Ashley Twichell: Chasing Her Dream as a Post Grad

Feature by Chelsea Howard

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania, November 22. WHILE most college seniors are filling out job applications and wondering what they are going to do with their life after swimming and officially "retiring", Ashley Twichell decided to continue training as a post-grad. However, she added a new twist by expanding her focus and experiences on Open Water competitions.

"I actually didn't make the decision to keep swimming until after NCAAs my senior year. At that point, I knew I wanted to go out to California, both for the amazing swimming opportunities available, as well as a change of pace," Twichell said.

Twichell, who graduated from Duke University in 2011, grew up in Fayetteville, New York and moved to North Carolina to attend college. This recent move, however, took her to the opposite side of the country. Her college teammate, Meghan Dwyer, encouraged her to look at the Mission Viejo Nadadores club team.

"After one phone conversation with the head coach of the club team, Bill Rose, I knew I wanted to train there. I was lucky enough to be invited to join the group. While it's hard being across the country from my family and friends, I'm really loving life out in California. I live with a host family, who have honestly been a blessing," Twichell said.

In the pool, Twichell holds school records in the 200, 500, 1000, and 1650 yard freestyle and broke the ACC meet record in the 1650 yard freestyle her junior year at Duke. She placed third in the 800 free in August at the 2011 National Championships. In open water, she won the 5K race at the 2011 USA Swimming National Open Water Championships in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She also finished third in the 10K, which qualified her for World Championships in Shanghai and received honors as the 2011 Female Open Water Swimmer of the Year by USA Swimming.

Having been to countless competitions both in the pool and in open water, the one race that stands out the most to Twichell was breaking the ACC meet record in the mile.

"What is most memorable about that race is seeing all of my teammates on the side of the pool cheering me on the entire way, all 66 laps. I honestly couldn't have done it without them. Being on such a close-knit team at Duke, more of a family, made my four years there something I will forever cherish," Twichell said.

Twichell has undergone an enormous amount of changes just over the past couple of months. One change is the competitions of post-grad compared to college swimming.

"There are much bigger time spans between meets. Throughout the college season, it is typical to have a dual meet every weekend, in addition to a big fall/winter invitational, ACC Championships, and NCAA Championships, all within 7 months. Without the dual meets, I am able to get in longer periods of solid training. There is also a NCAA limit of 20 hours per week that you can spend on your sport in college that we don't have to worry about now," Twichell said.

While changing the amount of time between competitions and the amount of time spent training, Twichell has also developed a different mindset in open water compared to the pool.

"In the pool, the race is pretty much the same every time you swim it – same distance, same walls, etc. However, in open water, you really have to be ready for anything. The water may be perfectly flat, or you may be facing 5-foot waves. The water may be crystal clear, or you may not be able to see more than 1 foot ahead of you. Throughout the race itself, the unexpected is always occurring. While this can be frustrating, I think it makes the sport what it is. Athletes have to be ready and able to adapt to whatever comes their way, while still maintaining focus," Twichell said.

Despite high amounts of yardage and spending so much time in the pool, Twichell stays motivated by constantly reminding herself of her goals and dreams – keeping Olympic Trials in mind.

"At this point, I plan on competing in both pool and open water Olympic Trials," Twichell said.

Since this will be the first time open water is an event of the Olympics, the selection process is complex.

"The first ‘selection meet' will likely be in April, in Florida. The top two Americans in this 10K race will then go on to Portugal, and the top American there (provided she is in the top 10 overall) will make the Olympics. For the pool Olympic Trials I will swim the 400 and 800 meter freestyles," Twichell said.

Another source of motivation for Twichell comes from her competitive edge and having teammates that are willing to push her along the way.

"I've always been extremely driven from within. While training is often extremely challenging, I love pushing myself to new limits, and exceeding expectations. I also thrive off competition and am constantly motivated by my teammates, Chloe Sutton and Christine Jennings. In the middle of a tough set, the encouragement from a teammate can mean the world," Twichell said.