Meet the multitalented Ashley Heald
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG, Banner Staff Writer
Aug 19, 2012 | 1326 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ashley Heald
ASHLEY HEALD, a 17-year-old Cleveland native, is a home-schooled high school senior who balances her duties as Distinguished Young Woman of Cleveland with part-time college classes and a love for writing romance novels and dancing ballet.
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Ashley Heald, a 17-year-old Cleveland native, is known for winning the title of Distinguished Young Woman of Cleveland for 2012 and placing as runner-up in Tennessee’s state competition. But there is more to her than meets the eye.

She is not just a scholarship competition contestant known for how well she has performed in front of the judges. She is also a self-described overachiever with interests that range from writing novels to working with children to dancing advanced-level ballet.

Heald is a home-schooled student going into her senior year of high school. Last year, she began taking classes at Lee University as a dual enrollment student. While she was still doing some of her high school work at home, she has been able to get a jump start on earning college credits. So far, she has English, mathematics, history and political science classes at the university — three of which are required to earn both high school and college diplomas.

As she won the Distinguished Young Women of Cleveland competition and also placed as runner-up in the Tennessee state competition, she received nearly $5,000 in scholarships to help her pay for college. However, she is not yet sure where she wants to go.

“I’m between Lee, Union and Carson-Newman,” Heald said.

Wherever she goes, she is planning to major in English with an emphasis in creative writing. Heald said she likes to write in her spare time and recently began writing full-length books rather than just short stories.

“I like to write Christian romance novels,” Heald said.

She has completed one novel and is currently working on her second. Her career goals do include writing, and she hopes to be a published novelist someday. She also a big reader and said her idea of a perfect day includes time to read and some good books.

“I will just hole up in my room and read all day if I can get away with it,” Heald said.

But she said her parents, Stephen and Jamie Heald, and her 15-year-old sister, Abby, make sure she doesn’t spend all her time with her book collection.

In addition to her love for reading and writing, Heald also has a heart for working with children.

“I’d love to work with kids and be a children’s minister,” she said.

Perhaps her first love before she got into writing and decided on a possible career path was dancing ballet. She has been dancing for 15 years, and she has been dancing en pointe, a type of ballet using special shoes to keep dancers on their toes for entire dances, for the past 6 years. She is a member of the senior company of the Tennessee Youth Ballet.

The story of how she got started is an uncommon one. She was a 2-year-old ballerina. Her mother had been a dancer for several years and noticed that her daughter might have a future in dancing because of how she danced around the house.

“I walked on my toes everywhere,” Heald said. “My mom saw that and thought I’d be a good dancer too. I did get a head start.”

Her birthday also fell close to the start date for a ballet class for children 3 years of age and older.

She said she wants to continue to dance during her college years but isn’t sure how she’ll do that in college.

“I’d like to continue to dance,” Heald said. “But I’m not sure what their [the universities’] dance programs are like.”

Heald has to carefully manage her time in order to balance her love her dancing with her high school and college classes. Because she is home-schooled, she said she chose to do some of her work during the summer so she can devote more time to ballet and her classes at Lee University this fall. She wants her senior year to be a great one.

“I am an overachiever,” Heald said. “I am determined to make everything perfect.” 

As she balances both high school and college classes and ballet practices, she will also be continuing her duties as Distinguished Young Woman of Cleveland.

She decided to join the competition for reasons similar to the one that made her get started in ballet. Her mother was a Junior Miss contestant, as Distinguished Young Women contestants were called before 2010. Heald thought her mother’s experiences sounded fun, so she entered. To her surprise, she won the Cleveland competition and went on to compete on the state level.

Heald said the state competition was a lot different than Cleveland’s.

“It’s definitely a different air about it,” Heald said. “It is more competitive.”

A major difference, she said, was she did not know any of the state contestants. For her, it was harder to get to know her fellow state contestants because they did not spend as much time together as do local contestants.

“The local program happens a lot longer,” Heald said, noting that Cleveland contestants start practicing three months prior to the competition.

Heald’s commitment to academics paid off when she competed in the state competition. One of the things that led to her being named runner-up was her score in the Scholastics portion of the competition. She had the highest ACT exam score of any of the Tennessee contestants — a composite score of 31, said Glenda Free, co-chair of the Cleveland Distinguished Young Women competition. Heald also won the Interview and Fitness portions of the state competition.

Competing in Distinguished Young Women is what Heald said has most taught her to be confident speak in front of a group of people.

“I’ve definitely learned that ‘I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me,’” Heald said, quoting part of a Bible verse.

She said she thought her fear of public speaking could do certain parts of the competition, including the Interview portion. Success came when she confronted that fear.

“I’m a pretty shy person,” Heald said. “The interview was a huge thing for me. I’ve learned to be in from of judges and do well.”

She said she was able to make some friends behind the scenes of the competitions, and she noticed the other girls growing more comfortable with speaking and performing publicly. She believes that many of them “grew inside themselves.”

Heald said she will continue to “give 110 percent” to whatever she does for the remainder of the year, including helping plan the Distinguished Young Woman of Cleveland competition next spring. She will then give away her title.

Until then, her duties as Distinguished Young Woman of Cleveland include speaking at clubs, organizations and schools. When she visits schools, she shares the “Be Your Best Self” program that promotes maintaining healthy lifestyles, getting involved in the community and living responsible, goal-oriented lives.

To invite Heald for speaking engagements, email: Glenda Free at