Right on Track

by Micah McDaniel

Allie Updike ’15 had plenty of time to think about life’s big questions—including “What do I really want from college?”— as she moved mulch and plants at a nursery near her home in Herndon, Virginia, just a few miles south of the Potomac River. It was a typical summer job for a college student, except it was spring 2013. A few weeks earlier, Updike had surprised everyone and walked away from a full NCAA Division I track scholarship from the University of Georgia.

As a freshman at Georgia, Updike won the 2012 Southeastern Conference javelin championship and finished ninth at the NCAA Championships. She enjoyed instant success and had a bright future. But something was missing. “On the surface, I seemed happy, but I really wasn’t,” said Updike. “I felt like I was just a performer, and if I didn’t perform, then I didn’t matter to anyone. Some people thrive in that atmosphere, but it wasn’t for me. I needed something more than track.”

So Updike packed up her car, walked away from the limelight, and headed home. “My parents didn’t believe I was leaving until I showed up in the driveway. I’m sure they were shocked, but they’ve always been supportive.”

A few months later, while working at the nursery and trying to figure out her next step, Updike began talking with the Air Force Academy, but that path was not for her. The throws coach at Air Force, however, placed a call on her behalf to a longtime friend of his— Mike Barnett ’83, M.A. ’97, Azusa Pacific’s director of track and field.

A few weeks later, Updike trekked across the country for a visit and found her new home. “I knew right away this was the place. I went to morning weights with the team, and there was a different atmosphere that I hadn’t experienced before. The athletes weren’t just athletes, they were people, and the coaches cared for them. That was the first thing I saw, and I wanted that more than anything.”

It was also the first thing Updike’s parents could see on Allie’s face when she came home the following Christmas. “As soon as she walked through the door, we knew immediately she had made the right decision. She found joy there,” said Jackie Updike, Allie’s mom.

However, just as Updike settled into her new home, adversity struck. During her first semester, she felt something pop in her shoulder. The doctors initially told her it was tendonitis, so she went about her business as usual, but her performance did not meet her standards. Despite this challenging circumstance, she maintained the positive attitude that her new community nurtured. Once the season finished, however, she learned why her results had waned. The problem was not tendonitis, but a torn labrum, which required surgery in August 2014. “It was a downer, but I received so much support from the community. It was almost as if the coaches were more upset about it for me than I actually was.”

Updike spent that fall rehabbing, and just five months after surgery was cleared to throw. Four months later, she won her first NCAA Division II championship with a meet record. She then repeated that feat at the 2016 NCAA Division II championships last May with a meet-record throw of 56.03 meters (183 feet, 10 inches), winning by more than six feet on her first throw. Each of her subsequent three throws would have also won the competition. Updike, who owns three of Division II’s top five throws of all time, also posted the eighth-best qualifying mark for the 2016 Olympic Trials, in which she competed in July and finished 15th. But for her, the track accomplishments are just icing on the cake.

For all her championships and honors, Updike is more proud of the things she has done off the track—things she likely would have never accomplished if not for her decision to come to Azusa Pacific. Things like mission trips to Mexico, being a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) leader and team captain, or a month-long mission trip to Hawaii in 2015 with Surfing the Nations, serving the community, cleaning up beaches, feeding the hungry, and investing in relationships.

“APU has made me more confident, and I don’t know where I’d be or what I’d be doing had I not found this place. The people here have made my life that much sweeter. I didn’t know what it meant to serve a community, but they gave me opportunities to be a blessing to others. There was a piece of my heart that was missing, and I found it at APU. Coach Barnett is not just a coach; he’s been a godly father figure and showed me my value. He made me realize that my life is not all about the javelin. Track and field is something I do, but it’s not who I am.”

Micah McDaniel ’99 is a freelance writer living in McKinney, Texas. micah.mcdaniel@gmail.com

Originally published in the Fall '16 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.