To be a successful track athlete the traits are obvious: athletic, quick, competitive, determined and skilled immediately come to mind. Adaptable isn’t always on that list.
But name Tennessee State’s Amber Hughes a perfect example though of an athlete who has the skills to participate in several different sprints, relays and jumps. Her adaptability throughout the indoor season was constantly tested. The Atlanta native went into meets thinking she’d be participating in certain events only to have her coach tell her, sometimes as late as the morning of the meet, she’s doing other events.
“Right then and there I’d mentally prepare for it,” said Hughes, a junior. “I’ve gotten better over the years with handling it. You think you’re doing one thing and then all of a sudden it’s another. Now, it’s nothing new to me.”
For Hughes, that versatility has paid off in the outdoor season. She qualified for the East Regional in the long jump, triple jump and 100-meter hurdles and will compete in Jacksonville, Fla., beginning Thursday.
Countless others go through the same thing she does. Hughes’ uniqueness though comes in her results. Of her five events – 55 meter dash, 200 meter dash, 55/60 meter hurdles, 4×400 relay and triple jump — Hughes has finished top 3 in all of them at least once this indoor season. In 15 combined starts she has seven first-place finishes. Most impressive was Hughes’ time of 7.70 in the 55 meter hurdles on January 10, the fastest collegiate women’s time this year. She finished fourth in the triple jump at the NCAA Indoor Championships and earned All-American honors.
“I had no idea (it was the fastest time),” Hughes said. “My brother called me a couple of days later to tell me. I didn’t know. I’m always eager to know my time but had no idea. I didn’t think it would stand either.”
Hughes is the only girl among five boys. Growing up in Atlanta, her play time after school was running around with her brothers playing football in the streets. On the weekends, her brothers would buckle their chinstraps and put on shoulder pads, playing pee-wee football. Hughes would put on her cheerleading outfit and shake pompoms on the sidelines.
“What’s funny is now I’m the only athlete; the only one pursuing an athletic career,” said Hughes.
For most of her childhood she never considered participating in any team sports. While in ninth grade at Frederick Douglas High School, Hughes’ gym teacher had her try the vertical box jump test.
“After I (successfully) did it, he said, ‘You need to come out for the track team,’” Hughes said. “I said ‘OK’ but I just kept running away because I was scared.”
It wasn’t until the spring of Hughes’ junior year that she decided to go for it. Having showed good leaping ability as evidence of the vertical box test, Hughes raced in the hurdles. She got great coaching her senior year. Amazingly with just a little over a year of experience, Hughes got scholarship offers. That was an eye opening process for her.
“I was always concentrating on academics thinking I could go to college that way,” Hughes said. “The end of my junior year I was told that there were scholarships for running too.”
Tennessee State actively recruited Hughes, much more than other colleges. Most dropped an offer letter in the mail and made an occasional phone call. The Tiger Belles coaching staff kept in constant contact with her, even attending several of Hughes’ meets her senior year. After researching the history of the Tiger Belles track program, Hughes decided TSU was the right fit.
Hughes, who won OVC Track Athlete of the Year and Field Athlete of the Year during the indoor season, made the Olympic Trial Standard for the triple jump during the outdoor season with a distance of 13.46m (44’2”) at the Memphis Invitational. Her mark is the best in the OVC this season and ranks third in the nation.
Competing indoors isn’t even where Hughes does the best. At the 2015 OVC Outdoor Championships Hughes won the triple jump, 100-meter hurdles, 200-meter dash and was a member of the first place 4 x 400 relay. The four first-place finishes easily made her the 2015 Female Athlete of the OVC Outdoor Championships.
“When I came to TSU I don’t think I would be competing in as many events,” said Hughes. “I might favor some events over others. No matter where they put me thought I’m gonna make sure I do the best that I can.”