The last year taught Ashley Sosa to celebrate the small things in life.
Running without pain. Spending time with her mother. Pursuing a career in healthcare.
Those are things at the top of the priority pyramid for the Gainesville High senior after a year filled with running-related injuries and navigating life as a teenager during a national pandemic.
“I’ve learned that there’s really nothing promised or guaranteed so I have to make the most of everything,” said Sosa, who aspires to become a surgeon.
Lacing up her shoes and becoming accomplished in the 3200-meter run has been what has cemented Sosa’s legacy, already the school-record holder with a time of 11 minutes, 26 seconds in the two-mile run in 2020.
However, it’s her reaction to adversity that has set her apart.
No one could have blamed Sosa for putting running in the rearview mirror after myriad injuries since a seemingly-minor injury after her record breaking time at the Marietta Distance Carnival, in 2020, weeks before the coronavirus lockdown, turned out to be a broken foot.
However, to think this young woman with a very keen focus would stop chasing one of her passions, which is to continue running in college, is to not fully understand her story.
And this senior season for Sosa is almost too important for words to describe as she puts all the frustrations from 2020 in the past.
“Ashley is driven to be the very best she can be, athletically and academically,” said Gainesville co-head coach for track and field, Richard Corbett. “I use Ashley as an example for the younger kids to look up to. She’s going to be able to go to college, come out without a lot of debt and she has big dreams for her life.”
Running is something Ashley took up by following in the footsteps of her big brother, Alex, who competes at Emmanuel College. Sosa remembers her first meet coming in eighth grade. At the time, she just wanted to get out of the house and be around other kids.
Sosa said the result of the first race was nothing special.
However, her career evolved rapidly in high school with good coaching and close friends to enjoy the ride.
And with a couple months left in high school, Sosa is putting everything she’s got into improving on her own school record in the two mile and possibly going under 11 minutes.
“I’ve got to make the most out of every race, every practice and give it everything I’ve got,” said Sosa, who will be certified as a nurses assistant this spring through a healthcare-based curriculum.
After a record-breaking day in February, 2020 at Marietta, everything moved fast for Sosa before the world came to a screeching halt from the coronavirus.
She ran a new personal best after a long day of waiting while other races took place.
After waiting for more than 12 hours, she was ready to pack up and head home. It was hard to stay warm and focused on running with so much time simply sitting around.
However, she said, Corbett insisted she get out there and give it a whirl.
Sosa’s glad she did.
Once the race started she was so absent of analyzing the race and turned in a second-place finish, which goes into her collection of ‘30 or 40’ medals from running.
“That race at Marietta was the best thing I’ve done and I totally didn’t expect it,” Sosa said.
However, one bad step after the race, on a raised surface near the inside of the track caused the foot injury, which was originally diagnosed as a bad sprain.
Sosa continued to run but it didn’t feel right.
Weeks later, after turning in another great showing in the 1600 (5:26) and 800 (2:32) at Parkview High, she was diagnosed with a broken foot — the second fracture of her high school career.
That was devastating news. Sosa’s junior season was officially done.
Then the pandemic hit.
And Ashley was left sitting in her apartment with no social interaction from going to school and definitely no running in the near future.
“It was depressing,” she said. “I didn’t have anything to look forward to doing.”
However, there was going to be a silver lining, sooner rather than later.
Ashley started spending more time with her mother Maria. They would watch movies and eat dinner together every night. Conversations were more in-depth. And Sosa really got to know her mother, which may not have happened without everything that was taking place.
Once the injury started to repair, Ashley spent summer nights going on strolls with her mother down the mile-long, walker-friendly stretch of Riverside Drive, down to Riverside Military Academy.
With a clean bill of health, but still dealing with nagging pain, Sosa was cleared to run cross country last fall, where she spent ample time with her junior teammate and close friend Ashley Thompson, who was Hall County and Region 6-7A champion.
Sosa would endure another series of injuries during the Hall County meet this fall, which she thought was a stress fracture, at first, but was a sprained ankle with ligament damage in the right ankle. Also, she found out there was some arthritis involved.
However, Sosa is back at practice and healthy for the stretch run of her senior track and field season.
Last week, she ran a season-best 11:36 at West Forsyth.
Since Sosa is a senior, she tries to be a leader in practice. Making sure stretching is done properly is a big deal for her.
Sosa is also fond of the atmosphere when assistant coach Dani Little is at the track.
“Coach Little makes everyone laugh,” Sosa said. “It’s way better when she’s out there.”
Corbett said that Sosa’s accomplishments are a result of self-determination, which is something to put on a pedestal.
“My goal is for these kids to get out of Gainesville, go out and explore the world,” Corbett said.