‘If I can help one person get through a little bit of what I’ve been through, that’s what I want to do,’ Army Veteran Ashley Hill on long-distance running

Ashley Hill has figured out how to soothe her soul.

It’s not anything the 35-year-old Army Veteran would have imagined a few years ago. She runs long distances to get rid of painful memories, which wasn’t initially her go-to healing solution. But that all changed when she had to decide if she wanted to live or if she wanted to die.

“If I can help one person get through a little bit of what I’ve been through, that’s what I want to do,” Hill said in a phone interview with FAN.

Hill ran the Harrisburg Marathon in 2022. Her commitment to get to the starting line was her deepest struggle. But, now she’s among a part of a crowd of runners that finished something she began years ago that’s helped to mend a broken heart.  

Seven years ago, on Jan. 11, 2016, Hill was a property manager in Perry County. In Pennsylvania, it’s a requirement that a constable goes with a property manager to evict a tenant.

She was on her way to remove Donald Meyer Jr., of Duncannon, when his loaded rifle was leveled. Hill was recording the eviction and caught on camera the weapon’s firing that shot his 12-year-old daughter Ciara Meyer. Ciara died from the injury.

Hill caught the horrific moment on video.

For years, she said, she blamed herself for Ciara’s death. The trauma left a scar that added to her existing military scars. And, then in 2019, her mom passed away.

The former signals intelligence analyst felt like she took emotional hit after hit and couldn’t find the exit of her raging emotional vortex.

“There’s a feeling in your heart,” Hill said. “If you know it, you know it, and if you don’t, I hope you don’t ever feel it. After the shooting, and going through court, I was coping in a bad way; in a way that only alcohol and spiritual worship would take care of. I was either worshipping Jesus or I was wasted, and I would feel better.”

As her heart longed for direction, she waded through confusion until she hit her bottom. She decided to turn to running in an attempt to find solace.

“Quite frankly, it was all that I had,” Hill said. “Years have passed. Anniversaries have passed in my running journey that I’ve incorporated Ciara in a lot of my runs. She would have graduated last year. I ran 21 miles to celebrate that. I carry her with me, and my mom. Sometimes it gets to be too much, but I always have Ciara with me.”

Hill works at Fleet Feet in Mechanicsburg.

“We always say #runningchangeseverything,” she said of the hashtag. “Running literally saved my life. The emotions I’m going to have going into the Marathon, I can’t even imagine how I’m going to feel. There was a moment when I didn’t want to live. I didn’t want to live like that anymore. Running has given me a purpose and helped me to find things inside of me that I didn’t even know existed – that I can be my own personal strength, physically and emotionally.”

On Ciara’s death date and birthday, she runs.

Hill said she shed the shell she used to use to hide behind. Crying has been normalized, which once wasn’t normal to her. She feels more connected to individuals, especially women, when it comes to making smart decisions.

“I have worked extremely hard to become as soft as I am as a female,” Hill said. “You couldn’t make me cry two years ago. Being vulnerable is not always a bad thing. Running has a lot to do with it.”

Of the many lessons she’s learned, Hill said she’s more proactive than reactive. And those lessons are something she wants to share with other female runners, especially in light of Eliza Fletcher’s death in September. She was on her routine morning run when Fletcher was forced into an SUV and later shot in the head near the University of Memphis in Tennessee, police said.

“It is a totally mind-blowing story,” Hill said. “You’re up at 4:30 in the morning trying to get your work-out in before you teach your kids…I would encourage every female runner to join a running group in your community. It’s not only for your safety but many other reasons, too. The friendships are amazing.”

Not running alone is one of a handful of tips Pennsylvania State Trooper Megan Frazer would support. State police don’t have statistics on the number of women who have been harmed when running. But, if any runner is about to go for a long one, here are a few ways to protect yourself, Frazer said.

  • Never run/walk in a public place wearing both earphones; you can’t hear your surroundings;
  • Make sure to tell someone where you are; either share your location or send a quick text of where you are;
  • Have your phone with you or a device where you can contact 911 if there’s an emergency;
  • Have a planned route and know where you are; research the area and be aware of any dangers – wildlife, crime rates, or anything that could put you in a dangerous situation (even if the trails are maintained in the winter in ice and snow);
  • Most importantly, be aware of your surroundings

When Hill takes off for a run, she said she often shares that she’s going out for a while.

“If I go for a quick 10 miles, I’ll say, ‘consider me gone for an hour and a half,’” she said. “If you don’t hear from me, then there’s something wrong.”

Even with new technologies emerging – earbuds that sit on the bone in the ear allowing a runner to hear their surroundings – taking responsibility to be seen when you’re running is vital for safety, Hill said.

Sharing maps is another way to try to ensure safety, but it’s a double-edged sword. If a female uses a map like Strava, it allows others to see your routine. The plus is that someone can see where you are, and the minus is someone can see where you are. Someone watching could learn your routines, so caution is advised, she said.

Hill said she’s running the Harrisburg Marathon without earbuds. She said the whole reason she runs is to ground herself. She ran the Harrisburg half-marathon on Sept. 11. As she approached the finish line, wearing her bib, she felt a feeling that was new to her.

“It was like all the feelings I had for the past three years just all washed away, out of me,” she said.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 any time day or night, or chat online.

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