Series19 Jun 2017

My greatest challenge – Ashley Spencer


USA's Ashley Spencer at the IAAF World Championships (© Getty Images)

USA’s Olympic 400m hurdles bronze medallist and 2012 world U20 400m champion Ashley Spencer is an emerging force with a hugely exciting career ahead of her. Here the 23-year-old talks about the huge sacrifice of being away for much of the year from her close-knit family.

Flying the nest

"As a professional athlete, I sometimes struggle with being so far away from family. I come from Indianapolis, Indiana, and originally I studied for two years at the University of Illinois, which wasn’t too bad because I was only a 90-minute car ride from home.

"However, since I transferred to the University of Texas at Austin in 2013 – where I still live today – it is much further from home. I have managed to make many close relationships with people in the track and field community and on the circuit to ease the pain of being away from home, but it is still rough.

"I come from a close family and we are all bonded by track and field. My mum and dad did track, as did my brother and sister. My first coaches were my aunt and uncle. My aunt was a former sprint hurdler and my uncle, Steve Smith, a former 2.31m high jumper and 1995 Pan American Games silver medallist. We are one big track and field family.

"My mum came along to the Prefontaine Classic and both mum and dad were at the Texas Relays, which is great and they had a lot of fun.

"I am the baby of the family. I have an older brother, Shaun, 30, and an older sister, Ahlivia, 25. I often only go home a couple of times a year. It was difficult to watch from afar as my nana passed away in 2014. I also really miss spending time with my two nephews – Kaden, nine, and Avery, five. I talk to them regularly on Skype or Facetime, but it is not quite the same as giving them a hug. It is hard to accept that I have missed a good chunk of their lives and it is also hard to often to miss birthdays because I am training or racing. But I also know that what I am doing in track and field is going to impact positively on their future. That is in many ways more important to me than playing tag with them. I want them to have someone they can look up to and be a positive role model for them.

"It is hard and it is rough to be away from the family, but I am where I need to be and if I am really needed at home, I would be there. I am doing very well for myself in track and field and I am lucky in that I have an amazing family who have supported my every decision."

Steve Landells for the IAAF