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Ashley Higginson: Clearing Hurdles Princeton Athlete Combines Steeple, Law

Published by
ArmoryTrack.com   Jun 28th 2014, 6:57pm

By Dave Hunter

There’s an old maxim about law school:  the first year they scare you to death; the second year they work you to death; the third year they bore you to death.  A second-year law student and world-class steeplechaser, Ashley Higginson – adept at multitasking – must have enjoyed this past year to no end. 

The New Jersey/New York Track Club athlete – who will commence her final year at Rutgers School of Law this fall – says she is at her best when she is fully engaged in several demanding pursuits.  Higginson finds something soothing and complementary about dividing her attention between two challenging pursuits.  “I’m not exactly sure why it is,” Higginson said.  “But I am the type of person who performs better if I can give attention to both of these loves of mine at the same time.” 

After just failing to make the 2012 Olympic team – her 4th-place finish was two seconds shy of a trip to London – Higginson paired up with Coach Frank Gagliano and the NJ/NY Track Club.  Before long, first her workouts and then her performances began to improve, culminating in her second-place finish in last year’s national championship steeplechase, earning her a place on the USA world championship team.

 “I was so excited to be on the team,” she said.  The Princeton graduate – on her first national team – ran admirably in Moscow, narrowly missing the final.  “But then I had a whole new level of wanting.  I deserved to be on the team and I made it.  And that was the goal,” Higginson said at the time.  “So now I want to take the next step.  I now have two years to prepare to be on the next world team.  It is very exciting.  I am relatively young, and I am expected to win more.”

Higginson’s performances so far in 2014 suggest she may be ready to take that next step.  Earlier this spring in a meet at her alma mater, Higginson cruised to a comfortable steeplechase win in 9:35.72, just short of her 2012 personal best of 9:34.49.

Here on Thursday evening, in the cool gloaming of Sacramento, Higginson stepped out onto the Hornet Stadium track to compete in the first round of the 3,000-meter steeplechase national championship race.  With her second year of law school completed and the Morristown, N.J., law firm of Riker, Danzig – her summer internship employer – extending her a week off to compete, Higginson knew this qualifying race presented her with an important opportunity.  She took advantage of it.  Wanting the pace to be an honest one, Higginson went right to the front.  The rest of the field – which included the two Colorado Olympians, Emma Coburn and Shalaya Kipp – was content to let her assume the pacing chores. Coburn – who holds the season’s U.S. steeplechase lead at 9:17.84 – went to work mid-race and began to reel in the Ivy Leaguer. Midway through the final kilometer, Coburn made a gliding and effortless pass by Higginson to win the heat by a second. Higginson finished 2nd, both advancing to Saturday’s final.

“I didn’t know what Emma was going to do, especially with a teammate [Kipp] in the race,” Higginson said in a post-race interview.  “So I just wanted to stay calm and see the hurdle.  I wanted to just like feel the pace, feel the race, see where the hurdles are.  So I am happy and got the job done in the calmest way possible for me.  I just wanted to feel smooth, stay out of trouble, not get hurt, and just get through the race.  I feel that was executed.”

“If I am ever going to beat the infamous Emma Coburn,” Higginson said, “certainly I don’t want it to be the prelim.  She is a class act and having her dictate what is going on is a great way to make sure you get through to the final with one of the best American steeplers ever.” 

When asked about Saturday’s final –an afternoon affair likely to be held in oppressive heat – the 25-year-old Higginson, a native of Colts Neck, N.J., was clear about her race plan.  “To be a great competitor,” she said without hesitation.  “The steeple this year is wonderfully surprising.  I don’t know if there is no pressure so were all running better or what.  Last year, no one could break 9:40 except Emma, who ultimately got hurt.  This year, everyone is popping some fast times and the weather here is beautiful.  So if there is no team to make, why not go out with one of the best runners in the world and try to run PR’s?”

Before heading out for a cooldown, the young law student offered insight into her career plans.  “I am enjoying working at this firm, and they are doing a great job of showing me everything:   litigation, transactional work.  They are obviously pretty corporate.  I am kind of just interested in government affairs and public policy still.  So finding a way to utilize law to be in government affairs may fit well.”  Occasionally mentioned as a future candidate for elective office, Higginson is not ruling out politics.  “Not at all.  Maybe.”  With a laugh, she added, “I don’t know if anybody other than runners would vote for me – and I’m pretty sure a lot of them wouldn’t either.”

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