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Finally healthy, Winters Mill girls cross country sisters happy to running together again

Winters Mill cross country coach Ben Brown knew he had a special opportunity to make a run at the school’s first state championship before Kathryn and Makenzie Hopkins had even set foot in the building.

“I got to see them in eighth grade and see them a little bit through the Westminster Wolfpack and watch them race and I knew how talented they were,” Brown said. “It was actually one of those things where I wasn’t sure which one was going to take the lead.”

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It turned out it would be Makenzie Hopkins who took the lead, capturing a county championship her freshman season en route to a third-place finish at the Class 2A state championships and Times Runner of the Year honors. Kathryn Hopkins was not far behind, finishing fourth at the county championships and eighth at the state meet.

“Makenzie is freshman year county champion, third in the state and we are priming up and ready to go for the next couple of years,” Brown said.

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Sadly, things did not go according to plan.

“My sophomore year a couple of weeks before the season started I was having some really bad pain in my right femur and it turned out I had a stress fracture,” Makenzie Hopkins said. “So that recovery was slow.”

From November 2018 to March 2019, Hopkins said she completed physical therapy, including low impact running on an Alter G unit to reduce the impact on her femur and by summer of 2019 was resuming her normal training regimen.

The injury bug struck again, however, this time, her left leg decided not to cooperate with her plans.

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“I got another stress fracture in my left femur,” she said. “So my recovery was pretty similar to what it was the year before, months of physical therapy, no running and then just this past March or so I started running again.”

Winters Mill teammates and sisters Makenzie, left, and Kathryn Hopkins warmup together before a cross country meet at Liberty High School on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.
Winters Mill teammates and sisters Makenzie, left, and Kathryn Hopkins warmup together before a cross country meet at Liberty High School on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (Brian Krista)

While the injuries stole Makenzie’s sophomore and junior season, Kathryn Hopkins stepped in to take the mantle.

She finished second at the county championships as a sophomore and third in the state before finishing second in both events her junior year.

Her performance kept her sister motivated to complete the grueling rounds of physical therapy and endurance training needed to build herself back up.

“She was really important,” Makenzie Hopkins said. “Throughout my injury I still watched her, I still came to practice and it’s really good to see her continuing to improve. It really gave me something to strive for and run with her when I came back.”

Once she was finally cleared for training, it was a slow process getting back to being ready to race for Makenzie.

“Two days a week, 20-minute runs and I built up very slowly, like maybe five minutes a week increase,” she said. “I started doing 4 or 5 miles a week and now I am up to 30 miles. It’s slow but I think it has really helped me. I have also been doing more strength training to prevent injury.”

The pair have finished 1-2 at all three meets they have raced thus far ― they did it Wednesday at Liberty High School ― with Kathryn taking first and Makenzie taking second. For Kathryn, it’s a thrill to be able to have her sister back running by her side.

“She’s always really good at doing cross training on her own so I guess just giving her something to look forward to when she gets back and trying my best to make sure she still knows that she is on the team,” Kathryn Hopkins said. “It’s super exciting to have her back because now I have a training partner again and someone different to push me in the meets.”

Just having both of them back together on the course has been a sight for sore eyes for Brown and his team.

“They are awesome, they are always working together,” Brown said. “The nice thing about them is they always have the ability to run with each other constantly, whether it’s at home during the summer, which they put in the miles, or whether it’s at practice where they are working with each other. Obviously Kathryn is doing a little bit better right now because of her natural pacing but they still work together consistently. I think having her out there has always given Makenzie something to shoot for. They are putting down great times, Makenzie is close to where she was her freshman year and it’s really exciting to see.”

Winters Mill teammates and sisters Kathryn, left, and Makenzie Hopkins lead the field at the start of the girls race during a cross country meet at Liberty High School on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.
Winters Mill teammates and sisters Kathryn, left, and Makenzie Hopkins lead the field at the start of the girls race during a cross country meet at Liberty High School on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (Brian Krista)

While Makenzie is hopeful to return to her freshman season form and beyond, the results are not as important to her as the opportunity to run again with her sister in her senior season.

“Really for me, I think it’s more important that I am actually able to experience it after missing the past two seasons,” she said. “I am thankful for whenever I get to race honestly.”

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