Roselle Park High School (RPHS) Hall of Famer Ahndraea Allen will be inducted into the Northeastern University Varsity Club Hall of Fame for excellence in Track & Field tomorrow night. Ahndraea will reach another milestone in a long career that involved running which started in Roselle Park.
Having moved to the borough with her family in the 1990s, Ahndraea realized two things – one, she was faster at running than most other girls and boys and second, that she wanted to play soccer. She grew up on West Clay Avenue next to the Roselle Park Middle School – her father still lives in town – and her mother, worried that her daughter would get injured, asked her why not just run around the track instead.
“I was allowed to do that because it wasn’t dangerous,” said Ahndraea when reached by phone, “and I was able to flourish at it.”
She continued, “I feel blessed for sure that my parents saw that in me and that they actually pushed me into running track. It paid for school.”
After graduating from RPHS in 2000, Ahndraea attended Northeastern University in Boston on a full athletic track scholarship and went on to numerous achievements including a college degree and two school records that remain unbroken to this day.
A laundry list of accolades and medals in track & field decorate Ahndraea’s accomplishments, but for Ahndraea it is more than that. For her, it is about the running. Even though, paradoxically enough, the one she is best at and has received the most medals for is the one she dreads the most – the 400-meter.
“I honestly feel like it’s the worst race ever,” she recalled, “It’s a full-out sprint, and once I’m running I’m good. It’s after the race; my whole body is asking me why did I do this! I push myself past limits that I didn’t even know I had but the pain. You never get over that. You never get used to it at all.”
Still, one would not know it with all the school records and trophies she has accumulated for ‘the 4′ as it is known.
One story, in particular, is telling of how Ahndraea looks beyond first place and gives more emphasis on doing her best.
Last year she qualified to represent the United States in Australia at the World Masters Championships. The 24-hour journey from Florida – where she currently lives – to the city of Perth only gave her two days prep time to run for the 200-meter; the first of four events she would take part in.
“I ran my butt off, and I felt like I did the best that I could. I feel like I could have done better if I was there a lot earlier but I took third,” Ahndraea recounted about her bronze medal finish, ”But honestly that was my favorite medal just because the fact that I got to run for my country and I got on the podium knowing that I didn’t have much rest was so exciting. My bronze is my favorite medal.”
Oh, by the way, she won gold medals in three other events at the World Masters Championships last year, and they were for… you guessed it, the 400-meter.
About going back to her alma mater tomorrow, Ahndraea said, “I’m excited! I can’t believe how much time has passed by and to know that some of my records are still there is kind of shocking. Of course, it feels good, but I know records are meant to be broken.”
In addition to her family, one important person that Ahndraea still holds dear in her heart is her high school track coach Wayne Letwink.
“Looking back at it now I don’t know if that was part of his coaching technique, but he would tell me, ‘’You ran good, but you’re not that good Ahndraea. This person is better.’”
She recalls, laughing, “I would run my butt off, and he would get me so upset that I would want to prove him wrong. That was my goal in life to prove this man wrong.”
When she got to college, during her first year, she went to the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) East Coast Championship. It was her first time in such a huge competition, and it was a big deal for her. What made it an even bigger deal was that it was the first time she would run the 400-meter.
“I told my college coach I had never run it before, but he said ‘Everyone runs the 4,’” Ahndraea said.
She was warming up when she kept hearing her name. She looked around thinking who would know her. That is when she saw Mr. Letwink.
“I turned around and said ‘Oh my God, what are you doing in Boston?’”
Mr. Letwink said he came all the way from Roselle Park to see her run. He told her, “None of my athletes have ever gotten this far. I just wanted to see you run. I’m so excited for you.”
And then he said, “Now, I’m going to be honest with you. You’re not going to win.”
Ahndraea said she thought to herself, “What are you kidding me?”
At the start of the conference, Ahndraea was ranked 24th. By the end of the night, she was ranked first. It was then that Mr. Letwink came to her excited and said to her: “Oh my God! You did so amazing! Let me tell you something. I’m going to be honest with you. You did a great job! But these girls are a little more seasoned than you. You’re not going to win tomorrow, but you’re going to get to the top 10.”
The next day – at the finals – Ahndraea won first place.
It was then that Mr. Letwink came over, crying, with his wife to congratulate Ahndraea and did something he had never done before; he hugged her.
And he told her, “I just want you to know how proud I am of you. You’re one of the best athletes that I’ve ever coached and I’m so proud of how far you’ve gotten. You’re the best.”
Ahndraea was in tears because she thought that he felt she was not good enough when he knew she could do better.
From time to time throughout college Mr. Letwink would pop up every once in a while for her big meets.
Sadly, Mr. Letwink passed away in 2015. Ahndraea said, “I didn’t know until later. I was very upset about it.”
She found Mrs. Letwink on Facebook, and she sent her a photograph Ahndraea had of her and her coach. They communicate back and forth now, and just recently, Mrs. Letwink told her that her husband would be so proud of her getting inducted into the Hall of Fame and would probably have driven up so that he could be there. Ahndraea stated simply, “I love Mr. Letwink. I feel like he pushed me in his own way to become who I am today. I am so thankful to him.”
The journey to tomorrow night still blows Ahndraea away. She said, “When I think about it, it’s just crazy how far it’s brought me and how, still, I’m traveling all around the world [because] of it.”
She once took a break in 2005 after graduating from her five-year program and admitted that not running for one year made her feel empty. She remarked, “It’s such a big part of my life that I was just like I need to continue to do this, so I jumped back into it.”
Ahndraea works for Adidas as a sales marketing rep for the Central Florida region. She does running events as well as community events and training of staff on products and – of course – running. She loves having a job that allows her to run.
Reflecting on everything, the Roselle Park High School Hall of Famer stated, “I love running. I just love it. I feel blessed of how far it’s taken me. I feel free when I’m running. That’s where I shine the most. It’s just you and the clock.”
As for what is next on the horizon with running, Ahndraea is looking forward to the next World Masters Championship in Spain next year and to defending her title. “Then I’ll probably take a break,” she said. But, based on the peace it brings her, that break might not last for long.
Here are her stats.
Ahndraea holds school records for the indoor 400m (53.49) and outdoor 400m (52.77). She reached the NCAA outdoor track and field championships in both 2003 and 2005, where she ended her collegiate career by finishing 12th overall in the 400-meter dash. During her career, she captured four straight America East 200-meter dash individual championships in addition to four consecutive 400-meter dash championships, where she is second all-time in conference history with a 53.55-second victory in 2004.
Ahndraea won the indoor ECAC 400m three years in a row and set outdoor school records in the 4×100 relay (45.59) and the 4×400 relay (3:39.21). She was an America East Individual Champion 17 times and a member of seven America East team championships.
She was also the America East Most Outstanding Track Performer in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Additionally, Ahndraea won the 2005 Indoor and Outdoor America East Coaches Award.
After her collegiate career, Ahndraea began competing for the United States masters team. Since then, she has captured two national outdoor championships (ages 30-34) in the 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash in 2014 and 2015, respectively. She is also an indoor masters champion in the 400-meters in 2016. In 2016, she brought home three gold medals (400-meter dash, 4×400-meter relay, 4×100-meter relay) and one bronze (200-meter dash).
Ahndraea, along with six other Northeastern Athletics alumni, will be honored at the Varsity Club Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony tomorrow night, November 9th.