By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
It’s what Ashley Steenvoorden was hoping to ride in the final laps of both the 400 and 800 freestyle events at this summer’s U.S. Olympic Trials on her way to a spot on the Olympic team.
What she found instead was that the yardage volume she’d upped over the preceding months didn’t translate into second-half speed in her events – and she came up short of realizing her Olympic dream in her second Olympic Trials.
Still, while the end result wasn’t in her favor – she missed the finals in both events and swam several seconds slower than her best times – she left Omaha with a renewed sense of self and a determination that would guide her through the rest of the summer.
“I went into Trials so confident, and I swam the 400 like I wanted to but my time just didn’t get me into the semis against a very fast field,” said Steenvoorden, who finished her swimming eligibility at the University of Minnesota this past March and will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in education this December.
“I was confident going into the 800, but things just didn’t click like I hoped. I learned that everybody has a bad swim now and then. It’s just too bad mine came in such an important meet.”
Steenvoorden watched the Olympics with a sense of angst – excited to see 15-year-old Katie Ledecky win gold for the United States in the 800 free – and went to Indianapolis for the U.S. Open in early August ready to prove Trials were a fluke.
Competing in Indy was in the back of her mind going into Trials, figuring if she didn’t make the Olympic Team she would end the summer on a positive note at the U.S. Open.
Not making the Olympic team after going in with some pretty high expectations – both from herself and others in the world of swimming – provided her with a perfect mixture of motivation and disappointment.
“I was pretty mad at myself for not swimming better at Trials, so I went to Indy ready to swim fast,” Steenvoorden said. “The difference in environment really helped me. I’ve had some good successes at the pool in Indianapolis, and there definitely wasn’t as much pressure as there was at Trials. I was much more relaxed, and that helped me swim faster.”
Steenvoorden shaved more than 6 seconds from her Trials time to win the 800 free and earn a spot on her second international squad – next summer’s World University Games team. Having represented the United States in 2011 as a member of the Pan American Games team, Steenvoorden said she’s excited to swim internationally again – as well as travel to Russia for the first time for the meet.
In the meantime, she said she’s altered her training – particularly lessening her dryland weight-training for more core and stability work – and is focused solely on long course now that college swimming is a thing of the past, although she still trains with her Gopher teammates while she completes her degree and prepares for next summer.
“Nationals are before World University Games, and the World Championship team will be chosen based on the National meet, so there’s a chance I could be going to Barcelona instead of Russia, although I’m preparing for WUGs,” Steenvoorden said. “Either way, it’s a tremendous honor to swim for the United States. It’s one of the things I love about swimming at this level. There’s nothing like representing your country in competition.”
While she continues to train for future meets, Steenvoorden, who started swimming as a 2-year-old at her local pool in East Brunswick, N.J., because her mom wanted her to be water safe, is student teaching and wants to eventually teach third, fourth or fifth-graders.
As someone who loves working with kids, she also has thought about coaching in the future. She’s already doing a little bit with the younger swimmers on the Gopher team, and mentoring others is definitely in her blood.
“When the kids (I’m student teaching) find out I’m a swimmer, they really get interested and light up,” said Steenvoorden, who won her first National title in the 400 free at the 2011 Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships. “I have a young girl who comes in and gives me a hug each day, and it’s really a great way to start my class.
“I love swimming. I always have, and I can’t imagine, even when I’m done competing, not having swimming as part of my life in some way. Coaching would be a great way to do that.”