ELKHART – Being in the Army was not what Ashley Buck anticipated for her collegiate college career, then she went on a campus visit to West Point, New York. After seeing what could have been in store for her, and listening to what was offered to her in, it turned out the Elkhart track and field standout was up for physical, academic and psychological challenges academy life had to offer.
Buck signed a national letter of intent with the United States Military Academy – commonly referred to as Army or West Point – on Monday at the Elkhart High School library. A track and field state qualifier in three events, Buck chose West Point over Texas State, Northwestern State (La.) and Louisiana-Monroe.
As recently as this summer Buck believed she didn't want to go into the Army, but she credited persistent recruiting from the Army staff and a campus visit around the weekend of Oct. 22.
It turned out the hardest part for Buck was leaving her family in East Texas for an education 1,600 miles away.
“I'm so thankful for this and extremely blessed,” Buck said. “I will be nervous and scared because I've never been away from my family.”
Buck's skill as a triple jumper grabbed Army's attention. She is a two-time state qualifier in Class 3A, advancing in 2015 and 2016. Her personal best is 38 feet, 7 inches which she set in March 2016.
Buck also teamed with current teammates Monique Ashford and Kimber Douglas as well as former standout Paige Huff to advance to state on 800- and 1,600-meter relay teams in 2016. Buck has also participated in cross country, softball and cheerleading at Elkhart.
Buck said during campus visit, which was around a football game in which Army lost to North Texas, she received a full scholarship offer. This included five years at West Point and four years in dental school in which all expenses were paid for, although after this education she will have an additional eight years of military commitments. Congress members that nominated Buck included U.S. Representative Jeb Hensarling and U.S. Senator John Cornyn.
Buck decided to act on Army's offer as it was the best she had received so far, although she has mild regret she won't be going to Louisiana-Monroe as Paige Huff is her best friend who plays volleyball for the Warhawks.
“You can't believe what it's like on campus at West Point. It's unbelievable. I can't describe it well enough when I tell people,” Buck said. “The track program is exceptional and all the cadets bond in different ways.”
Elkhart girls track and field coach Kodi Huff has believed Buck would land a NCAA Division I scholarship since she was a freshman, even though that year she suffered a hip injury that season which prevented her from advancing beyond regionals. Army finished fifth in the Patriot League in women's outdoor track and field in 2016 (fourth in indoor). Boston University's Lovie Burleson won the Patriot League women's triple jump – the event Buck will focus on in college – with a distance 40-2¾.
“In college she'll have a better coach than me,” Kodi Huff said. “She'll get to work with a coach who works on nothing but jumps. She will get it down at the next level. It will just take repetition. She'll be fine academically too. I'm not worried about that.”
Buck said having a college decision out of the way will make everything easier for her senior year at Elkhart, where she is hopeful she will have a better finish after placing fourth in the triple jump the past two years. She is hopeful that her last high school year will provide momentum for her freshman college season.
When she arrives at West Point she anticipates a considerable culture change, although she will get to keep her long hair style (albeit in a bun when she's in her cadet uniform).
She also realizes she is making a 17-year commitment to the military, but believes she has the courage to complete the journey, and be a successful triple jumper in the process.
“I'm not afraid physical work or the mental aspect. I have never been given anything my entire life,” Buck said. “But I will miss being away from the people I care about the most.”