WSCC ATHLETICS: At 47 years old, Dani Akridge thriving with Wallace State’s women’s cross country team, serving as inspiration for teammates and coaches

Dani Akridge is among the Wallace State women who will compete for a national championship this weekend. (WSCC Athletics)

HANCEVILLE, Ala. – Cross country running is a lifelong sport.

It’s a passion that Dani Akridge and her children have shared for many years. It has also provided an avenue for Akridge to perform at a high level for Wallace State Community College’s women’s cross country team this season, excelling at the age of 47. 

Even at a non-traditional age, Akridge has been among the Lady Lions top runners this fall, including finishing fourth two weeks ago at the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) meet. Akridge posted a 20:46.84 in the women’s 5K, as both the women’s and men’s program won a fourth consecutive ACCC meet.

While Akridge is nearly 20 years older than most of her teammates — including her son, Cole, a sophomore —- she has provided a spark all season for Wallace State.

“Dani has been a huge part to our success. We knew she was a strong runner when we recruited her to join the program. She goes about her business in a professional manner and motivates all of us to be better and do a little more. She’s a great example,” said Wallace State coach Stan Narewski. “Nothing Dani does surprises me. She’s proven to be a steady piece for us all season. She loves to run. It’s part of what she does and who she is.”

Added teammate and sophomore Jaycee Biffle, who was third overall at the conference meet: “It’s been awesome running with Mrs. Akridge this year. When we first found out she was running with us, we didn’t know what to expect because of her age. She’s been a huge asset to our team and keeps all of us positive and upbeat.”

Both Wallace State cross country teams will compete Saturday in Richmond, Va., at the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II Cross Country Championships. The Lady Lions will seek to improve on a program-best eighth-place finish at nationals last season. The men were sixth.

Akridge’s path to Wallace State 

Dani Akridge lives in Bremen, a city located in the same county as Wallace State. Her son, Cole, ran cross county for Cold Springs High before joining the Lions and her daughter, Ava, is also a runner at the high school. Ava’s cross country team is fresh off winning a state championship last weekend.

Wallace State assistant cross country coach Tony Crider is among the running enthusiasts in the Bremen/Cold Springs community and has been acquainted with the Akridge family for many years.

As the Wallace State coaching staff was finalizing the women’s roster for the 2021 season, Akridge’s talents kept cropping up on the page.

What were Akridge’s thoughts when she was initially approached about joining the team?

“I thought it was a joke. Once I realized the coaching staff was persistent and serious, I agreed to run, especially since it’s an opportunity I never had and will probably never have again,” Akridge said. “Not everyone gets a second chance to be a collegiate athlete.”

During her second tour through college, Akridge is enrolled in online classes through Wallace State’s Child Development program.

Akridge graduated from Vinemont High School, where she ran track and field for the Eagles. Her athletic pursuits had ended there. She went on to earn a pair of bachelor’s degrees from Athens State University – one in behavioral science and the other in fine arts.

Akridge currently works as a behavioral counselor with Behavioral Health Group in Cullman and spends time assisting with art classes at Cullman City Primary School on select afternoons. Since Akridge has reentered college, she wants to pursue an education degree.

Akridge is a wife and full-time working Therefore, she’s not always available to join her Wallace State teammates for morning training runs.

That hasn’t slowed her one bit.

“I run most evenings when I’m done with work and try to match the same workouts or routine the team did on campus that particular day,” Akridge said.

Akridge’s impact on the team

Dani Akridge is cherishing the opportunity to run for Wallace State and learn from her younger teammates, including her son.

“I didn’t give Cole much of a chance to disagree with me when I asked what he thought about me running,” Akridge joked. “All of the student-athletes at Wallace State are exceptional. They work extremely hard.

“Both of our teams are made up of great young men and women. They’ve welcomed me with open arms and that’s special. I try to be a good listener if the girls have life questions or need advice. They call me the team mom.” 

Biffle is impressed with Akridge’s ability to juggle multiple responsibilities, including the formidable times she has posted in each meet.

“I have no idea how she works two jobs, takes online classes, maintains a family and finds time to train,” Biffle said. “We’re all blown away she can keep up with it all. She makes it seem natural.”

Narewski and Crider knew the potential Akridge had to contribute this season, and she has fulfilled those expectations.

“Dani is a competitor and that fits the profile of the runners we recruit. Dani can inspire and motivate female athletes of all ages, no matter their journeys,” Narewski said.

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