Ashley Keller’s emergence onto the national collegiate triathlon scene was nothing short of phenomenal. After making the varsity squad of West Point’s cross- country team, she endeavored to go further and pursue triathlon, a dream she’d had since high school. Within three years of her introduction to the sport, she became the women’s national collegiate champion and won her age group at Ironman 70.3 Kansas. In each of those three years, Cadet Keller (then Morgan) qualified to hold a USAT Elite license and built up enough credentials to go directly into the Army’s World Class Athlete Program, where she’d spend her time training and enjoying the Colorado landscape.
Today, Lieutenant Keller spends her time training to lay bridges and build tank ditches, amid the landscape of Fort Leonardwood, Kansas. Instead of a morning swim, she’s up before five a.m. conducting good old-fashioned Army PT with her classmates. Instead of an afternoon nap, she spends 13-hour days in classes and weekends in the field. Her tri-specific diet is replaced with bagged lunches, and far from engaging in the typical Army sport of griping, she can’t say enough how happy she is.
“Taking joy in what you’re doing is your decision.”
“I am fully committed to this, to being the best Platoon Leader and the best Engineer Officer I can be,” she said. “When I went to West Point, I knew this is what I wanted to do. When the choice came, I prayed about it a lot, but I felt like God spoke to me and reassured me that this is really what I needed to be doing.”
With troops still in Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ve never heard more confidence and conviction in a person—especially when you consider that Keller had her eye on the 2016 Olympics.
“The Olympics have always been a big dream of mine, but if I did that then I wouldn’t be able to do this. So I’m just going to have to wait,” she said. That’s an uncanny level of patience for someone used to hammering through courses with blinding speed, but the closer matters come to the heart, the longer Keller’s view becomes. Having just wed 1st Lt. Luke Keller, an 82nd Airborne Division Officer, she knows the road ahead is long.
“Luke’s put in an application for Special Forces, and I know that means we’ll spend a lot of time apart. But I support him just like he supports triathlon,” she said. “We know that we have the rest of our lives to spend with each other.” That’s a strong love—though we’re not about to stir up marital discord by informing the groom that his bride told us she can kick his butt on the bike!
Joking aside, her stint at Fort Leonardwood hasn’t been a picnic. The location doesn’t lend itself to races, and her decision not to ask for special allowance to conduct physical training on her own means her fitness takes a hit. “I didn’t feel comfortable asking to do PT alone”, she said. “I wanted to be with my team, so that’s where I’m going to be.”
Even in the hard times, Keller’s able to drive on. “There’s a difference between happiness and joy,” she said. “The situation might not always make you happy, but taking joy in what you’re doing is your decision.” The lack of opportunity to race hasn’t deterred her from seeking challenges, either. She’s currently in the program to try out for the advanced and physically demanding training offered at the Army’s Sapper School. There’s also hope that she’ll find a slot for Airborne. (Who needs swim/bike/run when you can jump/shoot/blow things up?)
In addition to a pro triathlon career, Keller knows she wants to dedicate part of her life to being a mother. Trying to do all that and being an officer is a no-go in her mind. “When I do something, I want to dedicate all of myself to it,” she said. “I want to give the Army the very best five years I can, and then move on to give my husband and triathlon the very best I can.”
As much as the triathlon scene will lament with her absence in the time being, we’ll content ourselves knowing she’s serving a higher calling. In the meantime, both service and sport are sure to take joy in seeing a Sapper tab on her sleeve.