In 2007, Ashley Brasovan nabbed the most coveted title in high school cross-country when she won the Footlocker Championship. The talented teenager earned an athletic scholarship to Duke University and it looked as though Brasovan was destined for NCAA greatness.
But then she didn’t run a step for her first three years of college.
“I went from the top to rock bottom,” says Brasovan.
Brasovan makes no effort to hide the fact that her injuries were caused by low bone density from the infamous “female athlete triad” that plagues many young, female distance runners. What begins as a small weight loss and faster times can quickly spiral into a desire to be faster and thinner at any cost, which can lead to amenorrhea, hormonal imbalances, osteoporosis, and stress fractures.
Brasovan suffered from four femoral stress fractures as well as one in her metatarsal. Rather than win NCAA championships and gain fame as one of the top Division I runners in the country, Brasovan spent most of her time in the training room and on the sidelines.
However, while many runners would catapult into depression or simply walk away from the sport, Brasovan never gave up.
“I view that time in my life as a blessing in disguise,” she says. “I was forced to essentially take a four-year break so I’m not burned out today like other successful D1 runners.”
Perhaps even more importantly, these tough years taught Brasovan exactly who she was.
“When I was forced to sit out, I had to redefine myself and figure out who is Ashley the person and what else makes me happy outside of running?”
To do this, she had to ask for help, which can be incredibly humbling and even embarrassing.
“I think that’s the elephant in the room, even now,” says Brasovan calmly. “People get embarrassed and don’t want to get help. But I wanted to get through it and go beyond it. I think it takes a mature and determined person to recognize that you have a problem and then seek help to find your way out and back onto your path in life.”
While Brasovan is unemotional about the way she unraveled her issues – even minimizing how difficult this time was – it was not easy for the young, promising athlete with a track scholarship to stay off her feet and have faith in where her life was going.
“I can’t say I wasn’t depressed,” she admits, “But I have a different mindset. I’m not going to sit and wallow. Why would you live life if you are going to do that? So I had to find other things that made me happy and made me fulfilled and made me feel like I was contributing to society. Running will always bring me happiness and fulfillment. But at that time in my life, I had to sit back.”
Still, Brasovan never gave up on running and her success today on both the trails and roads is proof of her determination. She has run a 2:40 marathon, a 1:14 half marathon, and a 35:05 10K. This year, she was eighth at the 2018 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship in Poland and second for Team USA. Last year, she was the US National Champ at the USATF Half marathon Trail Championship in Wisconsin, and in 2016, she was sixth overall at the California International Marathon with a time of 2:41.
As an added benefit of her looking adversity in the eye, Brasovan’s bone density has doubled and she is in a career she loves. A geology and oceanology major in her undergrad years, Brasovan went on to get her masters in energy management, which is a natural choice for someone who loves to be out in nature.
“Growing up in Florida, I was a diver and wanted to save the ocean and save the coral reef. When I graduated from college, I realized that was an unrealistic vision, so in grad school, I decided to pursue energy and water efficiency, which is the space I’m in now. I just kind of took a leap of faith and didn’t think too much about it.”
Clearly, Brasovan was wise to go with her gut, because now it’s obvious that her career aligns with her passion for being out on the trails.
“Just being in the sustainability field in Colorado and working with Parks and Rec departments to preserve open space and trails, indirectly through energy and water efficiency retrofits, connects me to my older ideology and is a good synergy.”
Another good synergy? Brasovan will be hitting the trails at the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship this December in Hawaii and may even sneak in a race at this month’s XTERRA Beaver Creek Trail Run if her schedule aligns.
She has already qualified for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials and recently signed with Hoka One One.
“Hoka has been really supportive of my trail running goals,” says Brasovan. “This year I’m going to stay on the dirt and do the USATF circuit and then XTERRA. I probably won’t switch to the roads until the end of 2019, when I need to get ready for the Olympic Trials in March. Right now that works. Running on the trails is where I want to be.”
Brasovan also doesn’t shy away from the irony that she had to walk away from running in order to truly be successful at the sport.
“I had to learn that life could go on without running,” she says. “What’s different now is that the rest of my life is so stable and I’m relaxed and happy. I have a good, balanced mentality for where I am in my life right now, and I think that shows up in my running, too.”
Photo courtesy trailrun.cz