Running is an activity the majority of Americans try to avoid with a passion. They would much rather enjoy a Bloomin' Onion at Outback than bust out a three-mile jog.

Rising junior Nicole Walters (Orange, Va.) of the VCU women's track and cross country teams isn't much different.

"Of course I have my anti-days where the last thing I want to do is run," Walters said. "Ultimately, getting better is always in the back of my mind. I want to see progress."

Progress is just about the only thing Walters has done since arriving at VCU two years ago.

"The drive and determination that Nicole has shown since coming here is incredible," Assistant Coach Ethan Tussing said. "She's an extremely motivated person and that's allowed her to accomplish so much and extend her goals even further."

Walters was brought in to be a steady force in the 800-meter, along with contribute on the cross country squad in the fall. In just two years, she's exceeded those expectations by improving her five-kilometer cross country time by over four minutes and taking off nearly 15 seconds off her time in the 800-meter run.

In just two years, she has already become the school record holder in the 1000-meter indoor run and is a member of the school record holding outdoor 4x1500, Distance Medley Relay and the indoor 4x800. Not a bad start to her promising VCU career.

Growing up in small-town Orange, Va., Walters played the typical array of team sports like soccer and basketball, but at the suggestion of her mother, Elizabeth, she joined an AAU track team at the age of nine. Immediately, she was hooked.

"I'm not sure why, but playing team sports always made me antsy," Walters said. "I really enjoyed the experience of being on the track team and the atmosphere surrounding it. Track was more focused on individual improvement rather than the pressure of letting your team down and that's more my style."

She was a four-year impact runner for the Orange County High School Hornets, earning multiple regional and state qualifying times, capping it all off with a district and regional title in the 500-meter run and a state runner-up finish in the 4x400 relay during her senior year. She left Orange County as the record holder in the 5k, 800m, 4x400, 4x800 and 500m.

After being a contributor for the Rams during her freshman season in 2008-09, Walters took the summer and did a lot of re-evaluating about what kind of athlete she wanted to be and what she wanted to achieve.

"I wasn't happy with where I was in regard to running," Walters said. "I basically decided that I wanted to get a ton better. That summer was a turning point. While making running a priority wasn't always the easiest thing to do, I knew it was necessary in order to accomplish my goals."

In addition to stepping up her game individually, Walters had new responsibilities as a leader of the cross country squad as only a sophomore. She and classmate Heather DelaCruz (Williamsburg, Va.) were the elder statesman of a very young cross country team.

"I'm not really a commanding person, but I really just try my best to suggest some pointers here and there," Walters said. "Heather was a huge help from the leadership standpoint. She's always the one that gets us all together and pumps us up before a race."

Once again, Walters took charge and excelled as both a leader and a runner. She helped the Black & Gold make huge strides and be in solid position to climb up the cross country standings in the near future as well as posting three personal bests this fall, including over a 30-second improvement at the CAA Championships with a time of 23:58 at the six-kilometer course.

"I have high goals for myself and I know that cross country isn't my strong point, but I want to continue to take down my times this fall," Walters said. "As a team, I want to continually improve. We are a fairly young group and I'm really excited to see what the next two years bring. Looking back on this past year for track and cross country, to see how far we've come as a team, I anticipate even greater success this year."

So while the staff at the local Outback is cooking up your Bloomin' Onion, Walters will be lacing up her running shoes and setting a new trend for VCU track and cross country.