Ashly Sutherland thinks fast, talks fast, and runs fast—fast enough to be the first cross country Valkyrie in Converse history to race in a national competition. Now a senior, the speedster still runs as hard for Converse as she says Converse runs for her.
“The funny thing about it is that I almost didn’t even run in college,” she says. “I didn’t know that was an option for me because in high school, I was decent but I started so late. All my competitors had been running since middle school and they were all powerhouses.”
At Gaffney High School, she was a cheerleader. Whenever one cheerleader dropped another at practice—Sutherland was usually on top—the coach disciplined them with a run. The “race bug” bit, then colleges started chasing her. She turned down full scholarships for track and cross country, in part because she was more interested in Converse’s renowned theater department.
“It’s crazy, right? But running wasn’t my life at the time. I didn’t feel pressured to come to Converse. I really liked that Converse cared about me as a student, not just as a number on a team.”
She fast became the Valkyries’ No. 1 runner, shattering records, winning awards: Conference Carolinas All-Academic Team with a 3.9 GPA and Athlete of the Year, among many. In November 2013, she was Converse’s first national competitor at the NCAA Division II cross-country finals in Spokane, Washington.
“No matter what my time was or the place I finished in,” she wrote in a published journal, “I ran the race that God set out before me, and that is all I could ever ask for.”
She runs 1,500 meters in less time than it takes to boil an egg and holds a school record in the mile. And she’s captain of the Cross Country team. Off the track and field, she has participated in several plays, including The Yellow Wallpaper, a senior capstone production.
“When it comes to the ideal college athlete, it’s as if Ashly Sutherland stepped out of central casting.”
Says Brandon Morton, head coach of Converse’s Track and Field and Cross Country teams: “She has been the model of what we want every student athlete to be here at Converse by putting in the work academically and athletically. Everyone wants to compete alongside a champion like Ashly.”
Even the Spartanburg Herald-Journal cheers: “When it comes to the ideal college athlete, it’s as if Ashly Sutherland stepped out of central casting.”
After graduation, she will marry a fellow runner, while taking a year off before graduate school, where she plans to combine psychology and theater, perhaps in art therapy.
“Converse has a way of making you feel like you really are making a difference, because when you do something important they congratulate you. I’m not one to boast about what I’ve done. I never want to be seen as cocky because I derive all my strength from God. At Converse, they’re proud of what I’ve done. They’re really like my family.”
Originally published in The Converse Magazine