Athlete Feature & Girl Crush: Ashley Higginson

from She Runs, She Makes

Girl Crushes, Multitasking, and Wine

Girl Crushing.

Have you ever wondered what it must be like during an Olympic year when all of the world’s most fit, talented, athletic, and insanely good-looking human beings all converge in one place for the entirety of the Olympic Games? We call this the Olympic Village – where top athletes from all over the world are forced to be near each other for about two weeks. Yes, I know what you’re thinking…orgy. Well, that’s not exactly where I was going, but I’m sure some hookups (most definitely) happen here and there. What I was getting at was more of the general admiration that’s developed during this time. While these athletes are focused on competing in their own sport for a portion of these two weeks, they also have a front row seat to the rest of the world’s best competitions and best competitors. Then they get to hang out and interact with each other and girl crush/man crush/athlete crush all over each other.

On a much smaller scale, this is what the US professional track and field circuit is like. You travel to most of the same meets as most of your competitors, ending up at the same big competitions every month or so. Again, surrounded by talented human beings that you’re not only racing against, but also sharing hotels rooms with, warming up and cooling down with, after-partying with, etc. You end up getting to know most of the personalities in the sport and inevitably end up falling in love with a few of them. Clearly these meets are wonderful incubators for developing girl crushes, guy crushes, and running goggle crushes.

During my stint as a professional runner, I definitely developed a few runner crushes – Ashley Higginson being one of them. Ashley is an American steeplechaser, originally from New Jersey. She’s a pretty badass lady, not just because she’s good at gracefully throwing her Saucony-clad steeple bod over multiple steeple barriers and somehow making it look good (though that doesn’t hurt), but because she’s an intelligent, talented, sweet AND fast human. While pursuing her Olympic Dream (she’s already come frustratingly close and placed 4th in the 2012 US Olympic Trials, a soul-crushing place for any elite runner), she has also decided to pursue a career in law. In fact, she just passed not one, but TWO bar exams – in NY and NJ. What a badass. Not really a surprise, since she went to Princeton, and I hear they’re all overachievers. But badass, nonetheless.

Let’s just lay down some bullet points:

  • 2011 Graduated from Princeton University
  • 2012 US Olympic Trials, 3000 Steeple – 4th place
  • 2013 US World Team Member & US Outdoor Championships, 3000 Steeple – 2nd place
  • 2014 US Outdoor Championships, 3000 Steeple – 2nd
  • 2015 Graduated from Rutgers Law School
  • 2015 US Outdoor Championships, 3000 Steeple – 5th
  • 2015 Pan Am Games Champion and Record Holder, 3000 Steeple

[Ashley already did a comprehensive write up for Sports Illustrated on her adventures since the last trials, but I thought I’d harass her and reach out to have her share some more wisdom and thoughts before she gets too busy with these next Olympics and all.]

Multitasking

With most pro athletes in other major sports like football, basketball, golf, etc., you just automatically assume that’s their day job. Wake up for weight lifting, breakfast, training room, AM practice, lunch, nap, training room, PM practice, sleep. Repeat. Again and again. You wouldn’t think Kobe has time to squeeze in a few hours working on his graduate degree between a press conference and his next sports massage. It would be a little outlandish to imagine Tom Brady having any time to fit in graduating from law school and passing a couple bar exams between watching game reels and canoodling with Gisele.

These NBA and NFL athletes are competing on the same international level as some of track and field’s most talented athletes. I’m trying to paint a picture of just how impressive it is for someone to succeed in their sport, but also pursue schooling, and/or professional careers simultaneously. Props to any athlete who has the support system to solely focus on their athletic career. But damn, tell me it’s not one of the most incredible things to hear that someone who is pouring their energy and soul into training and competing at an international and (hopefully!) Olympic level is also making time for everything else.

I’ve asked Ashley to share some thoughts on balancing her career(s) and how she’s able to not only manage her multifaceted life, but manage the hell out of it.

Wine.

“Hi!

My name is Ashley, and I am from New Jersey. I am a professional runner for Saucony and the New Jersey New York Track Club with hopes of snagging a top three spot at our national championships this year, thus joining Team USA in Rio!

