Helena Magazine

Setting the pace: Aspen Warren plans to go the distance in the land down under

Published 8:55 am Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Written by Donald Mottern

Photos by Jeremy Raines and Contributed

Aspen Warren, a senior at Helena High School, is earnestly preparing for an opportunity to represent not only his family, friends and hometown, but the United States as a whole. Next July, Aspen will board a flight to Queensland, Australia and take part in the annual Coast 2 Coast International Athletics track and field meet held at the Gold Coast Performance Centre.

For an up and coming athlete like Aspen, it is an opportunity that is simply too amazing to ever turn away from, which is a fact that makes his journey to this point in time, all the more interesting. Less than seven years ago, Aspen had no interest whatsoever in the sport he now excels and serves as an inspiration in.

“In seventh grade I joined cross-country and track to try and stay in shape for soccer,” Aspen said. “I didn’t really have any interest in the sport other than staying in shape for soccer.”

According to Aspen’s father, Anthony Warren, that initial move was thanks to repeated recommendations made by coach Todd Schaefer, who pushed his soccer players to take up the sport as to maintain and develop their peak performance and readiness during the soccer offseason.

“He played soccer for quite a while, and as a matter of fact, he played a high-level soccer for (Birmingham United Soccer Association) BUSA,” Anthony said. “(Aspen) played at the highest level over there. It was funny because he was always kind of the quickest guy. He was what they call a striker. He was the guy that had to be the fastest on the team.”

Before these suggestions took root, Aspen had always been firm footed in his belief that “running was an exercise,” and not a sport. Nevertheless, Aspen eventually agreed to take part in track along with a few other teammates.

At first, he did so begrudgingly, but as he completed his seventh-grade year, Aspen was already exhibiting a talent that even he couldn’t deny or ignore.

“As the season went on—my very first year with track—I saw that I was naturally gifted and I was talented at the sport,” Aspen said. “I would race my teammates and I was above average. Coming in that eighth-grade year, I would win most of my meets in track and cross-country. And (by the time I was) in eighth grade, I knew that I could do something big with the sport.”

For someone who was initially uninterested in the sport, Aspen displayed a natural talent in that first season and developed it even further during his eighth-grade year. During that time, he became the number three freshman in the United States for the mile. However, events that year were all cut short or canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although delayed, Aspen was not deterred in his newfound position and maintained his status as a top runner in his class.

In fact, Aspen hung up his soccer jersey and shin guards permanently in favor of track beginning with his freshman year in high school. Now, he just takes part in his two main cross-county events which are the 800 and 1,600 meter, which translate roughly into a half-mile and mile run respectively.

“What kind of flipped (Apsen) was the camaraderie,” Anthony said. “While running in his eighth-grade year he received a lot of mentorship from the seniors. They came together when Aspen was in eighth grade—a lot of the boys came together—and bought him his first pair of—very expensive—running shoes. I was a little taken back because we were going to buy them for him. But Brady Barton and a lot of these guys took Aspen under their wing.”

This team mentality, which Aspen quickly melded with, served to encourage him as he developed and matured in the sport throughout his high school career. Every weekend, the teammates also hold student led Bible studies and rotate houses as to where the events are hosted. However, Aspen is the first to admit that despite the collective team mentality and his natural capabilities, his success at Helena has not been effortless.

“Throughout the years, I’ve been talented, but the sport really just taught me that talent doesn’t get you places,” Aspen said. “It’s talent plus hard work. And these past couple of years in high school have really taught me that because my talent has only taken me so far. I started to see some plateauing during my sophomore year, because I wasn’t working hard. (After that) I started to work hard again. It really showed me that talent plus working hard is what makes you successful in the sport, more than anything.”

This year, In the middle of this hard work and gaining recognition for his local successes, Aspen received the invite from Coast 2 Coast Athletics that offered him an amazing opportunity to further his athletic standing.

“I actually got a letter through the school and I got it from my counselor and she handed it to me,” Aspen said. “I went home and opened it up and it was an invitation to run internationally and represent the United States at this meet in Australia.”

