Alexia Neal became the third-fastest 60-meter hurdler in College of Charleston history on Jan. 16, 2016, during the Art and Linda Maillet Open in Chapel Hill, N.C.. Neal finished in 9.11 seconds.

Imagine running down the track, clearing hurdle after hurdle and being in first place and mere meters away from becoming the Colonial Athletic Association 400-meter hurdles champion. Now, imagine approaching that final hurdle and jumping over it only to have your leg buckle underneath you. Consider the physical and emotional pain as you lie there and watch your competitors running past you. Alexia Neal doesn’t have to conjure up such a heartbreaking scenario: She lived it last May.

Neal, a biology major, wasn’t even supposed to be a threat in that 400-meter race. In fact, she was, by all accounts, the underdog in the competition. Once she was there, however, her determination and grit made her a force to be reckoned with.

You can hear the emotion in Neal’s voice as she says, with great confidence, that had she not fallen, she would be the CAA champion. That’s not the voice of someone who gives up easily. No, that’s someone who believes in herself and her ability to defy the odds.

And that may be her greatest gift – inspiring not just her own confidence, but that of her teammates as well.

“Alexia gave them the belief that they themselves could do more than they thought possible,” says Amy Seago, head coach for the Cougars’ women’s track and field and cross-country teams.

After all, making the impossible possible is a running theme in Neal’s life.

Neal got her start in track and field in seventh grade, picking it up after watching her older cousin compete for Beaufort High School in Beaufort, S.C. The sport came easy for Neal. She was a natural. In middle school, she ran with high school students. She was that good.

Senior hurdler Alexia Neal.

Senior hurdler Alexia Neal.

Even then, Neal didn’t mistake her natural talent as something she could take for granted. And today is no different. She’s extremely thankful for her physical gifts and works hard every day to become 1 percent better. Neal recognizes the number of people who don’t live up to their potential in sports and has vowed to never be part of that number. She is determined to make the best of what she was blessed with. It’s a big part of what drives her as a runner – that, and her family and coaches, of course.

Neal trains almost year round and has battled many hip injuries. During her freshman year for the Cougars, she struggled, only competing a handful of times. Most athletes want to come off of an injury and get back to their old self. Not Neal: She wanted to raise the stakes.

And so she did.

Her sophomore year, she came back stronger and faster than ever and had a breakthrough performance at the Shamrock Invitational, where she set a personal record in the 400-meter hurdles.

That year, she also set a new personal record in the 100-meter hurdles at the Weems Baskin Invitational and a new 100-meter dash personal record at the Carolinas Cup. Then, as a junior, Neal set a new school record in the 400-meter hurdles. She also hit her personal best in the 100-meter hurdles in the preliminaries of the CAA championships.

But she’s not satisfied. Her goals for her senior season include breaking more personal and school records in the 400- meter hurdles, the 100-meter hurdles and the 4×100-meter and 4×400-meter relays.

And, as if that weren’t enough to pull off, Neal – who is of Belizean ancestry and has competed on the international level as a representative of Belize – has big plans for the 2016 Central American Championships in Athletics. She already posted two second-place finishes in the 2014 games and captured the silver medal in the 100-meter hurdles and the bronze medal in the 400-meter hurdles in 2015. But this time around she hopes to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.

And Neal is feeling pretty optimistic. She knows how to make the impossible possible. And she’s looking forward to that one final hurdle – and, of course, soaring over it.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of the College of Charleston Magazine.