YOAKUM – Road construction delayed Ashtin Zamzow’s drive from Austin for a family reunion.
But it was simply a bump in the road for someone who has consistently relied on determination and desire to overcome obstacles.
Zamzow, 22, is less than a month away from becoming the University of Texas’ first NCAA champion in the heptathlon and being named a semifinalist for The Bowerman, which recognizes the top male and female track and field athletes in the nation.
But she hasn’t forgotten what led her from being a gold medalist at the UIL state meet in high school in Goliad to the top of the medal stand at the NCAA Outdoor Championships at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin.
“Coming from a small town and being such a great athlete, you win everything,” she said. “You get a scholarship to run at a Division I college, and you’re kind of taken aback because you’re competing against seniors who are four or five years older than you and they’re kicking your butt like I never knew how to run track. But it was a wake-up call.”
Zamzow spent a year at Texas A&M – the alma mater of her father and high school coach Stacy and mother and former heptathlete Kalleen – before transferring to Texas, and the climb to the top of the heptathlon pack proved to be a steep one.
She dealt with various injuries and trained under eight different coaches in five years.
“It was always a learning experience with every injury, with every new year and new team,” Zamzow said. “I loved and appreciated every minute of it because it made me who I am – a tough athlete who can put up with adversity. I really appreciate everything UT and A&M have provided me because it has given me opportunities like this.”
Zamzow won two Big 12 indoor pentathlon titles before becoming the first Texas athlete to win a Big 12 championship in the heptathlon.
Zamzow’s progress impressed Texas multi-events coach Matt McGee, but what set her apart was her demeanor.
“She has a lot of natural, physical ability and a lot of determination and drive and is a really dedicated athlete and also a very kindhearted athlete as well,” McGee said. “She really wants to do well but cares about things other than her performance. It makes her a pleasure to work with.”
Zamzow could sense the pressure as she prepared for the NCAA meet, which was held on her home track in front of family and friends, including fiancée and Texas decathlete Wolf Mahler.
“It was a lot of expectations, and I put a lot on myself,” she said. “A lot of my family came to watch and some I didn’t even know were coming. I was a little nervous, but it was kind of like a comfortable nervous because it was at my home field.”
After setting a personal best in the 100-meter hurdles, disaster nearly struck as Zamzow missed her first two attempts in the high jump.
“I was either going to no-height and screw it up or clear the bar,” she said. “I ended up clearing the bar. My legs were shaking there.”
Zamzow set personal bests in three of her four first-day events but still stood in second place behind Texas A&M’s Tyra Gittens.
“I was more competitive than anything,” Zamzow said. “I knew it was going to be tough. I knew she was going to put up a fight, and I wanted that. That pushed me to PR and to get better and put up a better score. It was more of a motivation to keep doing better. I think that’s what pushed me so ahead.”
Zamzow not only had to overcome Gittens in the second day’s final three events, but she had to do it while battling a sore knee.
“I sprained the ACL in my right leg during the high jump on the first day,” she said. “It was hard waking up and not being able to straighten it.”
Zamzow shook off the injury with some help from the trainers and took the lead with a personal best in the long jump, extended it in the javelin throw and secured the title in the 800-meter run.
Zamzow broke her own school record by scoring 6,222 points and became only the second athlete to win the NCAA heptathlon title on her home track.
“It’s an indescribable feeling,” she said. “To now be among the top few athletes in the country to receive such a prestigious award is beyond belief, and I thank God every day for it.”
Zamzow has already earned her bachelor’s degree and is interning at a real estate development company in Austin while she trains.
Her next event will be the U.S. Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, in July followed by either the World Championships in Qatar or the Thorpe Cup in Germany.
Zamzow’s goal is to compete at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, but not before marrying Mahler in January.
“To kind of finish out the way I did at nationals was like icing on top of the cake because it was home crowd, the family was here and everyone that meant something to me was there to share it with,” she said. “It was such a hard journey; it made it so sweet.
“And Wolf, of course, has always believed in me. It was a vision I never thought I would even be able to dream about. He was always pushing me to do better, be better, to fight. I wanted to win for him.”