Thrower Leads Track & Field Team to Historic Finish
SDSU senior Whitney Ashley set school and conference records on her way to winning the discus competition at the 2012 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Last month, SDSU senior Whitney Ashley became the first Aztec athlete to win an NCAA championship title since 1985. Her discus toss of 196 feet, 10 inches (59.99 meters) at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa set personal, school and Mountain West Conference records.
With her throw, Ashley became only the fourth national champion in her program’s history including La Tanya Sheffield (400 hurdles), Laura DeSnoo (discus) and Ramona Pagel (shot put). She also helped her team tie for ninth place, equaling the Aztecs’ best-ever finish at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in 1985.
Less than a week after her record-setting throw, she was back at the SDSU Sports Deck training and working on her technique in hopes of landing a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. She talked about her national championship, her Olympic dreams, why her mother is an inspiration and the joy she derives from discus throwing.
"It's something that makes me happy to begin with,” said the 23-year-old senior media studies major of the sport at which she excels. “Whatever I'm going through outside of the track, whether it’s anger or I'm just happy and I want to do something that day, I can come onto the track and just release it into my discus.
“I'm also good at it. I'm able to beat some of the best. I'm able to hold myself to a national standard and, hopefully soon, a world standard."
SUCCESS AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL
Her SDSU coaches believe Ashley can succeed at the highest level of her sport. A former basketball player standing five feet, eight and a half inches with an exceedingly long “wingspan,” she worked hard to gain the necessary strength and bulk to compete at the collegiate level.
First-year SDSU Track and Field Assistant Coach Dorian Scott says Ashley's work ethic is "like none other."
“Her work ethic is like none other,” said SDSU Track and Field Assistant Coach Dorian Scott, who works with the team’s throwers and will compete in the shot put for Jamaica at the 2012 Olympics. “At the end of the day, she gets everything done and she does it at a high, high level.”
“She's a fun girl, but when it comes down to track and training, Whitney doesn’t like to talk a lot,” said SDSU Track and Field Head Coach Shelia Burrell. “Her thing is, 'Just do work.' Whitney is definitely a lead-by-example person.”
Ashley most likely gets her all-business approach from her mother, Angela Washington, who was also her high school coach. She says her mom serves as her primary inspiration.
“She is the hardest working person I know,” said Ashley. “Kids, cars, family - she takes care of her entire family and she never makes excuses and I just admire her for that.”
“WE LOST OUR MINDS”
NCAA national discus champion Whitney Ashley practices her throws at the SDSU Sports Deck.
It was that “no excuses” approach that Ashley tapped into when she stepped into the ring at the national championship finals. She focused, spun and let loose a heave that registered the highest number she had ever seen flashed on a scoreboard after one of her throws.
"Yeah, it was a huge surprise,” she admitted. “But then again, it was more like a, 'Finally!' moment, not like, 'Oh, my gosh, where'd that come from?'"
“We just lost our minds,” Coach Scott said. “She started crying immediately - we still had one more throw to go - and she’s crying and I'm holding her up. I can feel she's weak and right away I’m panicked that the next girl is going to answer on her final throw.
“I'm like, 'Whitney, she might hit something. You've got to stay relaxed.’ But Whitney’s was the farthest throw all year by a collegian, so the girl just couldn't answer her. National champ, right there! It was just unbelievable."
A TOUCHING MOMENT
Ashley’s mother had had to work and was unable to travel to Iowa and witness her daughter’s incredible achievement. Within minutes of claiming her national title, the young Aztec was on the phone to Mom in Riverside.
“I think she cried for, like, three minutes,” Ashley recalled. “I just had to sit there and let her get it out and then she just kept saying, 'I'm so proud of you. I'm so proud of you.' It was a touching moment."
A banner congratulating 2012 NCAA discus champion Whitney Ashley and triple jump runner up Shanieka Thomas hangs above the Fowler Athletics Center entrance.
Ashley hopes to have many more such moments in her career. Although she didn’t make this year’s Olympic team, she says she will keep doing “everything” necessary to compete for national and world championships.
“I take advice from coaches, I'm reading books, I watch tons of YouTube videos,” she said. “If I'm at home or if I'm not on the track, I'm watching, like, three hours a day worth of slow-motion videos analyzing techniques over and over and over again."
In the fall, Ashley will take the final class she needs to complete her media studies degree at SDSU. She has an interest in broadcast journalism, but says she can envision herself involved in “anything that involves talking” as a career.
“ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE”
SDSU Head Track and Field Coach Shelia Burrell says Whitney Ashley has set a new standard for the team.
Coach Burrell sees a future for Ashley in track and field and is grateful for the effort she put in that has managed to help elevate the entire Aztec program.
“For her to be at this point when she leaves SDSU, I think, is something she can be extremely proud of and I'm extremely proud to watch happen for her," the coach said. “Whitney just opened a whole lot of doors for us in terms of recruiting and the standards of every single person on this team have just risen.”
Ashley’s standards remain high, too, as she expects to soon compete with - and beat – some of the world’s best athletes. Perhaps someday it will be in the Olympics.
“That's the goal,” she said. “I'm trying to be as positive as possible and you never know, I might make it happen. Anything is possible."
With a little hard work.