Name: Ashton Hughes
By: Aliah Molczan
Hi Ashton, welcome to PRTC and thank you for agreeing to an interview! Please tell us a little about yourself and what brings you to the Philly area.
First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to share a little bit about myself with the greater PRTC group! I’m Ashton and, as you said, I am new to the Philly area as of this fall. I graduated from undergrad at SUNY Geneseo in Upstate NY in the spring, and didn’t really know yet what I wanted to do in the “real world.” Luckily, my boyfriend, Sean, who has been running occasionally with PRTC and competed with me at Geneseo, was starting at UPenn (Ph.D. in Communications) in the fall, so I packed up and decided to move down here with him for the time being!
Can you tell us how you became a runner? What is it that drew you to the sport?
I started running cross country in 8th grade, at the strong recommendation of my mother. I ran cross country and indoor track all through high school, but I was a diehard softball player in the spring. It wasn’t until my last indoor meet in high school that I realized that running was where my passion lay. I realized that all my best friends were my runner friends, and that running was much less about politics and much more about how well you could do as an individual, both of which still keep me running today!
Once you became a runner, how did your career progress? What keeps you motivated to run today?
My running career has been a fortunate one in many ways. I came into Geneseo expecting to have to work my way up for a couple years, but found myself going to Nationals in cross country as a freshman. My progress was never really linear, however. After becoming anemic at various times and being seriously overtrained my entire senior year, my career has tended to look more like a sine curve than a straight line. Despite all of it, I find that my teammates have always kept me motivated. Knowing that I had the potential to make a difference on my team and to be part of a success greater than myself has always kept me going forward, even when I may have wanted to give up.
Being a recent college grad, I bet you still have that collegiate competitive edge. Is that true? Do you have any racing goals you’d like to accomplish while living in Philadelphia?
Given that I met very few goals during my senior year, I would say that my competitive edge is alive and well! I definitely have some goals in mind for the long-term, but I’m still working on building back up slowly, so I know they might not come for a while. High on my list is taking down my 5k PR – my current PR (18:01) was set en route to my 10k PR, but I didn’t get to run a 5k that season, so I know I have the potential to run much faster!
What were some of your most memorable moments as a member of the SUNY Geneseo team?
This is a hard one, but I can narrow it down to two. The first was qualifying for nationals in the 10k my junior year. It was the first year I ever tried the event, and I had already raced three 10ks that season, but I had one meet left to try to make nationals. The race was going really well, and I was on track (pun intended) to drop the 25 seconds I needed to qualify, and my team was going nuts. I can distinctly remember my coach, a normally less expressive figure, jumping up and down with 500m to go and cheering me on. It felt amazing to achieve a goal that had seemed unreachable, especially with the support of those around me.
Second was our team coming in 2nd at last year’s NCAA Nationals. We had come into the meet ranked to get on the podium, and the race ended up being a really tough fight. I remember standing around with my teammates afterward, knowing we did well, but waiting for official results. When someone told us that we had finished second, all I can remember was everyone screaming and hugging my two best friends. Some wonderful soul got a picture of that moment, and it’s a moment of happiness that I will take with me through all my running endeavors.
How are you spending your time in Philadelphia? Can you share some interesting stories about your current profession?
Well, before I was even done with college, I joked with my friends that I was going to become a dog walker when I moved to Philadelphia. I’ve always been a huge animal lover, and in a dream world it seemed like the perfect job. Well, 4 months later, I now work for a company called PhilaPets, and spend a few days a week walking dogs and cat sitting! It is definitely an interesting experience – I’ve had to learn how to bike in and around the city to get to different pets and there are definitely challenges with different pet personalities, but all in all, I’m getting paid to hang out with some pretty great dogs and cats. I can’t think of any interesting stories in particular, but my favorite dog I “walk” is a super lazy miniature bulldog who much prefers to sit and get belly rubs than actually go for her walk!
How has moving to Philadelphia broadened your horizons; what is something you’ve learned or experienced that you hadn’t realized before?
Moving to Philadelphia has definitely broadened my horizons – I grew up in a suburb of Rochester, NY, and went to college only about 45 minutes away in a relatively quiet small town. Moving to one of the largest cities in the country after growing up in places with a lot less people has been eye-opening. It makes me think a lot about the concept of sonder – the idea that every person experiences a life that is as vivid and complex as one’s own life.
I know applying to grad school is something you’re contemplating. Can you tell us about your field of interest and what you would hope to accomplish with your graduate degree?
I have finally started the simultaneously arduous and exciting process of applying to grad school. In undergrad, I studied Geography, which is incredibly broad and no one really knows what it is by definition. The common analogy is that History is the study of anything over time, Geography is the study of anything over space. In brief, in grad school, I’m hoping to continue research that I started in undergrad about the social and environmental impacts of the US military abroad from a neocolonial and feminist perspective.
Outside of running and work, how do you enjoy your free time?
Since both running and work are very active endeavors, I tend to take my free time in a lazy fashion. I love to read, watch TV (currently binging on The West Wing), crochet a little, and cook good vegetarian food if I’m feeling ambitious. On days when I’m not working, you can often find me sipping coffee in the Green Line Cafe a couple blocks away from my apartment!
Is there anything else you may like us to know? Any hidden talents, interests or ambitions?
In recent years I have caught the travel bug – I’m one of the few people who loves being in airports! This past summer Sean and I spent 11 days traversing across Europe (we saw Copenhagen, Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, and Paris). I have a few “goal” trips kicking around in the back of my mind, including traveling to England, Scottland, and Wales to visit some of the places that my ancestors are from, or maybe going across the US by train!