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More Than a Little Running

Georgia-born, Florida-raised and homeschooled with her five siblings, track athlete Ansley Little from Pacific, Missouri, has the ultimate dream of reaching the Olympic level.

Photo by Abigail Scanio

Ansley Little, a sophomore nursing major from Pacific, Missouri, and award-winning MBU track athlete, found her inspiration and footing on the pavement.

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At 20 years old, Ansley Little, a Missouri Baptist University sophomore, has already qualified for three national championships for Olympic distance triathlons, once for her age-group’s World Championships, and she helped to bring the MBU track team to Nationals for the first time in the university’s history. And she’s not finished yet.

“Running is a much harder sport than most people think it is,” said Little, who only started running during her sophomore year of high school. “I was homeschooled so I didn’t run before that.”

She was a soccer player when she and her family moved to St. Louis from Jacksonville, Florida, in October 2012, but found the local club soccer programs to not be a good fit for her.

“We decided not to go the club route and I just started running circles around the parking lot of the place where we were moving. I signed up for a couple races. My dad, he had done triathlons when we lived in Florida and when he saw that there was a sprint track, he asked me if I wanted to do it. I said, ‘yeah,’ but I had to learn to swim first,” said Little, because triathlons include swimming, cycling and distance running.

At 16 years old, Little completed her first triathlon, the 2013 St. Genevieve Mini Sprint, falling in love with the competition.

“I just started competing in triathlons, and by the time I graduated high school, I took a year off. During that year, I was able to compete at age-group national championships for Olympic distance triathlons,” Little said in reference to qualifying for Omaha, Nebraska’s Olympic distance triathlon, and then moving on to compete in the World Championships.

Her main focus was the Olympic-distance triathlon, which is about a mile swim, almost a 25-mile bike and then a 10k run, Little explained.

At the St. Louis Triathlon in 2015, Little qualified for nationals for the third time.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s age-group nationals to follow, she moved herself to the championships for the same distance, advancing her to World Championships in Cozumel, Mexico, in 2016, the fall of her freshman year of college.

With this experience under her belt, Little’s grandfather played a part in her athletic opportunities by putting his connections to use in her favor, asking a cross country coach at a university in Georgia if there might be a scholarship opportunity there.

“I wanted to do a sport in college. I wanted to do triathlons, but there aren’t that many schools that have it for women,” Little said, adding that Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia, offered her a full scholarship. “Then I realized I could run in college and that was an option.”

After that news, her confidence built to getting in touch with Katie Cline Goodwin, MBU’s track coach.

“I remember meeting with Ansley and her mother when they came on a campus visit. We sat down in the Perk to talk about our track and field program, and for me to get to know more about Ansley,” Goodwin said in an email. “Before college, Ansley hadn’t been a part of a track program, she had been into triathlons and she was her own coach. I remember being very impressed with how disciplined she was at being her own coach and doing all her own training. She was also very successful as a triathlete, so I was very interested in her being a part of our distance team, even though she had never been on one before.”

Ansley also reminisced to when she had just joined the cross country team.

“I was coming in, having never run cross country or track before, just having done triathlons on my own and some road races and stuff. So, it was totally new to me,” Little said.

The MBU women’s cross country team had never qualified for Nationals before, so they were working toward that goal, and Goodwin saw that her runners could win the NAIA XC National Championships for indoor track.

“It was all just so new to me, so I was just like, ‘OK, I’m just gonna run my hardest at all the races and we’ll see. I don’t even know how you score, but hopefully we make it,’” Little recalled. “So, at conference, that fall of my freshman year (2016), we ended up winning conference by one point.”

Little was named All-Conference Athlete that year and the team qualified for Nationals.

The cross country team’s past season had Little entering injured, motivating her to work toward getting stronger and helping her team get back to Nationals, which the team qualified for in cross country.

“That was awesome, and I did get to about the exact same time that I was last year,” said Little, who overcame her injury and achieved a goal of running a personal best in the 800-meter run, while also making it to Nationals in the 4-by-800-meter relay.

Her overall goal is to compete at the most elite level, the Olympic level.

“Maybe when I get out of college, but we’ll see if that happens,” Little said. “I mean, that would be the ultimate, ultimate dream to make the Olympic level, but it could just be professional athlete.”

Little admitted that through her athletic success, she has learned strengths can also have negative sides.

“I think listening to my body is something I need to work on because I’m so goal-oriented. I really like to work super hard and just keep going and not listen to what my body’s telling me. That gets me into trouble,” she said, referencing a stress fracture in her tibia. “If my body needs rest, then give it rest, or if I need a different type of training that day, just go ahead and do it and not beat myself into something else.”

Little was injured throughout the fall and the indoor track season, as well as being slowed by nagging injuries last year, “so I really don’t listen to myself whenever I start hurting. I just keep going till I can’t anymore. … It probably isn’t good.”

Addressing any possible stereotype of runners not being perceived as strong, Little pointed to both the physical and psychological aspects of long-distance running.

“Maybe physically we’re not that strong with our arms and stuff, but … running is such a mental sport. You have to be really mentally strong to get through those super tough workouts,” Little said, “especially with cross country, finishing a 5K race at your top speed is really hard.”

Distance runners are constantly pushing themselves to cut that extra second while pushing their bodies that extra kilometer.

“Running is like, super mental,” Little said. “On long runs and workout days you’re just constantly fighting with yourself and just like, ‘OK, I can do this workout,’ or, ‘I’ve done this distance before.’ Your body is burning, and you have to be, ‘No, you can finish it.’ It’s just really a mental battle to get through those and get through your hour and a half run or something.

“Once you’re halfway and you think, ‘Oh great, I still have the same amount of time left that I’ve already done and I’m dying,’ you still have to get through that. That’s probably the hardest, just pushing through the tough days or when you don’t wanna get out there and run but you still need to.”

Through the challenging moments, Little has learned what keeps her motivated.

“Something that helps me get through those is just thinking of the next race and what I wanna accomplish. So, I always give myself goals for the season and I always keep those goals in mind. When I’m at the toughest part of my workout, I tell myself, ‘OK, if you can get through this when you’re feeling this bad, once it comes to race time you’ve already practiced the hardest part so you know how to push through it, get through it and reach your goal.

“And, even if I don’t reach my goal, just striving for the goal that I’ve set is really what is my motivation for doing that, and because I’m on a team, just doing well for my team and doing well for my coach because I want to show her that I can work hard. She has someone she can rely on to give their hardest.”

Little loves the encouragement that running brings.

“Everyone’s super encouraging at races,” Little said. “In practice, our team’s always building each other up and always there to catch you if you fall or if you’re having a hard workout to encourage you and really just remind you of why you run.

“The running community is awesome because everyone is rooting for each other even when we’re all competing against each other. When we’re standing on the line, everyone’s like, ‘Good luck, I hope you do well,’ even though we’re trying to beat each other. But, I just really love the comradery in it and how close I can get with my teammates. My team is really like family.”

Little desires for other people to not be afraid to start running.

“Just start small and build up to it. I always try to encourage people when they think that they can’t run or something, just to let them know it just starts with one small step and then eventually you’ll able to be a runner, too.”

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Abigail Scanio

Abigail Scanio

Abigail Scanio is a contributing journalist for MBU Timeline. She is a majoring in Communications Studies. Scanio is apart of the MBU Resident Life staff. She enjoys exploring Saint Louis coffee shops, practicing yoga, and thrift store sweater-hunting.

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