Feature Friday: Eastern's Jailya Ash Is Burning Up The Track

Jailya Ash has blended nerves of steel, a competitive fire that is always burning, and a relentless work ethic to become one of the state's biggest track and field stars.

Ash took the state by storm as a sophomore at Eastern two years ago when she blasted a a PR of 7.06 to win the 55-meter dash at the Meet of Champions. The last year, the electrifying Ash added the 55m hurdle title at the Meet of Champions when she clocked a PR of 8.03 to become just the second girl in state history to win those events at the M of C!

Ash joined the legendary Wendy Vereen of Trenton as the only girls to capture the 55m dash and 55m hurdles at the M of C. Vereen won both of those races in 1984.

This season, Ash has continued to burn up the track.

As the Adidas Nationals in Virginia Beach last month, Ash ran a NJ No. 1 8.72 in the semis of the 60m hurdles and a NJ No. 2 7.85 in the prelims of the dash. Her en route times through 55 meters in the hurdles was a NJ No. 1 / US No. 9 8.09, and 7.27 in the dash, tied for NJ No. 1.  She's also run a NJ No. 1 in the 55m hurdles of 8.19, and a NJ No. 5 26.25 in the 200m.

Ash also owns outdoor PRs of 11.90 when she was third in the 100m dash at the 2019 M of C, 14.11 in the 100m hurdles, and 24.80 in the 200m.

NJ MileSplit recently caught up with Ash for an in-depth Q and A where she shared how she got involved in the sport, how the father of Olympic gold medalist has helped her, how a 3-time World Champ from N.J. has inspired,  her goals for her senior year, her plans for the future, and a whole lot more.   

So, lean back in your fancy recliner, or lay down on your couch and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday as we shine the spotlight on Eastern senior star Jailya Ash.

Jailya Ash Interview

NJM: First of all, congrats on all your fast times this season in the hurdles and sprints. How did it feel to finally compete again this season for the first time since last March? How exciting was it, and what has it meant to you personally to be back out on the track racing again?

Stepping back on the track again for the first time was very nerve wracking but also exciting. I needed it mentally and physically after the stressful year we had. I did not want to have high expectations because it had been so long since I competed, but the competitor in me always kicks in. Being back on the track means everything to me even in our abbreviated indoor season. I am truly thankful. The track is truly my happy place.

You've run a NJ No. 1 8.19 in the 55m hurdles and a 7.37 in the dash this season (although I see your en route times in the 60 at nationals were 8.09 in the hurdles and 7.27 in the dash). How do you feel about the way you raced, and what are your biggest takeaways from your performances?

After my races, I was very excited because it was the first time I ran the hurdles and the dash to my liking. It really felt good physically. I have some improvements and adjustments to make and I am working on them with my Coach and personal trainer. My biggest takeaway from my performance was that I am at a good starting point for the season. That I have to continue to work on my start from the blocks to drop my time in the 55 dash.

You have already proven yourself as one of the biggest stars in the state with your Meet of Champions titles in the dash and hurdles over the previous two years. What does it mean to you to be a two-time Meet of Champs winner, and how much has that fueled you to work even harder to stay on top, knowing everyone is always trying to knock off the champ?

Being a two-time MOC winner is great. I love what I have done in my track career throughout high school this far, and I am excited to see what my final season will bring. I am working really hard to make it my best yet. I am a hard worker naturally. I have goals that I set for myself, so I am really working hard toward that and not really the competition that is trying to beat me.

When is your next meet and what will you be running?

I'll be running the 55m dash and 55m hurdles at the Ocean Breeze Elite Invitational on Staten Island on Saturday (March 13).

What are your biggest goals for this indoor season and for the outdoors? I imagine getting under 8.00 in the hurdle is a big goal for you? What kind of times would you like to hit in all your events-indoors and outdoors?

My goal is to try and always PR in all my events every time I hit the track regardless of the season and that is what I work towards. So to run a sub 8.00 in the 55mh would be awesome. Even though in New Jersey we do not have much opportunity to run indoors this season, I am really trying to make the best of every opportunity I have on the track. Goals - Indoors 55m - sub 7.00, 55mh - sub 8.00. Outdoor 100m - 11.7, 100mh - sub 14.00, 200m - 23.5.

Unfortunately, there wasn't an outdoor season last spring because of COVID-19, so you didn't get a chance to race. How challenging was that, and how tough was it mentally to deal with?

Losing my junior outdoor track season was very hard. I kind of shut down mentally. Being taken away from my friends and not able to train and compete took a toll on me. I started worrying about being recruited and if what I did my freshman and sophomore year was good enough, or would colleges look past me. I would say dealing with the pandemic, and the stay at home order was probably the most challenging thing I have dealt with in my life. I turned into a hermit crab that didn't leave my room. It was definitely a struggle.

How much would it mean to you to win an outdoor Meet of Champions titles outdoors, and how motivated are you to accomplish that this spring?

It would mean a lot! More than I could put into words. I would say that my training for the last 4 months is moving me in that direction. I am focused and always ready to work. I really want to go out with a bang.

What type of things did you do to stay sharp since last indoor season? What kind of training were you able to do last spring, summer and this past fall ?

