By Aaron Gabriel//Contributor | Thursday, July 11, 2019
The FINA World Championships hold especially poignant meanings for U.S. distance swimming ace Ashley Twichell this time around.
She’ll race in the 10K on Sunday morning (Saturday evening here in the states) in South Korea, with a chance at making her first Olympic team with a top-10 finish. Further racing opportunities follow for her in both the 5K and the 1,500-meter freestyle.
The location of this world championships is key as well, to the entire Twichell clan.
Twichell’s eldest sibling is her sister Carly, who was born in South Korea and adopted by Twichell’s parents, Terry and Deirdre, as an infant. Brothers Brandon and Ryan are also older than Ashley, who recently turned 30 but has continued to excel in long distance swimming.
When Carly joined the family, she was brought to the U.S., and this will be the first time Ashley and her parents are visiting Carly’s place of origin.
“I think it’s pretty cool for my parents, to be able to see where she actually came from,” Ashley said.
Strictly from a swimming perspective, it’s also a cool opportunity for Ashley. She’s had loads of national and international success, including winning gold in the 5K team event during the 2011 Fina World Championships in Shanghai, China.
Twichell previously excelled as an NCAA swimmer at Duke University, and that experience served as a kind of springboard for her later successes. But she has surprised even herself with a knack for sticking with it.
“If you told me in 2011 that I’d still be swimming and trying to make an Olympic team, I would have told you ‘No way,’ ” Twichell said. “I do have an Olympic dream now, but in 2012 I wouldn’t say it was such a driving force for me.”
Twichell said missing the 2012 Olympic team sharpened her hunger, and she set off on a course which included higher yardage and a transcendent training experience in Mission Viejo, California. A shoulder surgery and recovery did not deter her, and her persistence has been rewarded the last few years.
She won the 10K in the U.S. Open Water Nationals in 2016, ’17 and ’18, and has been a fixture on the national team roster recently. Twichell also struck gold last summer in the 1,500-meter free in the U.S. Nationals.
The commitment required for that kind of success has convinced many swimmers to move on with their lives. Twichell says the key to her own competitive longevity is pretty simple.
“I think the underlying reason is a pure love for the sport,” she said. “I know that sounds a little bit like a cliché, but it’s really true. I’ve just always felt like I had a little bit more of myself to give to the sport, and I’ve always enjoyed it for its own sake.”
She will have the chance give a bit more on Sunday at Yeosu Expo Ocean Park, venue for the open water racing. It will be 6 long laps around the course, and Twichell is looking forward to the unique challenges of the event.
“In open water racing, you have to expect the unexpected,” Twichell said. “It’s always a very physical test, and you have to be prepared for that challenge.”
Joining Twichell for the U.S. in open water events will be Hannah Moore (5K), Haley Anderson (10K), Katy Campbell (25K) and Erica Sullivan (25K).
Twichell’s big sister Carly is not able to attend, owing to her own direct family obligations. But Ashley’s parents will be there, filling in a key chapter of the family’s history book for themselves and providing the usual unconditional support.
Twichell is pleased that, half a world away, such a neat confluence of circumstance has deepened the family’s bond. And she’s eager to make the most of her chance.
“It seems like as I’ve competed, I’ve always felt like I’m improving,” she said. “But I definitely never envisioned it going this far.”