowledges that there is still one goal left to achieve in her student-athlete career … and she’s not stopping until she reaches it.
“There is a part of me that thinks the next year will be horrible because I love competing as a member of those teams, but there will always be five-K runs and half-marathons out there that I can enter,” Porter said. “Running will always be there for me, but now is all about finishing what I started. I have one more year to put in as a student because I am not leaving here without that degree. That, more than any competition or record, is what I came here for … and the finish line is within sight.”
Andrea is the daughter of Jeff and Jessica Porter of Point Pleasant.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.