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MAKING AN IMPACT: Staying the Course

Ashley Horton, who is coming back from two injury-plagued years, has maintained her focus as a runner in the classroom

September 15, 2010


MAKING AN IMPACT: Staying the Course

Staying on top of athletics and academics are challenges for every student-athlete at Binghamton. For those who are successful, the key is preparation and anticipation. Knowing what to expect is a critical component.

When injuries strike, however, an athlete has to adjust in ways they were not previously prepared for. The discouragement of not being able to compete and the challenges of rehabilitation add an extra wrinkle to staying on top of class work.

Senior Ashley Horton of the cross country team is one person who has been able to stay on top of things in both scenarios. As a freshman, she was the top women’s cross country runner. She was injured for most of the next two years but has returned to form heading into the 2010 season. Through it all, she managed to succeed at a high level in the classroom.

Success as a Freshman

Horton was a standout at nearby Candor High School, from where she graduated in 2007. As a senior, she was sixth in the Class D State Meet and won a pair of regional track titles. Following graduation, Horton stayed local and came to Binghamton University.

“I decided to come to Binghamton because it is an excellent school academically,” she said. “There is a great science program and I knew that I wanted to go into a career in the health care field. Coming to Binghamton allowed me to set myself up for a career I wanted, but I was still able to leave my options open. I also liked the idea of running for a Division I program and being able to contribute to the team as a freshman.”

Not only did Horton contribute to the Bearcats right away, she was the team MVP. She was a team-best 16th at the America East Cross Country Championship and was fifth overall at the season-ending ECAC meet. To hear Horton describe it, however, her first season of college cross country was not as easy as it looked.

“Honestly, I remember feeling lost in my races my freshman year because I had always known my competition in high school,” she said. “I was (therefore) less focused on racing other people and more focused on racing myself and bettering my efforts and times.”

While Horton’s mentality in races helped her as a freshman, the same could be said about her attitude in training.

“Successful workouts became a constant for me,” she said. “College training is just more intense than high school. I really enjoyed the different training and pushing myself through the tougher workouts.”

“Ashley joined our program when we really needed some better leadership and competitive spirit,” head coach Annette Acuff said. “She has really helped facilitate our program in both of those areas since her freshman year. She was fearless as a freshman and led a lot by pure example.”

In the classroom, Horton was able to be just as driven. She was named to the America East Commissioner’s Honor Roll her first semester (for attaining at least a 3.5 GPA) and has remained there ever since. In April 2009, she was inducted into the National College Athlete Honors Society. Horton attributes her success for a willingness to make the most of every part of her day.

“I really tried to focus on school work and my running performance freshman year,” she said. “Of course I wanted to meet people and experience college, but being a student-athlete is a unique experience in itself. I wanted to work hard, doing all of the little tasks that make a person a successful student athlete. Between communicating with professors, studying on the bus, and reading in the ice-bath, I was able to make everything work.”

One professor who got a first-hand look at Horton’s drive was Diego Trelles Paz. A visiting professor in the Romance Languages, he was impressed with her drive to succeed.

“Ashley has been one of my top students,” he said. “She works hard, is intellegent and a wonderful person.”

While Horton excelled in Diaz’s classes, it was biology in which she has found her passion for beyond college. She plans on going to graduate school in occupational therapy. Science majors are known for their heavy workload but Horton has managed to rise to the challenge.

“As a biology major, there are a lot of lectures, discussions and labs to schedule in, but all of these components are helpful to understanding the information,” she said. “The most important part is keeping up with the work and really biology is like any other major, there are just fewer essays and more lab write-ups.”

Setbacks

The challenges Horton faced in the classroom remained constant the next three years. The same could not be said, however, with her athletic endeavors. She struggled through an injury-plagued sophomore season and missed all of last year. Horton struggled emotionally but did not let her academic performance falter.

“At times, it was difficult to stay positive, but giving up was not an option,” she said. “Just because running was not going well did not mean that I would stop working hard in the classroom. I maintained focus with my school work even though it felt like there was a piece missing from my normal routine.”

One person Horton credits with helping her through the tough times was Acuff. The 11th-year head coach had an impact on her right away and that continued during the time she was unable to compete.

“Coach Acuff has really helped me develop as a runner since I have been at Binghamton,” she said. “Even when I was injured or redshirting a season, she gave me attention and helped me through those tough times as well.”

During the 2010 track season, Horton started to regain her form. She just missed placing in the 3,000 at the America East Indoor meet and was seventh in the steeplechase in the conference outdoor championships. It was her best track finish since an identical performance at the 2008 America East Outdoor Meet.

“Placing in the steeplechase last spring was a significant step for me because it was encouraging to see all of the training still paying off,” she said. “I could feel myself getting more and more fit as the seasons went on last year and after having some solid performances in track, I really feel like I am back where I want to be.”

Poised to Come Back

Heading into her senior cross country season, Horton’s place on the team in terms of leadership is unquestioned. She a team co-captain and has the respect of her entire team.

“Ashley not only uses her head but also her heart,” senior co-captain Alicia Finger said. “Her contribution to the team goes beyond scoring and being captain. She is virtuous and a motivator. She is very good at making the right decisions and sticking by them. One word to describe Ashley is dedication.”

“Even though Ashley has had a frustrating couple of seasons due to injury, she has always been dedicated to running,” senior Kim Law said. “She has been a good example of how to stay positive through rough times and I believe that all of the girls on the team look up to her. I think this year the team is going to benefit a lot from her hard work. She’s an equally dedicated student, helping raise our teams’ collective GPA.”

Like Horton, the women’s cross country team is in position to bounce back from some disappointing, injury-filled seasons. After placing fourth (out of 10 teams) at the 2005 America East meet, the Bearcats have not finished higher than sixth in the ensuing four years. This year, Binghamton enters the year with everyone finally healthy.

Horton was the fourth runner on the team in the season-opening dual meet against Siena on Sept. 13, but her finish is a testament to the improved depth on the squad since her freshman season. Sophomores Rachel Miura and Lindsay Raulli have been the top two runners on the team thus far and senior Sarah Veith, who like Horton has struggled with injuries, has been right behind them. Although Horton was only fourth, her place on the team can be attributed to the greater team depth than what existed three years ago.

“The women on the team this year are determined to perform well this season,” Horton said. “As far as rankings go, the last few years have been a little rough, but each year that I’ve been here, I have seen great improvements in focus and work ethic on the team and we definitely have a chance to be a factor in the conference. The returners are all healthy and strong and I am confident that with the freshmen, we’ve added some talent and depth that will make for a successful year.”

No matter where she is among the team’s top finishers, however, Horton will be one of the key runners on the squad, both on and off the course.

“Ashley has become a great mentor both on and off the course and is so well respected by her teammates,” Acuff said. “Her strengths have really impacted our program to what I believe is at our highest level today.”

Regardless of what happens this season, Horton believes she is a better person in every way as a result of the adversity she has had to overcome. She has stayed on top of everything no matter what has come her way.

“Since coming to Binghamton I have learned that everything you experience changes you in some way,” she said. ” I have faced setbacks throughout my collegiate years that I was not prepared for and they made running and school work more difficult, but I tried to stay positive and in the end, I feel that I am physically and mentally stronger. Everyone goes through rough patches whether it’s an injury or some other unfortunate occurrence; eventually everything will turn around and sometimes you have to get through a bad time to experience a better one.”

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