Colorado State’s Ashley Reid heads to the Mountain West Outdoor Championships feeling positive about her chances at the meet and her direction in
Colorado State's Ashley Reid heads to the Mountain West Outdoor Championships feeling positive about her chances at the meet and her direction in life. (Jenny Sparks / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

FORT COLLINS — Second chances require a starting point. And an explanation.

Ashley Reid had the first part covered with her abilities as a track athlete, but she was unsure how far she could go to meet the second requirement.

"Those first impressions, when you first meet them and you're getting to know them, you don't really let out all of your secrets at first," she said. "It kind of became more natural to be myself and not worry about how it sounded or what I said."

It's hard to tell potential coaches the gifted student-athlete from Olathe East (Kans.) High School tried her best to throw her future away in less than a year at Kansas State. That the young lady with the warm personality and radiant smile wasn't mature enough for the next step. That she felt somewhat dumb and naive looking back at how she fell into the wrong crowd, partied too much and found herself in regrettable situations.

It's definitely not easy to tell somebody it all made you want to end your life by swallowing a bottle of pills.

"The lowest point, easy, was probably the day after I tried to commit suicide," Reid said. "After that day, I of course was reflecting a lot. I had a lot of people telling me great things about me, because they were scared, they didn't know what to do. They wanted me to know I was loved and supported, even though I had made mistakes. They were trying to tell me my mistakes weren't as big as I thought, that I could get past them. Hearing all of these people say these things about me, I started to think about what happened and how did I get to this point. I was in a low place, because I couldn't believe in the things they were telling me at the time.


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"The partying was new, but the low self esteem and not believing in myself, that was completely brand new. I had never felt that way before. That was a low point for me, because I knew that shouldn't be the case, so I started to work on that point."

First, she had to tell the story to Brian Batliner, the jumps coach at Johnson County Community College in Kansas. And when her two years had run out there, complete with three national runner-up finishes in the high jump and triple jump at the indoor and outdoor junior college national championships, she had to tell it again to Colorado State's Tim Cawley.

"When I asked her for her story, she made no excuses, took the blame all on herself," Cawley said. "She gave me a pretty good honest answer, and that was one of the things that caught me off guard. A lot of times you ask what happened, 'well, the coach did this or that.' It's always some other, but she was straight-forward honest and said I screwed up; I didn't do what I was supposed to do. It's refreshing to hear somebody with that accountability."

By then, she had more of a story to tell, one that's only grown in her time at Fort Collins.

Ashley Reid has set personal bests of 5 feet, 10.5 inches in the high jump and 40-4.75 in the triple jump, making her a contender to place in both events
Ashley Reid has set personal bests of 5 feet, 10.5 inches in the high jump and 40-4.75 in the triple jump, making her a contender to place in both events at the Mountain West Outdoor Championships this weekend in Wyoming. (Colorado State University)

Trying to put Kansas State behind her wasn't as easy as leaving and heading close to home, and Batliner found that a bit of the wild child still existed because she still had bad influences in her life. This time, it was her fiance who also returned home. Reid had chosen him over her mother and step father, and Batliner knew immediately it was volatile situation.

"It was really ridiculous what was going on, and finally I just told her exactly how I felt about the people she was hanging out with and the life she was living, so you need to get it on track," he said. "I talked to our head coach, and we talked to her about staying in a stable environment."

She needed one desperately, because nearly a year after she tried to take her own life, a drunken driver took that of her brother, Peyton, who was just 21 at the time.

More reflection, this time on just how sudden a life can be taken. Then her fiance gave her a final push when during an argument he pulled a gun on her.

"That was the tipping point," she said. "That's not cool, and I didn't know how to handle it, but I knew if it happened once, it could happen again, and it could be worse the next time around. I got lucky."

From there on, Batliner saw a huge change in Reid. She buckled down in the classroom and on the track. She made an impression on a freshman, Macy Ebert, who considered Reid a role model, and it was a label she wanted to prove she was worthy of holding.

Reid then went out and was named regional athlete of the year at the indoor and outdoor meets and a national runner-up at both meets in the high jump before being tabbed JCCC's female athlete of the year by the athletic department.

It was with her move to CSU that Reid started to reconcile with her mother, Angela Reid-Jordan, and the two speak daily now. It was a relationship that had to be repaired by a daughter who realized her actions hurt more than herself.

"She was mom of the year every year, and the way I treated her was not the way she deserved to be treated at all, so I know it was hard for her," Reid said. "I'm just glad that now I can try to make it up. I don't know if I'll ever be able to make it up, but I won't stop trying."

Once again, Reid felt renewed by life. She also knew full well life has a way of testing you.

"I've had hardship after hardship, but that was the point where my hardships were no longer self inflicted or things that I could control," she said

A few weeks before the Mountain West Outdoor Championships last year, she was walking home in a May snowstorm after taking a test — her only class not cancelled — when she was struck behind by a car and vaulted 20 feet into a neighbor's driveway.

