Ashtin Zamzow, seen during her heptathlon victory at the Texas Relays, is second after three events in the NCAA championships. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: Austin has been home, sweet home for Texas heptathlete Ashtin Zamzow

Posted May 17th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • Zamzow began her college career at Texas A&M, but transferred to Texas despite her family Aggies' history.
  • She didn't pick up the heptathlon until her junior year in high school, but became UT's first Big 12 heptathlon champion.
  • The next year will be a big one for her: the NCAAs, then marriage, then the Olympic Trials.

Ashybelle’s Cookies is a now-defunct Austin-based business which took off in the summer of 2018.

Ashtin Zamzow, its owner, wore several hats.

“I baked, I delivered, I ordered, and I shipped,” Zamzow said. “I did everything. I was delivering cookies all over the place. It got pretty successful, but I ended it as soon as school started.”

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Zamzow, a Texas heptathlete, prioritized winning an Olympic gold medal ahead of trying to give Tiff’s Treats a run for its money. But before she could even begin to think about the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, she needed to put up a monster senior year. She fell short of her lofty expectations the past three seasons, partly due to hamstrings that aren’t as obsessed with track and field as she is.

Zamzow, 22, has avoided serious injuries this season and instead of cookies, she is delivering a huge senior campaign. She just entered the UT record books as the first Big 12 heptathlon champion in school history. Her school-record point total of 6,148 set at the Big 12 outdoor championships last week in Oklahoma ranks No. 2 in the world, only 50 points behind Uzbekistan’s Ekaterina Voronina.

Texas’ Ashtin Zamzow throws the javelin in the heptathlon event of the 2016 Texas Relays at Mike A. Myers Stadium. Zamzow finished in fourth place overall in the heptathlon, breaking the school record with 5,829 points. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

If Zamzow can finish in the top three at the Olympic Trials next summer and reach the Olympic standard of 6,420 points, she’ll fulfill her lifelong dream of competing for the United States in the Olympics.

Come to think of it, running that cookie company last summer housed a similar wavelength to her other hobby. She baked, delivered, ordered and shipped for Ashybelle’s. And she throws, runs, jumps and heaves in the heptathlon. Both share a common goal: Do a little bit of everything, and if you do it all well, it will taste good at the end.

It has been a circuitous route from Goliad to the winner’s circle in Austin. Zamzow grew up in a Texas A&M family, first of all. Her grandfather had served in A&M’s Corps of Cadets. Her mother, Kalleen, was an All-American at A&M who fell in love with another Aggie, Stacy Zamzow, who ran on the 1,600-meter relay team that won a 1994 national title. He’s now the track coach at Goliad.

Ashtin, one of six children, was raised on A&M sports and just like her folks, she excelled in track. Her mother introduced her to the heptathlon her junior year at Goliad. As a senior, she won the 100- and 300-meter hurdles at the 2014 state track meet and then added a heptathlon title at the Junior ATF Championships in Houston. The scholarship offers started rolling in.

Among them were offers from Texas and Texas A&M. Zamzow said Texas’ offer was bigger, so when she told her parents about her desire to go to Texas, well, you can guess how that went.

“It was not easy being at home at that time,” she said. “My dad was able to talk to me about it, but my mom … she stopped talking to me for two weeks. So I went to A&M, out of respect for them.”

But A&M wasn’t the right fit. Not only did she long for Austin, but she also was in a two-year relationship with UT decathlete Wolf Mahler, whom she had met when they represented the U.S. in a 2013 track meet in Albuquerque.

Austin felt like the ideal spot, and her relationship with Mahler was going great, so Zamzow requested a release from Texas A&M coach Pat Henry just one semester into her freshman year.

The answer came quickly: No.

Zamzow competed that year, but without joy. She asked for a release again, and once again she was denied. Finally, a third talk with Henry resulted in the answer she had long been seeking.

Texas’ Ashtin Zamzow, third from left, starts the 800-meter run in heptathlon event during the 2016 Texas Relays at Myers Stadium. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ/STATESMAN FILE)

“I remember she took her first college visit to A&M, and she told me she loved it too much and wanted to go there,” Mahler said. “I told her, ‘At least take the visit to UT.’ She came without her parents because they were mad she was even considering it. She had a great time and ended up falling in love with Austin the city. She realized it wasn’t as evil as she had been taught.”

As a Longhorn, Zamzow set a school record in the heptathlon at the 2015 Texas Relays with 5,829 points, winning the javelin with a throw of 142-5. She took a redshirt season in 2017 and then earned second-team All-America honors in 2018 after scoring 5,667 points at the NCAA championships. She also set a school record in the pentathlon with 4,076 points. And she already has a degree in kinesiology.

These days, Zamzow is happier than she’s ever been, though she revealed that her relationship with her mother — who she says never quite got over the transfer — could be better. Undaunted, Zamzow is stalking a place on the world stage.

The beauty of the heptathlon is that improvement can come mostly by getting better in one’s worst events. Zamzow gets it done in the hurdles and javelin but admittedly struggles in the long jump — “It just hasn’t clicked yet,” she said — and the 800, which would rank seventh on a list of her favorite heptathlon events. But she’s obsessed with making it to special places, and with that type of attitude, don’t be shocked to see her shaving seconds off that 800 time.

“I think what sets her apart from a lot of combined eventers is her sustained focus,” said UT assistant coach Matthew McGee. “You see a lot of those combined eventers come out amped up and wired, but by Day 2 when you get to Event 5 and Event 6, you don’t see that same fire. With Ashtin, you see that sustained intensity throughout the two days. She doesn’t tail off.”

Next up: The NCAA outdoor championpships, right here in Austin next month, and then the Worlds in Qatar in October and then her wedding to Mahler in January. There’s plenty on her plate — she’s used to that — but her singular focus for now is the NCAAs. She dreams of competing with Mahler, an All-American whose Big 12 meet was cut short by a hamstring injury. His status for the NCAAs is up in the air.

“Like Wolf put it, the NCAAs is the Olympics for us because it’s such a special place with all of our family being in Texas and us being in Austin,” she said. “It would just mean the world to me. It would be a dream come true.”

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