By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Between traveling, training and competing, Ashley Twichell has been a busy young lady over the past few months.
Starting in December, she flew to Rio de Janeiro to compete in the King and Queen of the Sea event and then to South Africa for the Midmar Mile race in February. Since then, she’s competed in World Cup Open Water events in Santos and Cozumel, Mexico.
Needless to say, she’s put more miles on her passport than she has in the pool – but she knows it’s all part of chasing after her dreams of swimming at another World Championships this summer, as well as the next Olympics.
“I had some great races in Rio and South Africa, and they were great experiences even though the outcomes weren’t what I’d hoped for,” Twichell said. “Overall, it’s been a great first few months to the year, and now I’m getting excited and ready for Nationals and (hopefully) World Championships.”
Everything she’s done so far has been in preparation for the Open Water National Championships next month at Lake Castaic in Southern California.
A top finish at the meet will earn Twichell a spot on the U.S. Open Water team competing at World Championships later this summer in Barcelona, Spain.
If this meet goes anything like the one she had two years ago – when she won the 5K race in only her second Open Water event to qualify for Worlds, where she won a 5k team event gold and a bronze – Twichell knows she’ll be booking more frequent flier miles this summer.
Considering the amount of time she puts in every day, her love for swimming has translated into a quest for excellence every time she hits the water.
“Each morning, the alarm goes off at 4:15 a.m., and it takes a tremendous amount of dedication to reach my goals,” Twichell said. “I’ve always had a love for the water. Of course, there are days where practices are grueling or I may not feel great. But I’ve always gotten a thrill from pushing myself to the limits, both in practice, and races.”
Her journey to becoming one of the United States’ strongest open water swimmers can be traced to her distance training program on her high school team at Fayetteville-Manlius High School in Fayetteville, N.Y. -- as well as her daily open water ocean swims with her dad during family vacations.
She continued to focus on aerobic conditioning and distance training at Duke (graduated in 2011), and after some solid but unspectacular results in the pool during her first three years in college, Twichell finally experienced her moment. At the 2011 NCAA Championships, she broke through to finish fifth in the 1650 freestyle, earning All-America honors in the process.
That result -- and a strong interest in seeing where she could take her open water swimming promise -- prompted her to make a life-changing move from her training base in Durham, N.C., to Mission Viejo, Calif., in May 2011.
Now, two years later, she’s living her dream.
“I still have such a pure love for the sport, and I am so blessed to have the (Mission Viejo) Nadadores as not only my team, but an entire family and community of support,” said Twichell, who trains with several distance and open water competitors, including 2012 Olympian Chloe Sutton, as well as some of the nation’s top male open water swimmers
“I can honestly say that it (Mission Viejo) is the most impressive and exciting training atmosphere I have ever been a part of. I have never seen a group that consistently trains at such an intense level each and every day. I have amazing teammates, specifically Chloe, and I owe a lot of credit to Coach (Bill) Rose. He is not only an unbelievable coach but has truly become a second father figure to me.”
Twichell said it was somewhat of a financial struggle to continue training and competing last year as she was not receiving a stipend from the USOC. She relied upon the help of her “amazing” parents, whom she said have supported her 100 percent in every way. She also lived with a host family (the Gronbergs) to make ends meet.
Now receiving some financial assistance from the USOC (as well as prize money she earns from competition), she is able to live independently and focus on her swimming – living with former Michigan Wolverine swimmer and Nadadores coach Emily Hanson.
While open water is definitely her focus, Twichell said she continues to swim pool events (and trains in the pool), and, depending upon what happens at Open Water Nationals next month, may compete at the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships later this summer in Indianapolis.
But she hopes her seat on the plane to Barcelona will be booked before then.
“I am so ready for a competitive race,” Twichell said. “There are a lot of extremely talented female open water swimmers in the United States, but at the same time, I am feeling very confident and well prepared leading up to next month.”