2011-08-10 / Sports
Higginson puts law career on hold for track
While her Princeton University classmates have moved on to continue their education or to start their professional careers, Ashley Higginson has settled into a part-time job in Princeton and is hoping it will pay the bills.
Higginson, a graduate of Princeton who has been accepted to the University of Colorado Law School, has put her post-graduate career on hold while she pursues a qualifying standard in the 3,000-meter steeplechase ahead of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore.
Higginson, a Colts Neck High School graduate, admitted that she had some hesitation about her decision as she watched her friends begin their post-college careers or move on to graduate school.
“It gave me a lot to think about. I had to sort it out,” she said.
Higginson eventually realized how passionate she is about track and how much running has come to mean to her.
“I was not ready to let go,” she said. “I couldn’t take the chance of asking myself later, ‘What if?’ That’s something I would regret.”
With that in mind she has embarked on a running career in which athletic achievement — not exams or term papers — is her top priority.
Even with running taking a back seat to her studies at Princeton, Higginson, who was a high school national champion and All-American at Colts Neck, blossomed into one of the nation’s best collegiate runners. She set numerous Princeton and Ivy League records and was a three-time All- American.
During the course of her college career the 3,000-meter steeplechase became her signature event and she runs it well enough to have a realistic goal of achieving the “A” qualifying standard for the Olympic Trials. Her personal best time for the event is 9:52.73 and the “A” standard is 9:43. Higginson was anAll-American in the event for the last two years (third in 2010 and sixth in 2011).
That she was able to become an All- American again this past spring is a tribute to her willpower as well as her considerable talent.
Higginson now admits that she pushed the envelope during the indoor season in which she won two Ivy League titles (3K and 5K) and was third at the NCAA championships, garnering her first indoor All- American certificate and lowering her 3K best down to 9:14.47.
“I wanted it [indoor nationals] badly,” she said of her indoor season.
But in pushing herself so hard, she sustained a stress fracture at the end of the season. The injury put her senior outdoor season in jeopardy, but Higginson was determined to get something out of her final season at Princeton, even if it was a limited one .“I took off the minimum time” with the injury, she said. “I wanted to get back and try and salvage the season. It wasn’t the best for recovery, but I’m happy I did that.”
Higginson relied on the conditioning she had built up during the indoor season and was able to come back and equal the record for consecutive victories in the steeplechase at the Heptagonal (Ivy League) Championships — three. Just as impressive, she was still able to finish sixth at the NCAA Championships, running a time of 10:03.15 with little training and running through pain .
Higginson, who has been busy traveling since her graduation (Greece with the Princeton track team, where the Tigers ran into riots, canceling a scheduled meet in Athens) and British Columbia (visiting a college friend), took time off to fully recover from her injury after the NCAA Championships.
Now she is running again and her postgraduate running career will begin in earnest in September when she begins workouts with her new team, the New Jersey New York Track Club, coached by the legendary Frank Gagliano.
“I’m pretty excited about that,” she said of joining Gagliano’s select team. “It’s going to be awesome.”
Higginson is looking forward to training with the likes of Erin Donohue, Julie Tully and Delilah DiCrescenzo, all of whom have either been Olympians or world championship team members.
Twice a week, the club members will meet at Rutgers University for workouts under Gagliano’s supervision.
Higginson is also looking forward to Gagliano’s training program, which she said puts a little more emphasis on speed. She believes that is something that was missing from her program in college because she was building up for the cross country season in the summer and fall.
More emphasis throughout the year on speed could help her attain the qualifying time she needs in the steeplechase in order to reach the 2012 Olympic Trials.
Athletes at the Olympic Trials will be trying to earn a place on the United States team that will compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
With running as her main focus now, Higginson knows it will require an adjustment period to get used to the changes it will bring to her life.
“It’s going to be a big wake-up call,” she said. “You need to give 110 percent every day. I have to really focus on the reason I’m here.”
Because of the injury she sustained earlier this year, Higginson learned she has the self-motivation it takes to train by herself. She had to train by herself as she prepared for the 2011 outdoor season, doing all of the cross-training (pool and exercise bike) just to remain in reasonable shape. With that one goal in mind, and through her singleminded determination, she willed herself back on the track and earned her ultimate award: All-American honors.
It is that single-mindedness, the ability to push herself on her own, that she will draw upon now as she looks to see just how fast she can run the steeplechase and how far it will take her.
Perhaps the toughest transition for Higginson will be running for herself. From her days at Colts Neck High School, running for a team has been more important to her than her individual achievements. She was the captain of the Princeton cross country and track teams last year.
During her career at the university, the Tigers enjoyed unprecedented success, winning Ivy League cross country, indoor and outdoor championships (the Tigers won nine Ivy League titles during her career).
Higginson said Princeton’s women’s cross country and track and field coach Pete Farrell told her, “You’ve been a great team leader, now you have to realize it’s all about you. You need to be ready for that. It’s easier said than done.”
Higginson has not cut her ties with her former team. Her part-time work at Lululemon Athletica (an athletic apparel company) will allow her to be a volunteer coach for the Princeton cross country team this fall. Holding that volunteer position will allow her to work out with her former teammates. While Higginson will not be running for a team in the same sense as she did in high school or college, nonetheless, Higginson will be able to form a bond with her new teammates at the New Jersey-New York Track Club. She will be training with runners whose goals are the same as hers and she can benefit from their international experience.
Higginson, who graduated with a degree in political science, has many fond memories of her days at Old Nassau and her college athletic career.
“I loved it here racing at Princeton,” she said, noting that the Tigers’ home track was perfect for the steeplechase. “I ran at Hayward Field (on the campus of the University of Oregon). It was an amazing experience. The crowds are large and the people know your name. It does motivate you.”
Alaw degree and everything else life has to offer are still out there in her future, but Higginson wants to remain a runner for as long as she can.
“I want to give myself at least a year,” she said, adding that if her times improve enough in the coming year, she can see herself still competing beyond 2012. What she would really like to do is to run professionally and that goal would be within her reach if she can run fast enough to get to the U.S. Olympic Trials, which are scheduled for June 22 to July 1, 2012.