MOULTRIE - Colquitt County High cross country and track coach Mell Wier saw something in Amy Paine that even Paine herself was not aware of: the potential to become a national caliber distance runner.

Before leaving for Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., in 1999, Paine ran cross country and track at Colquitt County, but also was a member of the Moultrie YMCA gymnastics team and considered that her best sport.

When she went to Rhodes and concentrated on track, she blossomed into the kind of runner Weir envisioned: a two-time All-America in the 1,500 meters who now holds all of the school records in the 10-kilometer, 5-kilometer, 3-kilometer, 1500, 800, 4x400, 4x800 and pole vault.

And while Weir may have anticipated her rise to college track prominence, Paine certainly did not.

"I don't know how he knew," Paine said recently at her parents' Moultrie home before leaving for Baton Rouge, La., where she will begin teaching this fall. "I'm still amazed.

"It's God's blessing completely. It really gives you faith."

Although Rhodes recruited Paine for its track program, she says she never expected to have the success she has enjoyed this year.

She completed her improbable career by finishing second in the 1,500 meters in this year's NCAA Track and Field National Championships at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., earning All-America honors.

She ran a 4:29.09 for the highest NCAA National Championships finish ever for a Rhodes track and field athlete.

She earned her first All-America designation by finishing seventh in the 1,500 meters in the Indoor National Track and Field Championships held in March at DePauw University.

Along the way, she turned in what was then the second-fastest Division III 1500 time ever: 4.26.55 at the Billy Hayes Invitational in May at Indiana University.

It is still the third fastest time in the event in Division III history.

And she also ran a 2:12.05 in the 800-meter run in April at the Vanderbilt Invitational,, breaking the school record by more than 2 seconds.

"You do that and you know it's not you," she said. "It's so strange. You think, 'I should not be doing this.'

"It has to be God. I just feel so blessed."

And while at the peak of her abilities, Paine says she is finished serious competition.

There will be no training for national or international events. She says she enjoyed the team aspect of college track, but the thought of training by herself is not appealing.

"I'm done," she said. "I feel happy with the way it happened. But I feel finished."

Paine said she will continue to run to stay in shape, perhaps running in local road races "for fun."

And she said she would like to perhaps coach gymnastics on a part-time basis while teaching this year.

After all, it was gymnastics that was perhaps her best sport before she left Moultrie for Memphis.

Paine began in the Moultrie YMCA in the "gymnatots" program and grew through the ranks, blossoming under the influence of longtime coach Bob Swadel. She credits much of her athletic success to the YMCA gymnastics program.

"Moultrie was such a perfect place to grow up," she said. "And (the YMCA) provided the character development I needed.

"I think gymnastics helped keep me grounded at Rhodes. And I miss it."

And because she split her time between gymnastics and cross country and track while in Moultrie, she found track and cross country even more enjoyable when she went to Rhodes.

"Running stayed exciting for me for four years," she said.

Paine was a natural when the Rhodes team needed a pole vaulter early in her college career.

"They figured, 'She can go upside down,'" she said. "And I could have kept on doing it. But it was not my primary sport."

So she concentrated on the running eventS and kept improving, even through her final season.

"As a senior, you don't expect to drop whole seconds," she said. But she did.

Now Matt and Nancy Paine's daughter is ready to use some of the time and energy she put into her athletic career into finding out what she wants to do for the rest of her life.

Paine was a fine student a Rhodes, receiving the Seidman Award for the school's top scholar-athlete this year. She earned a degree in economics, but says she learned much more during her time in Memphis.

"It teaches you how to think," she said of Rhodes. "I feel prepared for anything."

Although she spent the summer of her junior year in Washington, D.C., as an intern for Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Paine chose to head west for her first job.

She met a representative of the Baton Rouge Classical Christian School while at Rhodes and became intrigued with school's educational philosophy.

"I knew I wanted to educate my children that way," she said.

So she accepted a job teaching third- and fourth-graders and helping with the school's physical education program. She began a six-week training program earlier this week.

"College was such a whirlwind," she said. "I had so many experiences. I'm ready to slow down and do some soul-searching.

"I just want to support myself and find out what I need."

After a collegiate career of cross country, indoor track, outdoor track, summer classes and travel, she is due a respite. But when she finds out what she needs and wants to do, it is likely she will chase it down as she did those ever-dropping 1500-meter times.

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