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Racing Past Competition

March 28, 2006

By Scott MacDonald

During physical education class in elementary school, one girl beat all the boys on the track in St. Petersburg, Fla. She would race all the boys and float by them on a daily basis. The teacher took notice and suggested she try out for the local track team. That girl, Ashlee Kidd.

“They had a local track team [in town] and I went and tried out in the middle of their season,” said Kidd. “The coach told me I probably wouldn’t be able to track with them and be ready enough to run in the meets, but I ended up qualifying for nationals in the first year. Ever since then I’ve been running and I’ve never tried any other sport.”

Kidd, a junior All-American on the Georgia Tech women’s track and field team, has never looked back. She won most of the races she competed in and finished her high school career at St. Petersburg fifth in the state in the 400-meter dash and ninth in the 200-meter dash.

“We knew Ashlee was very talented when [former] Assistant Coach [Andria] King recruited her,” said Tech women’s track and field coach Alan Drosky. “But I don’t think we expected her to have the immediate impact that she did as a freshman. During the fall of her freshman year we could see how hard she was working and in her first indoor meet at Clemson, we saw what a competitor she is.”

The growth Coach Drosky refers to is personal-record times in each of the indoor and outdoor seasons she has competed in at Tech. Kidd won Atlantic Coast Conference championships in the indoor and outdoor 400-meter dash and outdoor 200-meter dash events. Afterwards, she was tabbed ACC Indoor and Outdoor Rookie of the Year.

During her sophomore season, Kidd qualified for the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships, earning All-America honors in the 400m, posting lifetime-best times of 53.25 (indoor) and 51.87 (outdoor), respectively.

“She’s really improved steadily during her time here and this year is just a continuation of that improvement,” said Drosky. “Her accomplishments so far this year are certainly a tribute to her and Coach [Audrey] Dempsey-Branch, who has done a great job of managing Ashlee’s transition from one coach to another.”

Coach Dempsey-Branch returned to Georgia Tech from Clemson University where she guided the sprint events for the Tigers. Dempsey-Branch was inheriting an already talented runner, but she wanted Kidd to step it up.

“I knew how talented she was,” said Dempsey-Branch. “But I wanted her to know that she was talented enough to win a national title in the 400m and I wanted to work on her foot speed.”

To do this, Dempsey-Branch decided to have Kidd stay away from the 400m and work on the 60-meter dash and 200-meter dash events. In practice, Kidd worked on getting out of the blocks faster and pushing herself harder in the beginning of the race, without compromising her ability to kick down the stretch.

“I’ve done more sprint work and I’ve run the 60m three or four times, which has helped me with my foot speed,” said Kidd. “Being more explosive off the blocks helps cut down on your time because at first, I was basically walking off the blocks and not using them well.”

Not only did Kidd excel at the 60m, even though she never ran that race before, she held the ACC’s second-fastest time of the indoor season. After only running the 400m three times during the indoor season, Kidd posted ACC Indoor Championship meet records in the 200-meter dash and 400-meter dash. Her personal- and school-record times of 23.37 and 52.61 rank sixth and fourth in the nation. For her efforts, she was tabbed ACC Indoor Most Valuable Performer.

“I knew that I had a chance to win both of them but didn’t think I would get the record in both,” said Kidd. “I had a feeling I would run well but didn’t imagine running that well. I surprised myself.”

But not Coach Drosky. “To win an ACC Championship in an event is a great accomplishment,” said Drosky. “Ashlee won not only one, but two. And in doing so also set ACC records in both. The 200m/400m double is an extremely difficult double, accomplished by only one other athlete in ACC history. Ashlee handled it in grand fashion. Being voted MVP for the ACC meet by the coaches in the conference is certainly well-deserved.”

Now, Kidd has her sights set on a national championship in the 400m. “I can see it more clearly than last year,” said Kidd. “My times have gone down during the indoor season and my outdoor times are always faster. So I know that if I run 52 in the indoor 400m that means I can run 51 during outdoor season, and maybe even 50.”

That would prove to be enough to capture a national title as the winner of last year’s 400-meter dash national title clocked a time of 50.10. Who would have believed that Kidd would come this far in this short amount of time at Tech, maybe that PE teacher all those years ago that told her to join the local track team.

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