Rhoades Soars to New Heights
March 11, 2010
By Jeremy Rosenthal
After putting on her cap and gown and getting her high school diploma, instead of celebrating with her friends all summer, Ashley Rhoades underwent ankle surgery to fix stress caused by years of high jumping.
Rhoades, now a senior at Indiana, graduated from Columbia City High School in Columbia City, Ind., where she was a three-time all-state honoree. Upon graduation she was excited to continue her success at the collegiate level.
After a month of training, the pain came back.
For most of her freshman season Rhoades struggled with her confidence and considered giving up jumping. Her best jump came in the Indiana Open II, where she cleared 1.73 meters (5 feet, 8 inches).
During the tough times when she experienced pain and was often frustrated, there were people that kept her going. Rhoades said her parents and her roommates and teammates, Kayla Smith and Vera Neuenswander supported her and tried to keep up her spirits.
When the season concluded, Rhoades had her second ankle surgery.
After recovering from the procedure Rhoades felt much better and developed a more positive attitude.
"I felt like I had a new opportunity to be the high jumper I thought I could be," she said. "I was in a bad frame of mind when the ankle was bothering me all the time, like `maybe I'm not supposed to be doing this, or maybe my body is not going to hold up.' When I was better, I came back and tried everything and nothing was hurting. It was a new frame of mind. I was ready to go out and high jump the best I could."
With a new coaching staff and newly found desire to excel, Rhoades began seeing improvement.
In January 2010, nearly a year after undergoing surgery, she had won a Big Ten championship in the high jump, competed in the regional meet, and qualified for the national meet.
Although she is constantly in the athletic training room and it takes a lot of maintenance to keep her ankle injury-free, Rhoades has been able to build confidence and reach new heights in her senior year at IU.
On Jan. 16, in a dual meet against in-state rival Purdue, Rhoades had a major breakthrough.
In a time period of five seconds, Rhoades eyed the high jump bar, ran towards it, and jumped into the IU record books.
With her clearance of 1.84 meters (6-0.5), she had become the first women in IU track and field history to clear six feet. In doing so she also broke Nathalie Belfort's school record of 5-11.25 that stood for 13 years.
When she hit the mat she bounced back up and raised her arms in celebration. As she walked back she covered her face with her hands and received a group hug from several teammates.
"It was a great day," Rhoades said. "It was so much fun. I had so many of my teammates here watching me and supporting me. I am thankful for that day and I sat there and took in every moment."
Rhoades has since cleared six-feet two more times this season, a height her coach, IU associate head coach Jeff Huntoon said is significant for women's high jumpers.
"For the women in high jump six feet is such a big statement as to who you are," he said. "To do it three times in a season and to have the opportunity to every time increase that personal best a little bit, it's been exciting to be a part of and it's nice to know she has a lot of confidence in what's going on."
The best mark so far for Rhoades came at the Big Ten Indoor Championships, when she jumped 1.85m to capture another title in the event. It wasn't easy though, as two of her clearances came down to her third and final attempt.
Rhoades, who enters the NCAA Indoor Championships this weekend with the fifth best mark in the nation, said she is more confident than she was going into the outdoor national meet last year. Part of the reason is her experience at the Big Ten meet.
"With last week being the rocky start that it was, I feel like for nationals I can take whatever the day gives me and go from there," she said. "I was able to turnaround a horrible start, just jumping very unclean and still clearing a high bar."
Off the track, Rhoades is majoring in apparel merchandising with a minor in business, however, upon graduation she will not be using her degree immediately. Instead she plans to pursue another dream.
Rhoades will stay in Bloomington to train for the 2012 Olympic track and field trials.
After suffering through pain and disappointment, but then rising to the top, Huntoon said the key to her success has been her competitive attitude and improved confidence.
"She is an athlete plain and simple," he said. "She is an athlete that believes in herself now."
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