Grace Barnett's days as a walk-on runner at Clemson seem like ages ago.
Her accomplishments have made sure of it.
The Waccamaw High product on Monday night was announced as the Tigers' Female Athlete of the Year for the second straight year as she's currently starring on the track and field squad.
"I wasn't really expecting to get it because I actually won it last year, so I kind of thought I had my time," she said with a laugh. "But it was a nice surprise."
Despite starting as a walk-on for the Clemson track and field team as a freshman, Barnett has become one of the school's most accomplished athletes in recent years, having earned recognition as a Second Team All-American in the mile and as a member of the Tigers' distance medley relay team.
"I am extremely grateful for all the opportunities I've been just given because of running, and it all started at Waccamaw High School," she said.
She credits former coach Michael Walker for talking her into running track in addition to cross country. "I thought it was silly running in circles," she said of her initial thoughts of taking the sport on.
Walker and Brian White, her coach during her senior year of high school, helped turn her into an athlete who excelled in high school and now at the next level, she said.
"It's a dream come true. I never thought I'd be able to run at a school as prestigious as Clemson with such a well-known athletic department," Barnett said. "I'm just tremendously blessed to have gotten this opportunity."
She earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education in December and is working on a Master's in youth development now.
Barnett still has work to do on the track as well. The outdoor season is at about midseason. While she's coming down the home stretch as a collegiate runner, Barnett said she plans to continue competing in the future, whether as a profession or on the side.
"I think competitive running will be always a part of my life. It will depend on to what extent after this season," she said. "Fortunately, we're part of a sport that if you want to continue to be competitive with it, there's always some opportunity, whether it's a local 5K or a national event. There's always opportunities."