A report by Kelaine Conochan for ESPN.
This butt was built from thousands of squats. Thousands of deadlifts. And thousands and thousands of miles. This is Ashley Horner’s butt.
On Monday, Horner and her butt will embark on a 230-mile run — roughly the distance between Washington, D.C., and New York City — along the rugged coast and mountains of Haiti.
Her goal on the impossibly difficult run is to raise funds for the Maison Fortuné Orphanage, which provides education to more than 300 students and housing to more than 210 orphans in the modest town of Hinche, Haiti. She hopes to raise $28,000, enough to fund its elementary school for a full year.
“I’ll just be counting on my team to feed me salt tablets and rub out my butt when it gets sore,” says Horner, who lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “Mentally, I’m ready for it. I know I’m going to be sore, and I’m going to hurt, but other than that, it’s all mental. I’m just going to go for it.”
Hers, then, is quite literally a butt that won’t quit.
Building herself from scratch
Today, Ashley Horner is a strong, hard-working 32-year-old woman who owns and runs five businesses. She played for the Guam national soccer team in 2011 and is now a fitness pro with nearly 500,000 Instagram followers. Her body looks carved by the lightning of Zeus. She has sold more than a million copies of her fitness e-books. She’s also happily married, with three young sons –Tripp (9), Cash (8), and Otto (2).
In the gym and in her career, Horner looks strong, stable, even splendid. There are no signs of the struggle that got her where she is today. But you can feel it. It drives her.
Despite her success in sports, Horner struggled with body issues growing up in the small town of Sapulpa, Oklahoma. “I hung out with skinny girls who were cheerleaders, and I was this athletic girl who had the big legs, the big butt,” she says.
Then Horner’s father got cancer. She dropped out of college at Northeastern State University to be home with her family, where she watched her dad fight for his life, enduring pain and suffering until he passed. It changed her. Made her appreciate her body. Made her understand what a gift it is to be strong and resilient.
She turned her grief into strength, a strength used to rebuild her life, to get past the pain. “Among that chaos in my life, that’s when I really found fitness and started to embrace that I am a strong female, physically. I wasn’t meant to be skinny,” she says.
But then came a string of bad relationships. “I found myself as a single mom. I wasn’t making any money or having any help from anybody. I had the kids full time,” she says.
Horner remembers when she couldn’t pay her rent. When her electricity got cut off. “I don’t know how my car didn’t get repo-ed.”
“One relationship really stripped everything from me,” she says. “I didn’t have a dollar to my name, and I knew at that point that I had to be successful.”
Working her butt off was the only option.
“Through all the madness and the craziness, the one thing that centered me was training,” she says.
And when friends and strangers asked her for fitness advice, she figured out how to turn her passion into her livelihood, writing and selling fitness e-books.
She made her first million dollars while still in her 20s. She and her boys moved seven times, each stop a new opportunity to meet and inspire the people she trained, helping them to find beauty in their strength. She even created the Unbroken Foundation, which raises funds to provide housing and services to women and families who have suffered domestic violence.
After all the hurt, the loss, the turmoil, Horner built herself up and tried not to look back. “When I hit rock bottom, I had to figure it out. I had to figure out for myself how to be a successful female.”
Haiti: an unbreakable spirit
For centuries, the people of Haiti were ravaged by colonialism, slavery and political corruption. And you want to talk about rock bottom? How about cities being leveled by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010, killing some 220,000 people and leaving another 2 million homeless.
After the devastation of the earthquake, thousands of children and families sought refuge in Hinche. Rather than placing the children in homes for adoption, Maison Fortuné Orphanage houses them on-site, providing structure, consistency and classroom instruction that will allow the children to grow and develop in a loving, supportive environment, Horner said.
By focusing on education, Maison Fortuné empowers these children to become leaders who can, in turn, raise up their whole community, Horner said. To build themselves. To help them find beauty in their strength.
Stop us if that sounds familiar.
But Horner had no prior connection to Maison Fortuné. And is not even quite sure what drew her to Haiti in early December 2016, let alone that orphanage.
“I’d never been to Haiti. I didn’t know anybody from Haiti. But for some reason, a few times a year I would go online and search for orphanages and Haiti,” she says. “A small seed was planted in my heart, and I do not know why.”
Horner’s journey will begin the moment she lands in Port-au-Prince, where she’ll hop in a van and drive to the outskirts of the capital city. From there, she’ll run up the coast to Saint-Marc and continue on to Gonaives before heading inland to Plaisance. From Plaisance, she’ll head to the north coast of Cap-Haitien before taking the valley pass, an unpaved side road, to Saint-Raphael.
Then it’s onward to her destination, to Hinche, where Maison Fortuné’s students will run the last mile with her.
A small crew will accompany Horner in a van carrying her provisions. She’ll rely on them for physical, mental and emotional support throughout her run. They’ll be provided with a purified water supply to prevent cholera or other diseases that are commonly caused by Haiti’s contaminated water, but ice will be scarce at best. They’ll also pack plenty of sunscreen, bug spray to prevent Zika, and the copious amount of food she’ll need to fuel her trek.
“I plan on eating the whole time,” Horner says. That includes the standard runner fare — goos, chews, bars — as well as some calorically dense junk food that will convert to fuel quickly. “During these long runs, my body wants Oreos and Pop Tarts and anything that’s high sugar content.”
Remember that butt? The one that won’t quit? Well, Horner’s plan is to run continuously for the full 230 miles, stopping only to change clothes and maybe — maybe — for a couple of naps. But there are so many variables and unknowns that will impact even the best plans. “If I need sleep,” she says, “I’ll sleep in the van.”
Conservatively, it will take Horner three full days to complete the run, with temperatures likely in the mid-to-high 80s. “One of my concerns is heat exhaustion,” she says casually. “And I will change clothes at least twice a day to stay as dry as possible and avoid chafing or blisters. But I’m going to be sweating buckets.”
And what about her feet, which will carry her for 72 hours or more? “The last time I did something like this, my feet swelled more than two sizes. So, I usually wear a size 8, but I have shoes all the way up to a 9.5.”
Some, naturally, say she’s crazy. “I’m not doing this for them — I’m doing this for the children at the orphanage,” she says. “Whenever it gets rough, I’ll just think of them. Even now, I can see their faces. That just makes it all worth it.”
Horner knows the journey will be long and hard. But she is ready for it. She welcomes the pain.
“I’m going to be sore, I’m going to hurt. The thing is that with pain, it goes away. There’s an end. The pain and suffering will stop.”