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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ashley Twichell Humbly And Passionately Revving Up

She started off in the summer leagues in New York's Westchester County as a 3-year-old. She gradually worked her way to a college scholarship at Duke University where she qualified for the NCAA Division I Championships and the USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming team.

" I didn't do double workouts when I was young, so I am still excited about training and racing," explains Ashley Twichell, the favorite in tomorrow's 10K race at the aQuelle Midmar Mile.

"Even though we train a lot now with the Mission Viejo Nadadores [in Southern California], I didn’t do as much distance when I was younger." "She just keeps on going and going in workouts," said her coach Bill Rose. "I have not been able to break her down yet. She is tough and she works hard every day."

"Chloe [Sutton} and I push each other every day," explained Ashley who seems to have wisely built her career like she builds her distance sets in the pool - she keeps getting better and faster. "In college, I loved the sport, being part of a team, with that incredible atmosphere and dynamic of growing up through [Duke University] with these amazing people around me. Luckily, after four years at Duke, I was more in love with the sport than ever, and wanted to continue," she said in a USA Swimming interview with Bob Schaller.

Her calm demeanor, native intelligence and passion suit her well in the open water. "I am still learning," as she often says with a smile and eye towards the details of the sport. Her growth as an athlete - and potential 2012 Olympian - has been fast-tracked by a serious of events that even she had a hard time forecasting.

Soon after being the only swimmer on her team competing at the NCAA Championships, she also found herself continuing to improve year after year. As college graduation loomed, she wondered if her continuously blossoming career would come to an end. But because she enjoyed recreational solo swims in the open water while vacation as a youngster, she took a flyer and entered the USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships in Florida.

After swimming and qualifying for the USA national team, she was soon packing her bags to China for the 2011 World Swimming Championships. Quiet and observant, she was able to view the world's most elite open water swimmers up close. Proudly wearing her nation's colors for the first time, she more than hung in there against the world's fastest. "I was entered in the 5K race and the pack was so large. Then at the halfway point, they started to take off. The pace was so fast."

But so was Ashley. Not only did she hang onto the lead pack, she found herself sprinting down the final straightaway tied for first going stroke-for-stroke with women many years her senior in open water years. Bronze was her first taste of medal and her eyes glistened with a mixture of wonder, pride and appreciation. She followed it up with a gold medal performance in the team 5K race where she drafted superbly behind her two male teammates. "I was just going as fast as I could, but only knew I was going to be on the relay a few days before."

Like the 3-year-old she was once, her wonder and joy in exploring the water continues as a 22-year-old. Like many others who have taken up the sport, her thirst for competition has yet to be quenched. In less than a year since college graduation, she has found herself racing against the world's best in China, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa. The more she travels and experiences different open water competitions, the hungrier she appears to get for more. Much more.

But she trains with a depth of gratitude and accepts praise with a sincere humility that is representative of many who join in the sport late or as a late bloomer and find success and joy.

"Oh this is so cool," as the native New Yorker often says as she hits another beach or shoreline in search of yet another open water competition. And that she is - representative of many Women In The Water.

And who will rule the open water at the Midmar Mile this coming Sunday when Ashley meets the most successful and fastest open water female on the planet: two-time world 10K champion and 7-time defending Midmar Mile champion Keri-Anne Payne?

It will be an all-out one-mile sprint in front of television cameras and tens of thousands of spectators.

Sounds something like a precursor to the 2012 Olympics...

Photo above by Dr. Jim Miller of Ashley on the podium at the 2011 World Championships.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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