Aspen’s coach had also been notified about the invitation and helped to attribute legitimacy to the invitation before Aspen and his parents sat down to further research the organization. At first, they believed it might have been an invitation sent en masse to high school athletes across the country, but they soon realized the exclusiveness of the event.

“As parents, the first question we’re going to ask is, of course, ‘Who are you?,’ But really these are people that look out for not only just fast runners, but they also seek out character and grades and things of that nature,” Anthony said. “They’re a nonprofit and you can tell they are a very reputable and very nice group of people that get together to just take a lot of their own time to really recognize and try to put forth the best athletes all around.”

The meet, which is currently scheduled for next year on July 12-14, will involve athletes representing multiple countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and others. It is an officially sanctioned International Association of Athletics Federations event that will see results rendered as official records.

With all of this on the table, Aspen is simultaneously setting the pace for his future looking ahead. He has expressed an intention to run collegiately and is already touring colleges and receiving offers, including one from his mother’s alma mater of Montevallo.

“It’s a big goal for me to run collegiately,” Aspen said. “I want to run at the highest level possible. So, Division one, collegiately and then obviously this opportunity is awesome to run internationally. So, after the collegiate level, if running professionally is an option, then that’s obviously there.”

Aspen also has interests and talent off the track as well, which are expressed in his intention to attain a degree in business and an MBA through a university. Already he has expressed a business acumen exceeding his age by having started businesses in areas such as internet marketing, lawn service and pressure washing.

“I’m just, trying to learn some new skills and teach myself. It’s really nothing crazy,” Aspen said. “I’m just trying to learn and if I don’t make any profit off of it, then that’s okay. At the end of the day, it’ll help me in the future.”

In Aspen’s view, much like his startups, the meet in Australia can do nothing but help in training and the attainment of future success. Therefore, to Aspen and his family, there is no question now that he will board the flight to Australia next year, it is simply too great an opportunity to pass by.

That being said, the trip will not be cheap and he is asking friends, family and the local community for their support in the adventure. Recently, Aspen took it upon himself to start a GoFundMe page to raise the necessary funds.

“I’m going to have to cover travel expenses such as plane tickets, meals and housing,” Aspen said. “So, I created a GoFundMe where the community and just people that want to support me, can help me out and to help fund this so that I can represent not just the city of Helena or the state of Alabama, but the whole country.”

The GoFundMe fundraiser that is currently underway has been carefully set up to accommodate the many requirements and guidelines set forth by the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA). One of these requirements demands that all donations made to Aspen’s page are directly sent to Coast 2 Coast, and not directly to Aspen himself. This is done to safely ensure that all donations and funds are correctly situated and organized for their promised purpose.

So far, this effort has taken off in a grassroots fashion, with friends and family pitching in to help Aspen meet his goal of raising $6,000. As of the beginning of November, he is nearly one third of the way there, with over $1,850 raised.

“I’ve been surprised,” Anthony said. “It’s not just one donor. One great aunt, a lot of friends, a lot of people who know Aspen have all really stepped up and made small donations, here and there. All of us has been before talking about how appreciative and how really emotional it’s been for everybody to pull together.”

For a student who began this athletic journey with no intention of utilizing it as anything other than a training exercise, his being chosen to participate in an international event has been a deeply humbling experience. As July approaches, Aspen plans to keep putting in the hard work that so far has netted him with the highest degrees of success, all while serving as a role model and inspiration for his team and showing his honest appreciation for those he knows as friends and family.

“It’s humbling for him,” Anthony said. “He’s such a low-key kid. Everybody you talk to will say that he’s not a loud bragging kind of fellow.”

Those who would like to learn more about Aspen’s involvement in the Coast 2 Coast International Athletics event, or who would like to help fund Aspen’s trip can visit his GoFundMe page at Gofundme.com/f/run-with-aspen-send-helena-athlete-to-australia?fbclid=IwAR3UzlWngXSJbZlKklacLJsjbJ-qYIl3bacNJpAZy_TYj71M1pNpytxl1w8