Running to remember: Southland grad competes in memory of her late sister

Published 6:01 am Monday, April 11, 2016

Elizabeth May with her sister Ashton at the Minnesota State Track and Field Meet in 2012. Photo provided

Elizabeth May with her sister Ashton at the Minnesota State Track and Field Meet in 2012. Photo provided

LA CROSSE, WIS. — When Southland grad Elizabeth May was growing up, she didn’t have to look very far to find role models.

With four older siblings who were all very active in sports, there was always someone for her to go to with questions. But tragedy struck in September of 2012 when Ashton, the eldest of the May children, lost her life in a car accident.

Ashton wasn’t just a role model for her family, she also left a big impact at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, where she was a ten-time All-American for the track and field team.

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Since that day Elizabeth, who is now a junior at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, has literally followed in Ashton’s footsteps and this past Saturday she ran in the Ashton May Meet in La Crosse, which is a meet that honors Ashton. The meet includes a moment of silence for Ashton and UWL athletes wear special uniforms that have the inscription ‘In memory of Ashton May.’ The uniforms also include 10 stars recognizing Ashton’s 10 all-american awards she earned while competing for the team.

Elizabeth May competing for the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Photo by Jim Lund

Elizabeth May competing for the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Photo by Jim Lund

UWL head women’s track and field coach Pat Healy coaches Elizabeth and he also coached Ashton and Maggie May.

“The Ashton May Meet is always emotional for many people. I know it is for me,” Healy said. “I think we are coming to the point where this meet is now a celebration to the wonderful, yet short life of Ashton. It is a meet where the May family and the UWL Women’s track family come together every year. I am honored to know all of them.”

Elizabeth competes in the javelin, sprints and triple jump at UWL and she said the Ashton May Meet always brings out a lot of emotions. This year the meet had an extra thrill as Maggie is brought her newborn baby daughter — who is named Ashton May Hanken — to the meet.

“That will be her first track meet,” Elizabeth said about her niece before the meet. “You’ve got to start her young.”

When she competes in the Ashton May Meet, Elizabeth looks to use her sister’s memory as motivation.

“There’s no better way to honor her than for this meet. She would be coaching here if she were still here. It’s a big thing for my family,” Elizabeth said. “Every time I step out onto the track I know she was there and she competed there. I’m trying to be half the athlete she was.”

Elizabeth chose UWL because both of her older sisters went to school there. Wherever Elizabeth goes on campus she sometimes runs into people who knew Ashton and a lot of the UWL coaching staff worked with Ashton and Maggie. Healy said it was a positive experience to coach the May’s.

“It has been great having Elizabeth on our team, just as it was having Ashton and Maggie,” he said. “I see both of them in Elizabeth from time to time, but she is her own person. She has a great sense of humor, she works as hard as anyone on the team and like her sisters she just continues to improve. She has been a great fit on the team and is loved by all of her teammates.”

When Elizabeth was growing up as the youngest child in the May family, she was always competitive with her older siblings and she wanted to be an athlete just like them. Over the last couple of years she watched her older brothers Chris and Alan compete in baseball and football at Winona State University.

“Even now I look up to them so much with their dedication and commitment to life. Even when they’ve had a rough game, they still hold their head up,” Elizabeth said.

Chris, who spent one year at UWL before transferring to Winona State, always looked up to his older sisters for guidance. Since Ashton was the oldest, she set the tone for the whole family and her work ethic certainly rubbed off on Chris, who played baseball and football at the college level, and Alan, who played football for four years at Winona State.

“We all looked up to [Ashton] and she set the standard for us,” Chris said. “She practiced her tail off and she inspired all of us to work harder when we got into sports.”

When Ashton passed away it was a crushing blow for the May family, but as time moved on her memory has helped inspire the siblings to watch out for each other and be supportive of one another. The family has become united.

“We’ve gotten a lot closer with each other since the accident,” Elizabeth said. “The support we have for each other is even greater than it was before.”

Healy, who is set to retire as head coach at UWL after this season, will always look back fondly on his time coaching Ashton.

“I have many memories of Ashton,” he said. “Her compassion for others especially her teammates, her very high competitive spirit and her positive outlook on life. I enjoyed every minute of having her on our team, but I really loved having her coach with me. I miss her a lot.”