The Next Level Iowa:FAITH

Ashley Miller anchors the distance medley relay for Nebraska

“The Grand Plan” by Ashley Miller

15-time Iowa State High School track & field champion; two-time Iowa State High School cross country champion; University of Nebraska track & field and cross country captain; All-American in indoor and outdoor track & field.

The instant after crossing the finish line of the Iowa Class 2A girls 1,500-meter run in 2007 was one of the happiest moments of my life. Not only did the victory solidify me as the winningest high school track and field athlete in state history, but it was an end to a high school career in which I could be proud. Since that milestone, much has happened throughout my running journey; good times, bad times, and everything in between. The purpose of these words is not to provide an autobiography, but to offer testimony to how I dealt with hills and valleys in my athletic career, and lessons learned along the way.

Entering college is a daunting task for any incoming freshman, but coming in with the expectation of proving yourself scholarship-worthy is an even bigger weight on the shoulders. Perhaps this pressure was too much for me to handle at the time, for midway through my freshman running campaign as a collegian, I received a major twist to my agenda: a navicular stress fracture in my right foot. Shock, disbelief, and frustration describe my feelings after receiving the diagnosis. Not only was I forced to crutch around a snowy and icy Nebraska campus — fully equipped with a hot pink cast (at least the color was stylish) — but at the time it felt that my running dreams were crushed. Negative thoughts entered my mind. Would I ever be able to compete at the Division I level? What if I never got back in shape? Maybe this running thing was not meant to be.

There came a point when the pessimistic thoughts had to be kicked aside. Being more inclined to swing toward the side of optimism, I decided that the only way to deal with this situation was to channel my faith, believing there was a time and purpose for every event in life. Not until a few years down the road did I find this devastating event to be a blessing in disguise.  For one, I was able to take my first year to become adjusted to college life. Second, after receiving a medical hardship, I was awarded a fifth year of competing; a gift since this 2011-12 year has been my most successful one to date.

Nearly five years have passed since the 1,500 race in 2007. Those could have been my final laps around the blue oval at Drake Stadium. However, those who follow the sport of track & field realize that this was not the case. As a matter of fact, I hope to make the journey to Drake Stadium at least two more times this year (competing at the Drake Relays, and God-willing, the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships). Every day I count my blessings that I did not give up on my dream. Throughout my journey as a student-athlete, I have built friendships, experiences, and knowledge to carry me through the next chapter of life; I am extremely thankful. Being a student-athlete has taught me to appreciate little things, from staying healthy, to achieving the smallest of goals; whether these are acing a test, doing four pull-ups in the weight room, or even being able to get nine hours of sleep a night. I have learned the importance of hard work, dedication, teamwork, and most importantly, to be thankful that I was blessed with a gift for running that has provided many opportunities.

Running does not define me, but I believe there was a purpose for its inclusion in my life.  The anticipation of where the sport will lead me next provides the inspiration to continue to invest my energy into the cause. Next year, as I enter graduate school at the University of Tennessee to study nutrition, running will continue to be part of the plan (my plan, at least; God will have the final say). I am eager to see what is ahead, and how I will grow and develop from this new challenge of pursuing my next level.

My journey as a student-athlete has taught me to keep things in perspective.  I enjoy running, and in many ways, the success I have had is how people acknowledge or remember me. There are more important things in life than being an accomplished runner. I understand and accept that this activity is simply a small speck in the grand plan of life.

A small speck in my grand plan of life.