App State track athlete finds success on track and in classroom in final season


Courtesy of App State Athletics

Graduate student Peighton Simmons leaps to a gold medal in the triple jump at the SBC Indoor Championship.

Drew Bailey, Reporter

Some college students may struggle keeping up with their class work, but one track athlete has been able to thrive in both academics and athletics. 

Graduate student Peighton Simmons has earned All-Academic honors while also winning three track conference championships. 

She is the type of student-athlete we recruit all the time to be here on the mountain. She has higher standards for herself to be successful, and it shows that she is ready for the real world,” said head track coach Damion McLean. “Once she’s done here, she will also make an impact wherever she goes.”

Simmons comes from an athletic family. Her father was a basketball player at Lenoir-Rhyne University and her sister was a sprinter at NC State. Simmons excelled in triple jump events as far back as high school. During her high school career, she won two AAU Junior Olympics National triple jump championships and five 2A state triple jump championships. She was able to match these with athletic accomplishments by being a co-salutatorian and becoming president of her school’s  National Honor Society. 

“I take extreme pride in my academics. I am actually one of those students who will cry literal tears if I don’t do well on an assignment,” Simmons said. 

Simmon’s resume led to her competing for North Carolina from 2017-18. During her Tar Heel career, she finished seventh at the 2018 ACC Outdoor Championships, 12th in the 2018 ACC Indoor championships and first at the UCS Invitational competing in the triple jump. Following her sophomore season, Simmons transferred to App State where she became a prominent part of its track program. 

“I was at a really low point in my life prior to coming here. To my relief, Appalachian State has allowed me to thrive academically, athletically and socially,” Simmons said. “Since being here, I’ve been blessed to make amazing grades, win conference championships, make amazing friends and teammates and join on-campus organizations. Being a student at App has been the light at the end of the tunnel for me.”

Simmons hit the ground running as a Mountaineer. She placed first in the triple jump at the Appalachian Open with a 12.77-meter jump, the fourth-best mark in program history. She also helped her 4×300-meter relay team set the school record in the event with a blazing 2:41.58. At the 2020 Sun Belt Indoor Championships, she finished third in the long jump and 4×400-meter relay team event, earning her All-Sun Belt honors in both events. This helped reassure Simmons that being a Mountaineer track athlete was right for her.

“Coming to Appalachian State was similar to being a freshman all over again; new school, new people and teammates, new training regimens, new coaches and even a change in elevation,” Simmons said. “I didn’t know how any of this would affect my performance. Having such an impact right off the bat solidified for me that being on the mountain was one of the best decisions I could have made.” 

Coming into the 2021 season, Simmons tried to build on her momentum. But after an ankle injury, she was unsure if she would have the same success. 

“Many don’t know, but I was battling ankle injuries during both indoor and outdoor seasons,” Simmons said. “I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to compete at either conference championships, let alone win them both.” 

Simmon’s worries were put to rest when she became the first woman since 2010 to win both an indoor and outdoor conference championship at the 2021 Sun Belt Outdoor Championships. She won the triple jump with a leap of 12.83 meters to extend her mark as the fourth-best triple jump in program history. At the 2021 Sun Belt Indoor Championships, she won the triple jump again with a 12.67-meter jump. 

“Being able to do that was like ‘Okay, if you can do that while hurting, imagine the possibilities when you’re healthy again,’” Simmons said. 

Peighton Simmons stands atop the podium after capturing her second-straight SBC triple jump title. (Courtesy of App State Athletics)

As Simmons hoped, when she became healthy, she reached the expectations she set for herself. On the first meet of this season at the App State Invite, Simmons took off for 13.11 meters in the triple jump. This was the farthest attempt in the Holmes Convocation Center and second farthest attempt in program history. Simmons also won the long jump after propelling herself 6.06 meters, her personal record by a foot. Simmons recorded half of the team’s first place finishes at the meet. She was named the Sun Belt Women’s Field Athlete of the Week for her performance.

“It feels great to win, but if I don’t hit the mark that I have set for myself, then I’m still not truly satisfied with the performance,” Simmons said. “Being able to set the Holmes Center record and be named the Sun Belt Women’s Field Athlete of the Week was truly rewarding this go around because to earn those accolades meant I accomplished my goal: a personal record. I PR’d by a foot, and that was the most rewarding of it all.”

Simmons continued her high level of success this season, winning both the long and triple jump events at the Marshall Invitational. Jumping to 5.92 and 13.10 meters respectively. She won another Sun Belt Women’s Field Athlete of the Week award, the only App State track athlete to do so this season.

This success hit its climax at the 2022 Sun Belt Indoor Championship. Simmons achieved her personal record of 13.28 meters in the triple jump to win her third Sun Belt Championship. She posted another personal record in the long jump. Her 6.10 meters earned her silver in the event.

After graduation, Simmons hopes to go into psychology, but she is not waiting until she graduates to showcase these skills. Junior Taylor Smith recounts how Simmons kept her calm at the 2020 Sun Belt Indoor Championships. 

“My favorite memory with Peighton would have to be my freshman year at indoor conference in the long jump finals,” Smith said. “It was just me and her, and I was extremely nervous, but her uplifting spirit and sense of humor helped me overcome my nerves.” 

Simmons’ time donning the spikes for the Mountaineers nears its end as she seeks a successful post-college career. 

“After officially hanging up my spikes at the end of the academic year, I’ll be finishing up my last year of graduate school, so I still won’t be too far from the track,” Simmons said. “After graduate school, I hope to gain some occupational experience in the counseling field before going back to school for the last time, I promise, with the ultimate goal of becoming a licensed psychologist.” 

Coach McLean looks back at his experiences on and off the track with Simmons fondly. 

It’s been a pleasure to see the highs and lows each time she’s competing with her teammates,” McLean said. “She makes them better, and they make her better as well.”