I have been working out consistently since last June. I trained with Coach (Anthony) Gardner (English Gardner's dad) from June - September on speed and agility and technique.

NOTE: English Gardner, a 2010 graduate of Eastern High, is one of the best sprinters in the world. She won five NCAA titles at the University of Oregon, won the 100m dash at the 2016 Olympic Trials, and captured a  gold medal in the 4x100 relay at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.     

From September - November, I cheered on Eastern's Varsity cheer squad. During this we have to do a lot of running and core work.. December through present I work with my personal trainer, Caleb Williams. He works on technique, strength, core, speed and agility. Last but not least, we have had our high school coach since February 1st who I missed the most. Coach (Barry) Jackson is such a huge supporter and great trainer to get me where I need to be.

Which event is your favorite to run and why?

The 55h indoors and 100h outdoors! I just love the short hurdles. Being an elite runner is hard, but being an elite runner jumping over obstacles is much harder. I love the challenge they bring.

What has been your biggest accomplishment in track and field so far in your career and why? I know you have a lot to choose from!

My biggest accomplishment in track and field is definitely getting a full athletic scholarship to run for UCONN! This means so much to be and is proof that my hard work in track and field has paid off. The long hours of training, injuries and rehab was all worth it. I am truly grateful to UCONN for including me in their vision to help contribute to their program.

What do you consider your greatest strength as a track and field athlete?

My confidence is my biggest strength. I do not really worry or focus on what anyone else is doing. I just work on me. The mental part of track and field is the hardest, and I believe my confidence is what makes me excel.

Let's get into some background, Jailya. Can you tell me how, when, and why you first got started competing in track and field? Did you play other sports growing up? How did this whole track and field thing get started? Someone inspire you etc?

The reason I got into track was because of my sister Jewel Ash (now a freshman sprinter at Charleston Southern University). She started track one year before me, at around age six. She was really good. She was invited to run at the University of Oregon for the Track City Classic Meet. She ran the 100m, and my mom and I were standing near the finish line. As the race started Jewel didn't get a good start. I looked up and saw her on the Jumbotron. She came back and won that race and I was so amazed that she was on that big screen. I told my mom right then that I wanted to run too.

I signed up the following year and have been running ever since. I guess you can say my sister was my inspiration. I was also an all-star cheerleader for five years for the Interboro Hornets and did Varsity cheer for football season at Eastern all four years of high school. I love cheer. I had to stop competing because it interfered with my track schedule. It was hard to give it up, but worth it in the end.

When would you say you had your first huge breakthrough moment when you realized you could be a big track and field star? 

This would have to be when I learned how to three step between the hurdles. Coach Jackson was such a great teacher of proper hurdling. He has helped me grow and better my technique to the point that my times keep getting better and better.

Who is your favorite college/pro runner to watch and why? What do you learn from watching them that you feel can help you keep dropping PR's?

Nia Ali is my favorite professional athlete to watch. She runs the 100mh and is from Germantown Pa, but graduated from Pleasantville High School (Class of 2006) in NJ. A local and my favorite. She is so flawless and fast. When I watch her I focus on her start and last hurdle. I know I have the speed. For me the focus is really perfecting my start and my explosiveness off the last hurdle.

NOTE:  Ali has won three World Championship titles in the high hurdles (two indoors/one outdoors), and captured the Silver Medal in the 100m hurdles at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.       

What do you love the most about being a track and field athlete?

I love to compete! That is my favorite part of track and field. I love the rush I get when I am on the line and that gun goes off. After all my training, I get to display my hard work in front of all the people that came to watch. There is nothing more rewarding than that.

What's your biggest long-term goal in track and field in college and beyond?

In college my goal is to score points for my team and win a Big East Championship. Right now, I can't envision life beyond college. I am taking this journey one day at a time. My goal when I started running was to run in college and I have secured that. Now my focus is just on what I will do there. Once this next phase starts I will start thinking about what's after that. I am just thankful for what the Lord has given me today and as I grow and continue to compete I will see what doors the He will open for me next.

What do you like to do when you're not on the track or in school or doing school work? Have any interesting hobbies or another talent or skill?

This pandemic has shown me that I am really artistic. I love to draw and paint, and I am good at it. I don't have a lot of spare time, but when I do I love to hang out with my best friend, Remi. We watch a lot of TV and Tic Tok's.

How excited are you to be attending UConn this fall? What was it about the school/team that made you commit there? I am super excited to be attending UCONN.

I love everything they have to offer. The campus and area surrounding is beautiful and the people are super nice. The coaches were a big part of my decision to pick UCONN. During the recruitment process Coach Ferguson and Coach Roy went above and beyond to do virtual visits with me, answer my questions, and show me their program, and how I could be an asset for them. They allowed me to meet with other athletes virtually and here their experiences. Since the pandemic took away my opportunity to have an official visit, my parents took me up there on our own. We walked the whole campus and were able to check out the facilities and I was sold.

What do you plan to major in and what type of career would you like to pursue?

I am going into school undecided but my heart is leaning toward the nursing program. I just felt that I needed to start my college experience before I truly decided, but I love helping people and nursing is just that. If this pandemic showed us all anything, it truly magnified how our first responders are such a key part of our community.