In moments of stress, sophomore Ashley Fitzgerald runs, her mind floating away as she breaks records with a rush of adrenaline. Fitzgerald recalls her beginnings to becoming a competitive runner: she played soccer in elementary school until her coach recommended that she participate in a five-kilometer road race. In contrast to other events, road racers run on a measured course of an established road rather than a track. She loved the sport and began running competitively in sixth grade, joining both track and cross country at school.
Four years later, practicing for two to three hours after school daily has made Fitzgerald the #1 sophomore in the state of Florida, according to FLMileSplit. Such rankings fluctuate constantly, as Fitzgerald has gained, lost and regained the title just this year. “Personally, I am most proud of my track mile time, 5:09, and my new [five-kilometer] personal record in cross country, 18:26,” Fitzgerald explained. She values her parents’ support and her coaches’ instruction, stating that they help ensure her success. Her coach, Mr. Thomas Johnson, began coaching her last year during the track and field season. He believes that she has improved since then, in terms of running as well as leadership. “This is the first time in a long time we have an opportunity to compete beyond the 3A District Championships, and it’s a result of Ashley’s leadership. She is not only focused on her own performance, but that of her teammates as well. Raising the performance of others allowed her to have sessions with others, who could push her harder in practice,” Coach Johnson explained.
Participating as a team, runners are scored based on their places (one point for first place or ten points for tenth place); each teammate’s scores are added up. The team with the lowest sum of points wins. Fitzgerald holds friendships with her teammates as well as the memories they have created close to her heart. “Since last year, when I first met Ashley, she’s become a very close friend of mine as well as an inspiration to me in running. Her optimistic and hard working mindset pushes me and the rest of the team to train harder and always have a positive outlook on our workouts and races,” sophomore Sienna Alvarez Coia said.
Although she hopes to become a college athlete, Fitzgerald remains undecided on whether she wants to pursue running professionally as a career. For now, she is enjoying the cross country season and looks forward to the upcoming track season.