The rigors of law school present hurdles for many students. But Ashley Higginson, 24, is taking them all in stride – both at Rutgers School of Law-Newark and on the track.
The Colts Neck native and second-year law student is simultaneously working toward earning her law degree in 2015 and becoming an Olympic runner a year later.
A mere two seconds stood between Higginson and her dream of joining the 2012 U.S. Olympic team when she finished fourth in the steeplechase at the Olympic Trials. Already focused on qualifying for the 2016 summer games in Rio, Higginson extended her training beyond the school year to compete in the steeplechase this August at the IAAF (track and field) World Championships in Moscow. She finished as the top American with a time of 9:45.
“It is just awesome to know that this year I trained and went to school and did this whole thing my way, and it seems to have paid off,” she said. “It’s a whole new level to dedicate three more years to grad school and four more years to running. I’ve grown up a lot by having little time to do the silly stuff.”
Moscow was unlike any other foreign city Higginson had ever visited in that the lack of English speakers made navigating the city a real adventure. Luckily, Higginson, whose mother immigrated to the United States from Poland as a teen, is fluent in Polish and studied Russian for several years, which allowed her communicate better than most.
Celebrated in 2005 by Wired Magazine as “the coolest Olympic event you’ve never heard of,” the steeplechase is a 3,000 meter race in which runners must clear 28 hurdles and seven water jumps.
“It is so different than normal distance runs, in that every 60 meters there is a more pressing matter than just lap after lap to consider, like a huge barrier that is not going to move out of your way,” said Higginson who was drawn to the steeplechase because of “the athleticism and unique focus it takes to execute the race.”
That same focus has allowed Higginson balance her academic and athletic pursuits for years. While studying politics at Princeton University, she was a rising star on both the cross country and track teams where she won Academic-All America, Academic All Ivy in Track and Field, and NCAA All-America honors multiple times.
After graduating from Princeton in 2011, Higginson took a year off to train for the 2012 Olympics. Part of what drew her to Rutgers–Newark, is its proximity to her supportive family and a top-notch track club.
“It’s nice to have a bunch of friends who are in the same boat,” she said of her fellow New Jersey-New York Track Club members, “because they are not going out on Friday nights and taking long weekend taking trips away.”
To successfully juggle school and training, a strict schedule is required, said Higginson, who logs 70 to 80 miles and squeezes in strength training and physical therapy every week between her law courses and pro bono clinic work.
“So if you see me sneaking out of school between classes in athletic clothes, that’s why!” she said.
Higginson realizes that others may see her decision to attend law school while training for the world stage as overly ambitious. Though it can be a bit hectic, she said tackling both prevents her from focusing solely on running, which she credits with preserving her passion for the sport.
“The reason you become good is those day-to-day, in-and-out runs that should come from a love of the sport,” she said. “School helps me keep running a pure thing.”
Higginson is not sure how she intends to use her law degree but said she can envision becoming involved in Urban Law and City Planning or serving the public in some capacity.
“It’s a really big year to think about why you’re going to law school and what you want to do with your career,” she said. “It’s time to think about where everything fits in once running ends – even though that’s a while away now.”