"I get up and I was like, 'I think I'm OK,'" Reid recalled. "My jeans were cut and I had scrapes, but it wasn't bad. I even stretched and I think I'm good."

She wasn't. When she reached home and tried to lay down, her neck tightened up and her back started to spasm, putting her in immense pain. The accident kept her out of practice leading up to conference, and the coaches wanted her to relax and heal.

"She said, 'No, I'm going to do it,'" said Cathleen Cawley, Tim's wife and Reid's high jump coach. "We had a lot of talks among the staff. We had an extra roster spot, so there was the expectation from the start that if it was a no-go it was a no-go. We were on the side of discouraging her and trying to encourage her to look out for herself and her well-being. That's Ashley for you."

The biggest push for Reid to compete was the meet was in Las Vegas, her original hometown where her father and step mother live, and her mom and sister were going to be there to watch her compete for the first time collegiately.

"I was estranged from them at Johnson County, so they didn't know what I was doing in my sport," Reid said. "I wanted to show them that I'm doing good. My sister was there watching me, and I knew she had rearranged a doctor's appointment for a kidney biopsy just to watch me compete. So in my mind, no matter how much pain I was in, I was going to show my family that I could compete with the best of the best at this level, in this conference. I just had to put the pain away. That's just what I did."

Tim saw her crying behind a tent during the triple jump and urged her to stop. She didn't, placing third in the high jump, eighth in the long jump and earning enough points to move the Rams from fourth to third in the team standings.

Reid landed a great job for the summer at the university working under the director for policy and compliance, altering her plans to return to Las Vegas. Then she received a text from her sister, Erica Johnson, that Erica was in the hospital with a stomach ache, but it wasn't serious.

It was, and Reid returned home to help care for her younger brother, only to find out Johnson had lupus that had attacked aggressively and spread to tumors on her brain. There were a series of tests and surgeries, leaving Reid to consider putting on hold her final year of college, only Johnson kept urging her to go back.

Deep down, Reid said she knew, and in October the call came that Johnson, two years younger, had passed.

"It was a huge hit for me. Even through the K-State days, the Johnson County days, Erica was that one person in my life that knew everything," Reid said. "We kept in touch. She was younger than me, so she never gave me any advice, she was just like, 'I love you, you'll get it together,' and then she'd tell me about the drama in her life.

"She was my person. She was my best friend. Again, it brought up emotions of me trying to kill myself, knowing she fought for her life and lost hers, and I was in a place before where I wasn't willing to do the same. She inspired me to make the effort that nobody else had to go through what she went through."

That culminated this past Saturday when, with the help and blessing of the university and the athletic department, Reid hosted the E.R.I.C.A (Enhancing, Research, Improving, Constant Awareness) lupus awareness walk on campus, drawing speakers and a strong turnout, as well as a day of tears in remembrance from Reid.

"She is the definition of adversity, of overcoming tough times and letting it not define her, but deciding how to define herself," Cathleen said. "She sits down and thinks about her future, what does she want to do and who does she know who can help her get there.

She's never afraid of reaching out to somebody and asking questions. That makes everybody she meets want to help her that much more."

Reid is set to graduate this weekend with a degree in liberal arts and a focus in media studies and Spanish. She plans to apply for the Student Affairs of Higher Education graduate program and get her Master's degree. She'll move in with former Ram and Olympian Janay DeLoach and continue to see what she can do in the triple jump.

She still has another chance in college as the Mountain West Outdoor Championships take place this weekend at Wyoming, forcing her to miss commencement.

She will compete in both the high jump and triple jump on Saturday, with the back-to-back placing ideal to her coaches.

Reid too, as she believes she has a shot to place well in both events with a return trip to nationals a real possibility for her. She carries personal bests of 5 feet, 10.5 inches in the high jump, 40-4.75 in the triple jump.

"It's above 10. It's out the roof," she said of her anticipation level. "I'm just excited to go, and the pressure that I have to do well is driving me to know that I am going to do well. I've always thrived under pressure and I haven't really felt pressure this year. Everything is OK, just get through it, has been the theme of the year for me."

Which, in itself, is a step forward. She admits when things are going too well in her life, her natural reaction is to brace for the next hit.

So every morning, she walks up a little bit earlier than she has to and writes daily devotionals and reads from a scripture book. She goes through them, puts them in categories and sends them out to a group of 50 or 60 people throughout the week via text, email or Facebook, leading to discussions. She has found they help others as much as they help her, and as her walk through life has showed her, everybody can use all the help they can get.

"It's really surreal, to think about all I've been through to get to this point, it actually makes me appreciate this moment so much more and appreciate all those little things," she said. "Not just the big moments, like nationals and conference, but the going to practice every day for the past 251 days. Seeing my teammates and being, 'hey, I've built these relationships and I'm on this amazing team.'

"I'm graduating from this accredited university. The little things, like being able to be here on campus and interact with such amazing people, that's what really means the most to me and kind of made all that past stuff worth it. I'm a better person for that, and I'm able to be a better person for both people."