She was born in the perfect environs of Moscow, Idaho and attended some of the best junior schools and universities in the US, but track and field star Ashley Tinashe Miller has managed to maintain a special connection with Zimbabwe.
Miller, 24, became the first US-born athlete to represent the country on the international stage when she finished fifth in the final of the women’s 100m hurdles at the African Athletics Championships in Saint Pierre, Mauritius two months ago.
Representing the Southern African nation in the continental championships was the fulfilment of a long-term goal for Miller.
Although she was born in the US, the gifted sprint hurdler traces her roots to Zimbabwe through her father Felix Kamaringira, a former national team sprinter, who specialised in the 200m and 400m sprints during his career in the 90s.
Her American mother Jan Miller also participated in athletics at the University of Idaho, where she met Kamaringira during his time at the institution on an athletic scholarship.
And coming from a sporting family where both her mom and dad were elite athletes, it was only natural that Miller would follow in their footsteps.
Miller was ranked among the top junior hurdlers in the US and she was on course to represent her country of birth at the World Athletics Junior Championships in 2014, but was unable to compete at the US trials that year due to financial reasons.
Ironically it was at the same time Miller, then aged just 16 first thought of the possibility of representing the country of her father’s birth in athletics.
“The desire I had to compete for Zimbabwe began when I was 16 during the Junior World Championships in 2014. I couldn’t make it to the US trials that year due to financial reasons, so I was sitting at home watching and supporting all my friends that I grew up competing with,” Miller revealed in an exclusive interview with The Sports Hub.
“While watching, I saw a young woman step on the line to compete in a distance event proudly wearing Zimbabwe across her chest. After cheering for her, I began to wonder and dream about if I could also one day wear a Zim jersey.”
As she contemplated an international career with Zimbabwe, Miller first earned a full scholarship to the University of Texas after a standout junior career in which she ranked fifth and 12th in the US in the 100m and 300m hurdles respectively.
She was an integral member of the Texas Longhorns track and field team, earning All-American honours in 2016 and 2017 while also majoring in youth & community studies.
Miller transferred to Florida State University in 2019, where she also had a successful track career while obtaining her B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Florida State University.
Last year Miller made a big step towards representing Zimbabwe when she visited the country for the first time.
“In September I came to Zimbabwe for the first time. While visiting, I met with the presidents of the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee (ZOC) and the national athletics federation to tell them my goals and desires to represent Zimbabwe moving forward. Both were extremely encouraging and helpful in telling me what was required to compete. The first step was official citizenship,” she said
“Since I am Zimbabwean by birth right, my goal was to get my dual citizenship, starting with obtaining my Zimbabwe birth certificate. I know everyone did the best they could do, but this was a very long and painstaking process compared to the efficient process I am accustomed to in the U.S. It took four long days of waiting for hours to finally get to someone that could help move me forward in the process. After I obtained my birth certificate, I needed to get a national ID number and visit the Zimbabwean embassy in the US to apply for my Zimbabwean passport to complete the process.”
This marked the beginning of her journey towards making her debut for Zimbabwe, which came at the African Championships in Mauritius.
Competing in her first major competition after being out of the sport for three years due to injuries and having to balance between a full-time job and training, Miller still managed to reach the final of the women’s 100m hurdles where she narrowly missed out on the podium by finishing fifth in 13.30 seconds.
“It really was a dream come true. To proudly wear Zimbabwe across my chest, to wear the national colours, and to carry the Zimbabwean flag during the opening ceremony was an honour and a privilege. All my hard work and everything that God had helped me through all led up to that moment. Though this is just the beginning, my dream was finally a reality,” Miller said.
“I am extremely happy with my performance during the African Championships. This was my first year back competing after being out of the sport for three years. My goal was to place top three, but I can honestly say that would’ve required more preparation on my end.
“Working full time makes training challenging, and I also battled against a few minor injuries. I opened my season in mid-April with very limited training. In hindsight, it was probably very risky of me to jump into competition without running for months, and without doing any block or hurdle training since 2019,” said Miller, who works full-time as a strategy analyst for Deloitte Consulting in the US.”
She added” “Fortunately, my strength training, combined with my faith in God and His plan for me allowed me to see success despite lacking solid training in certain areas. My performance this season excites me for the years to come because I know all the things that were missing, and I know exactly what is needed to get myself on top of that podium.”
What makes Miller’s accomplishment in qualifying for the African Games and coming close to making the podium even more remarkable is the fact that she to overcome other personal hurdles such as long bouts of depression.
“Something that is important for me to mention is that mental health is a very important part of my journey. I have faced many adversities over the years, and I struggled with depression, anxiety, and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) as a result. These things mentally limited me for a period of time, but seeking God, support in my family/community, and putting my energy into track as well as other hobbies helped me recover and find success.”
Going forward, she has now set her sights on a successful representing career with Zimbabwe. She has high hopes of qualifying for major events such as the African Games, the World Athletics Championships and ultimately the Olympic Games starting with the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“My long-term goals include representing Zimbabwe at the African Games in 2023, World Championships in 2023, the 2024 Paris Olympics, and possibly World Championships in 2025. Ultimately my goal is to inspire other female athletes within the country, and to help pave a way for them to achieve such accomplishments as well.”