Not a great number of pure athletes come through Southwest Virginia. Even fewer of those athletes capitalize on their abilities and become winners.
Former Gate City standout Ashton Bishop Williams is one of the latter.
Last competing for the Lady Blue Devils in 2007, Williams finished her illustrious track and field career with nine individual VHSL Group A championships and three runner-up finishes. She was a 14-time all-state honoree.
“Those were great times in high school and it’s crazy to look back now and think that it was over a decade ago,” Williams said. “We didn’t have the best facilities, but I was blessed to have great relationships with some of the area’s best track coaches. There was a lot of time management involved and there were a lot of late nights.”
Brent Roberts, now Gate City’s athletic director, was a witness to Williams’ feats.
“I remember (former Powell Valley track coach) Phil Robbins came up to me one time in her freshman year when we went over to a meet and said she would end up doing more for girls track and field than anyone had done in 25 years,” Roberts said. “She was an absolute pleasure to coach and was always asking if she could do more in order to get better.”
“I remember that we used to do a lot of hills with Coach Roberts,” Bishop said. “He would always say, ‘I’m going to make you puke, Bishop,’ and I would always bet him that he wouldn’t. I don’t think he ever did.
“I ran a lot with the boys, too,” she added, “and they ran harder because they wouldn’t want to get beat by a girl.”
More than a dozen years have passed, but Williams still holds seven individual school records. She also was part of the 1,600-meter relay that ran a 4:14.77.
The individual records she collected while at Gate City were:
• 400-meter run (58.26)
• 800-meter run (2:14.69)
• 1,600-meter run (5:14.90)
• 3,200-meter run (12:47.0)
• 100-meter hurdles (15.16)
• 300-meter hurdles (45.35)
• High jump (5-7)
Williams’ mother, Lisa, still owns the school record in the 200, though.
“I was able to beat my mom’s 400 record, but I told her that I left the 200 for her,” Williams said. “That’s a special thing that we share. I never really had any flat-out footspeed to get her 200 record.
“It was always cool to walk into the gym and see our names up on the board together.”
Williams won the high jump competition and 300 hurdles at the state meet three times. She also won the 100 hurdles twice.
When she won the high jump in her senior season, her leap of 5-7 was only a half-inch from tying the 17-year-old state meet record.
“That high jump my senior year was something to experience,” she said. “I remember thinking that 5-7 was a big deal across A, AA and AAA because not many girls had cleared that the whole year and my previous best was only 5-5. ... I worked a lot on hurdles and traveled to like Powell Valley or D-B because Gate City didn’t have a rubberized track and doing hurdles on the asphalt is not a good idea.”
“We used to run a lot of 400s,” said Roberts, who coached boys track at the time. “She would come to the boys’ track practices and she would push them. When we went to the Times News Relays in 2007, all of the eyes were on her.”
Williams wound up winning the 100 and 300 hurdles and the high jump that day. Her time in the 300 hurdles toppled the meet record.
And for good measure, she was also a two-time all-state performer in cross country in 2003 and 2005.
“I remember when I was on the volleyball team that I would come home from cross country races in the middle of the week and go into the gym and hit balls,” Williams said. “That required a lot of time management. ... I remember that I ran in the district and regional meets my senior year to help the team advance to the state meet, but I didn’t run state. I convinced my parents that I didn’t need to because I had already signed my scholarship papers.”
THAT PESKY 800
Having good range doesn’t always translate to winning everything you enter, and Williams knows that well.
She finished as the state runner-up in the 800 meters a heartbreaking three times.
“That still haunts me to this day because that was one of the races that I was one of the best in the state at, time-wise,” she said.
Her personal best in the two-lap race came during the Times News Relays in 2005 when she clocked 2:14.69 — still the meet record.
Each time she ran the 800 at state, she lost by less than two seconds after being in position to win on the final lap.
“I remember in my either my sophomore or junior year, I tried to strategize to get the win, but I lost in the last like 100 meters of the race,” Williams noted. “I was kicking myself afterwards because I knew if I had just run all out then I might have won.”
Despite her best efforts, Williams did not develop into the star she set out to be during her collegiate career at East Tennessee State.
“I remember there were all these articles out saying that I might have been one of the best female recruits that ETSU had gotten in a while and I think that I put a lot of pressure on myself,” she said.
In the Bucs’ indoor campaign her freshman season, Williams posted a fifth-place finish in the pentathlon at the Atlantic Sun Conference championships.
During her sophomore outdoor season, she was part of the conference title-winning 4x400 relay that also broke the school record.
Over her four-year career, Williams scored for the Bucs 11 times and posted two individual wins.
She kept that award-winning smile through it all.
“It was frustrating because I think I peaked a little too early and I was seeing all of my teammates perform well in college,” she said. “It wasn’t like I didn’t help the team, though. I scored in a lot of meets and I think my highest placing was fourth in the high jump one year. But if I had high jumped 5-7 again or ran 2:14 like I did in high school, I could have been in contention for some of the wins at conference.
“It is what it is, though,” Williams noted, “and I did try to smile the whole way through.”
Everything Williams touched in high school seemed to turn to state championship gold.
As a guard on the basketball team, Williams was a key contributor to the 2006 state championship squad. She was front left and backup setter on the 2005 state championship volleyball team.
“We had a lot of interchangeable parts on the basketball team that year and even though it took us a while to mesh, that was a special team with Coach (Hugh) Godsey,” she said.
“I really did love volleyball and that is one of my biggest regrets not putting more time into it. My sister went to college for volleyball and I was super jealous.”
In essence, not an academic year went by during Williams’ time at Gate City that there was not a state title won in any sport.
“I feel like being in that small community of Gate City and everyone keeping up with the sports is a generational thing,” Williams said. “My parents still live in Gate City and they keep up with everything. If I run into people from Gate City, they’ll ask if I still run. I haven’t run anything in a while and even the thought of a 5K makes me sick.
“Gate City is definitely a special place and has that sense of being a big family.”