Where Are They Now: High School Athletes
An interview with two veteran players: Robbie Lyons and Ashley Hood.
By Jill Condon
Sports Jillustrated is a monthly column reporting on local sports leagues, the everyday lives of everyday athletes, veteran players, and more sport-related topics and people.
Penn State has long been home to the best women’s volleyball team in the country. When I was in eighth grade, a scout was prepared to offer me a full scholarship. I was already 6’3 and showing intense progress as a player. When I entered high school, the varsity coach said I did not need to try out, I could just join the team. I had spent my year traveling to different mid-atlantic towns.
To this day, I get asked if I play sports. The older I get, the odder I find this question. To be participating in organized sport at my age would mean playing at a professional/semi-professional level, so it’s confusing to me whenever someone I’m serving at my restaurant job or a cashier at the discount store where I buy my underwear pops the question. When I say no, I am often met with the response, “that’s too bad." My answer has more than once been met with the response, “What a waste.” What a waste. What a waste I chose not to use my body in the only way these people find valuable. Some days I shake off their remarks, some days I am offended, but some days I agree. It is a waste.
Eventually the day came when I had to make the decision whether I wanted to continue to push my body to its limits and reach my fullest potential as an athlete or dick around on the weekends. I chose the latter. Living in New York, I am still surrounded by people pushing their bodies to their limits on a regular basis, be it with drugs, work, lack of sleep, etc. The durability of the body does not falter just because it is not being used competitively. This idea inspired me to chat with a couple young New Yorkers who competed during their formative years about their experiences in and current relationships to the world of organized sport.
Athlete 1: Robbie Lyons
Robert “Robbie” Lyons is a sexy boy from Portland Oregon. Just the full package. Delicately chiseled face, a childlike disposition, and an all around delightful hang. Robbie is a model without an ounce of pretension. Something unique about Robbie is that for every minute he spends partying downtown, he spends an hour on the court. Robbie started playing basketball in first grade and kept up his game until his junior year of high school. Rob’s departure from the game came when he was scouted at a Greek food festival in Portland the first night he’d ever smoked weed. He soon found success in the modeling world and his travel schedule forced him to leave his team.
The sadness around quitting the sport he loved wasn’t immediate as Robbie had been having some difficulties with his coaching staff. “I liked to goof off. I was a locker room guy.” Robbie described himself as a “locker room guy” multiple times during our conversation, which was verbiage I suggested he not use as a straight man. He made varsity his junior year but spent a good deal of time riding the bench. However, bench riding at Robbie’s school proved to be quite exciting. The school hired Portland Trailblazers legend Damian Lillard’s best friend as their head coach, and Lillard occasionally attended games, keeping Rob company.
JC: Do you regret not pursuing a college career?
RL: Yeah definitely. I had coaches who felt I had a lot of potential.
On attracting world-wide talent:
RL: We were a predominately white school and then suddenly there were four guys on the team named Mohammed. One of them went by Mohammed, one of them went by Mo, one by Mo Mo.
JC: What about the fourth?
RL: He went by something else.
On moving to New York:
JC: Being involved in fashion and nightlife, did/do you have trouble finding people as passionate about sports as you?
RL: Not really. I think I’ve found my social niche…I also love introducing people to basketball, and most get into it very quickly.
Robbie continues to play often and is passionate about improving his game. His love of basketball is not predicated on prestige, although he has played in Nike sponsored tournaments and runs with the team. He is content to play with strangers in the park. For Robbie, basketball is and will always be one of the greatest joys of his life.
Athlete 2: Ashley Hood
I talked to up and coming stylist extraordinaire Ashley Hood on her way home from an eyelash appointment in New Jersey. Ashley is the epitome of 2023 downtown cool: an artfully tatted, racially-ambiguous bundle of confidence. I did not know Ashley, so when I found out we were going to be working together, I asked our mutual friend Su, a legendary Clandestino barback, what she was like.
He answered, “Fun. A little crazy. Likes to drink and party. Kind of how you used to be.” This gave me pause. Then I met Ashley and quickly fell in love. Truly one of those “dope souls” whose “vibe you crave.” I soon learned that Ashley spent the vast majority of her life equestrian show jumping. Ashley is the furthest thing from what you might envision upon hearing the term “horse girl”, so naturally I was interested to hear more about her experience.
Ashley grew up around farms in Seattle where she would see horses from the car when she was very little and beg her parents to let her ride (this instinct to point out horses on the side of the road is when I gained confirmation that Ashley is indeed at least part Caucasian). Her parents caved and she started showing/competing when she was eight years old.
JC: What does that mean exactly? Showing?
AH: A horse show is basically just what you call the competitions. There are different shows for different types of “equestrian disciplines” (basically just different categories of equestrian sport) . You pretty much show off your horse and your riding abilities in an arena with judges and an audience and you can win prizes or a title or money.
JC: Were you showing ability from a young age? Did you have a natural talent for it?
AH: There’s different age ranges and I would honestly say I was better/more promising when I was younger since I had so much experience for my age. I also really liked it but I took a break when I was 13-16 when being a teenager was the most important thing to me [Ashley laughs] before getting back into it and it was way harder.
On her horseback riding hiatus:
AH: My whole life was horses and I went to a small school so when I got older I felt like I had a lot to catch up on. I remember being like 14 and these girls were talking about boys and I was like whoa no fucking way.
JC: Was your family upset with your decision to stop? Or were they cool letting you do what you wanted.
AH: They were honestly really cool with it because horseback riding is so expensive. Lessons, riding equipment, clothes paying to compete. Also the more you ride the more instructors push you to buy your own horse because most of them make commission on that which I would always get out of by “leasing a” a horse. I was friends with a girl who bought a 100k horse from Russia. Sometimes even a helmet is like $200.
JC: Helmet Lang
On returning to riding:
JC: Do you miss it?
AH: Yeah honestly. It’s an adrenaline rush. I like going super fast. Also it’s awesome to be around horses.
I have to agree with Ashley on that. Horses are awesome.
It is impossible to know whether or not the abandonment of an athletic career is a mistake. Sometimes it’s nice to fantasize about a world in which you’re on a Wheaties box and not a flier for a DJ set. But it is experiences like these that teach us discipline, confidence, what we want from life, what feels good. Until further notice, we feel good.