The NSAF’s indoor and outdoor championship meets have seen a lot of great weight and hammer performances over the years, many of them coming from the outstanding student athletes developed in Coach Mike Judge’s Throw 1 Deep club.
Arguably the finest of those T1D/NSAF efforts came during the first New Balance Nationals Indoor at The Armory in 2011, as Shelby Ashe completed her indoor career with an epic national record 68-foot, 2.5-inch weight throw – which along with Lukas Verzbicas’ distance triple was a huge highlight of the final day and the weekend overall.
Ashe had set the previous HSR of 65-4.25 in the same ring the previous year (at the old NSIC meet) and had also thrown more than 69 feet outdoors. But that Sunday at 2011 NBNI holds a special place for her. “It’s an especially fine memory because it was also my 18th birthday,” she says now. “It was a very cool experience.”
Ashe went on to study and compete at the NCAA level, graduating U. of Georgia this past spring and pursuing exciting educational opportunities in D.C. (see below). But she recalls what went down back during her sophomore year at St. Pius X (Atlanta, Ga.) in 2009, while she was training for and competing in the shot and discus. “A few of my teammates were with Throw 1 Deep and told me I should come to a mini-camp there.”
Coach Judge remembers Ashe showed a little doubt and resistance at first during that spring introduction. But she soon discovered T1D was serious business and that she herself had serious potential. “He told me and my father that he could train me to be a pretty good putter, but that I could be great in the hammer and weight … and that was all she wrote!”
Once Ashe was on-board, she was all in. “Shelby was a special athlete,” says Coach Judge, “but she also worked harder, too, and she listened to everything we said; I mean, really listened.”
She also began to make a total commitment to the event, he added, and what it would take for her to become great. “Probably the best thing Shelby did was change her diet. She went from eating like a teenager to eating like a top athlete. And she got in the gym and got stronger.
“Shelby had great parental support, too,” Coach Judge added, giving a shoutout to Al Ashe and Rosa-McDaniel Ashe. “It always makes a big difference when parents buy in to our program.”
Her efforts paid fast dividends. After hitting 136 feet in the hammer that summer of 2009, Ashe made dramatic progress to begin her junior year. By November, she was over 55 feet in the weight, then 59 in January. In February, she blasted through the 60-foot barrier to win the Simplot Games. Finally in her first trip to The Armory, she crushed the national record with the 65-4.25 at NSIC.
It was pretty heady stuff, but outdoors brought more of the same success: Ashe had already improved by the end of the fall to nearly 200 feet even while the weight season was ongoing, and she progressed to a national prep and U.S. Junior record 214-4 in the hammer. She made both the U.S. Youth Olympic and World Junior teams – the latter by winning her first USA Junior title.
That brought Ashe to her senior year of 2010-11. She set a stunning new weight PR of 69-4.5 outdoors in January, but come March, her official indoor HSR from the previous year still stood. As Coach Judge notes, it can be stressful after a breakthrough year of almost unlimited success – and come back and beat your own records.
Entering NBNI weekend, a cauldron of thoughts and emotions swirled through Ashe’s head. She knew she was in “70- or 71-foot shape,” but there were “struggles with pressure and expectations.” The energy at The Armory would be high and the competition tough. Ashe’s teammate Daina Levy, who Coach Judge called “the perfect training partner,” was certainly capable of winning, too.
“That’s where it was so great to have Coach Judge and Coach Ronda Broome,” Ashe says. “Mike was able to give me perspective … and let my mind rest. I had to trust the process. I had done the work already.”
When Ashe’s first throw hit the cage, however, Coach Judge advised a key adjustment. “We had been training for three turns,” he recalls. “When she threw at USAs, she used three turns. But when her first throw hit the cage, we decided to go back to two turns.”
Ashe then got in her groove and on the next throw broke her record with 66-10.75. She would have four throws over 65 feet, with the 68-2.5 bomb coming on attempt #4.
The final record, she says, was both a thrill and relief. “I can’t always tell how far a throw is … but I let out a yell on that one and I thought it might be special. Then I heard the crowd and I got that rush. The second time was even sweeter than the first.”
As a senior outdoors, Ashe would hit 211-1 – not breaking her HSR there, but consistently marking further than she went as a junior. She won her first NBNO crown, her 2nd USA Junior title, and went to Florida for Pan Am Juniors in July, where she captured gold.
Ashe then took a “gap” year in 2011-12, before college, to train with Coach Judge for the Olympic Trials and World Juniors – winning her 3rd U.S. Junior title (with a U.S. Jr record 223-6) and making her 4th Team USA in the latter to earn her vest for Eugene.
As a collegian, Ashe had some ups and downs, going to Cal for two years before transferring “back home” to UGA – where she was a team captain and NCAA All-American. It was never easy, as Ashe fought a nagging hip injury for most of her career. “After I walked off that stage for graduation this past May,” she says, “I finally had hip surgery.”
At that point, with her B.A.’s in Political Science and International Affairs (Concentration: National Security) in hand, the Peach State throws queen was willing to amicably part ways with her athletic career and move on . The 24-year-old is now a M.A. Global Communication candidate at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs and served this past fall as a Public Affairs Intern with the Dershowitz Group.
Coach Judge admits, however, that he holds out a little hope that Ashe might come back to train and compete someday. “Shelby has coached at our camps and we talk all the time. I consider her to be part of my family, like one of my daughters … I’d be there to help her at any time.”
Ashe doesn’t currently have plans for a comeback, but treasures her experiences in the sport in high school, as a student-athlete at UGA and what they’ve contributed to where she is now. “Mike was demanding in a way I really appreciated,” she says. “He had high expectations and demanded excellence. I can’t say enough about what he and the club did for me.
“I’ve had a lot of positive moments since I came to D.C.,” she says, “and I know a lot of it can be traced back to the character development I received with Throw 1 Deep and Mike.”
Photos: Action shot and record board shot with Shelby and Coach Judge from 2011 NBNI by Vic Sailer, Photorun.net. Current photo courtesy of Shelby Ashe (ShelbyAshe.com).