Since starting down this path, I have chosen the road less often traveled when it comes to attempting to run at the highest level. Upon graduating Princeton in 2011, I was blessed with the opportunity to join Coach Gags, an iconic coach in the sport, here in NJ. I thought, I would work part time and give my running dreams a shot. Well, things with my new training group went better than I ever imagined, landing me in 4th place at the 2012 Olympic Trials. 4th place. Not top three, but not 10th, that perfect “Oh my goodness you cannot quit on yourself now!” place that just throws everything out of orbit!

So, I decided I needed to keep running. However, I had also promised myself I would start law school in the fall of 2012. After rearranging where I would go to school (a long, romantic, and funny story in its own right) I found a studio apartment in NJ and started school the next week, barely unpacked and certainly without any of the books I was supposed to have purchased weeks ago.

People ask me all the time how I was able to balance running and law school, my studies, law internships…and I always think it’s funny. The people asking me are usually phenomenal people who work full time, volunteer, help coach on the side, look absolutely fabulous, and still manage to make happy hour on Fridays. Often, this whole experience has come down to two things: support and trusting my gut. So with that, I guess I would like to throw out a few pieces of advice I have gained along the way, when it comes to figuring out your goals and finding a way to take them on.

1. Learn to say no

For me, the idea of “no” came on quick in law school. I was often pushing my workouts to the afternoon after class, meaning if I missed my train home I was probably not getting to the track at a decent hour. So, I very quickly learned that, no, I would not be making happy hour and no, I could not join a certain club. However I also learned that the people who mattered really heard me and respected that boundary. Be willing to make it work, but do not do it at the cost of your goals and schedule. No one is happy if you only find yourself half present.

2. Choose sleep

In college, I was all about the rat race, the sit in the library until 2 am culture and force feed yourself a coffee at an hour you should already be in bed. I chose a new route with all that in law school, as sleep for my training and recovery became critical. In turn, I felt better, I studied more efficiently, I was recovered, and everything became a lot easier when I limited coffee intake to about 3pm latest!

3. But sometimes… choose wine

As I said, when I look back on how I balanced school and running and life, it’s clear that the people who supported ME, not only one part of me, are the way I got through it on harder days. My teammates are amazing and finding time from them outside of working together to get through a tempo was critical for my sanity. More importantly, those connections and moments with significant others and friends make you more willing and able to work when you need to. Moreover, caring about others makes you care about your work product and performance, you want to make them happy and proud of you! It is an old adage, but surround yourself and spend the most time with the 5 people who you want to be like!

4. Let people care about you

I am often someone who wants to help others, plan a dinner party, talk about a break up, try to offer advice. While I still love that, sometimes being that person can mean being silent about your own issues and needs. Especially when it comes to training and my coaching relationship, being concerned about other people is a admirable way to actually just avoid your own problems. Over the last three years I have worked really hard to know when it is okay to say, I need help, or I need you to listen. Especially with my coach, who is responsible for a bunch of athletes, saying “I am fine” when I am not can lead to injury, bad workouts, and a loss of confidence. Similarly, in a relationship or with friends, being honest about your grouchiness or worries in the end really takes away stress and arguments that can emerge through misunderstanding. Of course, letting people care and telling them how you feel comes with the responsibility of making sure you are not just complaining for the sake of it or wimping out – which takes time and maturity!

5. Own your goals

Which comes to my last point. In order to be really successful, you need to be able to own what it is you want. When I started professionally running in 2012, of course I wanted to be a better version of myself and I thought on a great day I might just do great at the trials. When people asked what I was doing, I would stutter and stammer out, “oh, you know, I am running. Like, it’s the Olympic Trials, so, you know, I want to try out.” In the end, I came up short. You know what? No one laughed in my face because I didn’t make an Olympic Team.

This has been a critical lesson in and out of the running world. For example, in order to make law school and running at certain meets work, I needed to communicate to my teachers and advisors at school. I needed to explain why I had to miss a job interview because I would be in Moscow for a race. I needed to explain what I wanted, what was holding me back, and in that honesty hope that someone would take a chance on me. I ended up being offered an internship and eventually a job offer at an amazing firm, because I explained what I wanted and they fit the bill. Your goals and your biggest dreams are your sword to fall upon, but in order to even have a chance, you need to be able to tell others what it is you want, without fear.”

For more on Ashley Higginson, check out this Saucony video feature and follow her on Instagram @AshleyHigz.

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