October 8, 2012
Homer grad tests his mettle
19-year-old competing in Tough Mudder contest
Scott Conroe/contributing photographer
Cameron Ashley poses at Cortland Fitness Center, where he sometimes trains for his upcoming participation in the World’s Toughest Mudder competition, a grueling 24-hour contest of physical endurance.
Cameron Ashley is training for the competition of his life, dedicated to a woman who inspired him as a boy.
The 19-year-old Cortland resident runs, cycles, lifts weights or just exercises for about two hours every day for next month’s national version of the Tough Mudder, an obstacle course competition that pushes people through the kinds of challenges used in Special Forces military training.
Tough Mudder demands that competitors climb, swim, carry weights, crawl through mud and overcome obstacles over a course that stretches for miles. The World’s Toughest Mudder competition will be 8 miles long with 40 obstacles.
Contestants do as many laps through the course as they can during 24 hours.
It will be Nov. 17 in Englishtown, N.J.
Last year’s individual male winner received $15,000 after doing seven laps. The female winner did six laps and received the same amount. The top team wins $20,000.
Ashley, who grew up in Truxton, qualified by placing first in his division at a Tough Mudder in May, in Pocono Manor, Pa. That course was 12 1/2 miles and had 24 obstacles, with 300 competitors.
Now he is one of 800 qualifiers for the national Tough Mudder, out of about 150,000 people from this year’s series of 35 competitions, according to Tough Mudder’s website.
“It was the most awesome thing I’ve ever done and I loved it,” Ashley said of the May event.
He is trying to gather the money for the $550 entry fee and travel costs.
Meanwhile, Ashley has had a tattoo inked into his skin that memorializes his paternal grandmother, Marilynn Smith, who died from cancer in August 2011, two months after he graduated from Homer High School as a three-sport athlete and solid student.
The tattoo consists of black curved patterns that extend up his back and around his right shoulder.
On his back, in the midst of the pattern, is a deer skull symbolizing his grandmother’s passion for hunting. The date of her death is part of the pattern: “8-15-11.”
The tattoo was done in two sessions on Aug. 26 and Sept. 26 by Adam Golden of Ascend Galleries, downtown Cortland.
“A place where I felt safe and comforted” is how Ashley describes his grandparents’ mobile home in Yan Hill, Ore., where deer, cougar, antelope and bear heads cover the walls.
“She was an avid hunter,” he said of his grandmother, showing images of the mobile home on his cell phone.
Ashley is 6-foot-1 and weighed 190 pounds when he started training over the summer, but now weighs about 175.
He works at Diamond Wireless on Route 281, Cortlandville, selling cellular phones and related technology. A strong student in high school, with a love of physics and technology, he decided not to go to college right away but is now applying to colleges for next fall.
The summer of 2011, he worked for an artificial turf company, saved money, then spent it all and was so ashamed, he lived under a bridge in Homer for three or four days last December rather than go home. Then he moved in with his friend and classmate Chelsea Ruan’s family for four months.
Ashley said he can handle life’s ups and downs. He lived with his mother, Sherry Lane Anderson, for his first 11 years, moving with her around the West. He said his older sister, Vanessa Cluff, now 24, actually raised him. He has a brother and a younger sister as well.
The family was living in Salt Lake City, Utah, and then in Washington when he was sent to Truxton to live with his father, Matthew Ashley, a construction worker, and stepmother Tamara, an electrician.
“I went from skateboarding in the city to living in the country,” he said, adding that he learned to like working with livestock that his father and stepmother raised, as well as “mudding,” riding a truck through muddy terrain.
He excelled at soccer, wrestling and track at Homer.
“Cameron is a neat kid, and the gears are always turning in his head,” said Homer social studies teacher Joe Cortese. “When he loves school, he really loves it. He took military history from me, and understood a lot about it. He brought about 10 books to add to my military history wall in the school library. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen with most kids.”
Lately Ashley has focused on work, training and his girlfriend Hannah Roos, who graduated from Homer in June and is a first-year student at SUNY Canton.
His training consists of whatever he thinks will help. He has cycled from Ithaca to Cortland. He does isometric exercises, lifts weights at Cortland Fitness Center and runs.
“I mix it up as much as possible,” he said. “I don’t do large amounts of weights, I do small amounts, sometimes at my apartment. I do 500 pushups a day. You can’t train for everything Tough Mudder throws at you.”
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