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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The Great Gadson

    UA senior sprinter Ashley Gadsen went from an un-recruited high school athlete to a vital part of the Arizona track and field team after walking onto the squad her freshman year.
    UA senior sprinter Ashley Gadsen went from an un-recruited high school athlete to a vital part of the Arizona track and field team after walking onto the squad her freshman year.

    When UA track and field head coach Fred Harvey allowed Ashley Gadson to walk onto the women’s team four years ago, many of his colleagues questioned the choice. Gadson had a combined two years of running experience under her belt and her best times in high school would have earned her a spot at a Division II school if she was lucky, according to Harvey.

    But Gadson, now in her senior season, has overcome all the doubt on her way to personal records and a qualifying time for this year’s NCAA West Regional Championships next month – her last obstacle before the NCAA Championship in Des Moines, Iowa in June.

    Her accomplishments through the years, however, were not without their fair share of difficulties.

    Only 17 years old when she first arrived at the UA out of Palo Alto, Calif., Gadson’s main focus was her academic career. She had competed for Palo Alto High School but admitted she was not incredibly competitive. In fact, Gadson’s best performance up to that point was at a “”just-for-fun”” meet in her hometown of Omaha, Neb., in sixth grade when she set a record for both boys and girls in the 60-meter dash.

    But despite never having quite proven herself, Harvey gave her a chance to try out for the team and while she made the squad, it became clear she would have a long way to go.

    “”To tell you the truth, I had a hard time adjusting to a Division I program but eventually it came together,”” Gadson said. “”I was determined not just to be a member of the team, but a prominent member of the team.””

    Harvey said Gadson trained hard to become competitive with the other athletes on the team and soon was able to compete against them outside of the program. But when Gadson got out there with a chance to compete against those athletes, she ran into another problem.

    “”When we gave her a chance to compete in some meets, there became a mental barrier for her,”” Harvey said. “”It caused a huge confidence issue with her because then she was like ‘OK, now I’m running against these folks who I have no business competing against. How am I supposed to do this?'””

    The issue of coming to the team as a walk-on and then seeing UCLA and USC jerseys on the track was something Gadson struggled with as she tried to reason with herself as to how to compete against women who had been involved in track and field their whole lives.

    “”That was a big barrier for me – it was my confidence.”” Gadson said. “”I had to tell myself I had to have the confidence to be as good as anyone in the (Pacific 10 Conference).””

    The issue became drastic enough at one point last year that Harvey was forced to remove Gadson from the 4×400 meter relay team in the middle of the season because he didn’t want to jeopardize the development of the other women on the team.

    The personnel change proved to be a decisive factor in getting Gadson back on track.

    “”It took the focus off of everybody else around me and whatever everybody else expected of me,”” Gadson said. “”I had to look at in a way of ‘What do I expect of myself?’ and ‘What do I want to accomplish being here?'””

    Being so late in her career at the UA when this occurred, Gadson said it became a matter of making goals for herself in the limited time she had left.

    At the Jim Click Shootout two weekends ago, Gadson set a personal best of 53.75 in the 400m dash, which was nearly a second quicker than her previous best and 10 seconds quicker than any mark she set in high school. The mark will also be good enough to give her another shot at a Pac-10 competition she once looked at with intimidation when she competes in the NCAA West Regionals on May 30.

    Gadson relates a lot of her success back to her desire to achieve great things in her schooling. Gadson was recently accepted into the University of California-Hasting’s College of Law for the next school year, one of the top-10 law schools in the country.

    “”(Track and field) makes you stronger mentally because you tell yourself you can do things you never thought you could do,”” Gadson said. “”That really pushed me to do law school because the challenges you may face may not seem as big because you have already experienced a sport like track, which demands a lot out of you.””

    Gadson hopes to eventually get a job working with the United Nations to couple with her interest in international law. But before she gets there she hopes to make one last splash in her last meet as a Wildcat at the NCAA Championships in June.

    “”It’s amazing to see what hard work and a lot of heart can do,”” said friend and former teammate Marquita Taylor. “”Track is easy to give up but she’s really just gotten past the adversity and has really showed the true talent that was always there.””

    Gadson also gives a lot of credit to her coaches, teammates, friends and her boyfriend, Danny Andrews, a paralympian who often trains with the team. And as far as continuing to achieve her goals, Gadson explained how to do so in one simple statement.

    “”It’s just a matter of disciplining myself to do the best I can,”” she said. “”I don’t like failure.””

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