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Graham on fast track to success

By Ken McMillan
April 13, 2007

Slate Hill

Being quick of mind and quick of feet has served Ashley Graham well.

The Minisink Valley sophomore has become an accomplished sprinter, a state qualifier in the long jump and a creative problem solver in academic competition.

She's merely exercising both sides of her brain, Graham says, and having fun while testing her limits.

For the past seven years, Graham has participated in Odyssey of the Mind, an after-school club program that encourages quick thinking and creativity to answer questions and find solutions to problems.

The Minisink Odyssey team that Ashley and her older brother, Matt, compete on has been to seven state competitions and four world events.

"You learn a lot from Odyssey, going to meetings and meeting people from around the world," Graham said. "It's a great experience, whether you come in last place or first. Just getting there and building up for it (for so) many hours and days on end where you are frustrated and can't find a solution X to finally see the finished product is an amazing accomplishment."

It's the same feeling Graham gets after breaking down barriers on the track. Slipping under 60 seconds in the 400-meter dash last year was a huge accomplishment for Graham, who has since lowered her best to 58.9 (her goal this season is 56.4). Though only 5-foot-2, she made huge strides during the winter season, improving her long jump by more than six inches (to 16 feet, 10 inches) and qualifying for the state championships for the first time.

"Having gone to states in the long jump really helped her,'' said Minisink Valley coach Christina Blanarovich. "It gave her that confidence that she needed.''

Bob Graham coached track at Goshen for a number of years, and young Ashley would follow her father to meets. She showed her speed on the soccer field, then decided to give track a try in seventh grade and liked it.

Graham caught the eye of Blanarovich early on. "I knew instantly this was a girl I have to watch," Blanarovich said.

At the end of her eighth-grade year, Blanarovich had Graham practice with the varsity athletes a few days a week to see what she could do. "Those practices would kick her butt," the coach said, "but she loved it. You could see in her eyes, 'I kind of like that.' "

Graham pushed herself to exhaustion, often to the point of having to throw up at the end of a hard 400-meter run, and then returned for more.

"It takes a lot of motivation to even go that far, pushing yourself to do that," Graham said. "It's a challenge for me. I love that."

Graham is an honor roll student and takes accelerated classes. She doesn't know what she wants to do in life just yet, but her coach is not worried.

"She can do anything that she wants," Blanarovich said. "This is a kid who has talent, she is a good-looking kid, she is a smart kid, she has athletic ability, she has artistic ability. She has everything."

She does have her "blonde" moments, though, her coach says.

"She makes jokes that I am so smart and yet I lack common sense," Bob Graham said. "During track, the most simple things she says I have questions about and the more complicated things I get like right away, so she is puzzled about that."

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