How Haley Anderson & Ashley Twichell Navigated the COVID-19 Pandemic as Already Qualified Olympians

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Ashley Twichell and Haley Anderson - Photo Courtesy: Andy Ross

When Haley Anderson and Ashley Twichell solidified their 10K open water qualification for the Tokyo Olympics at the 2019 World Championships, it was an obvious weight lifted off their shoulders, and ensured a year-long preparation for the 2020 Olympics.

So when the Games were unprecedentedly pushed back a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was worrisome for the pair. Each of them was set on retiring after Tokyo, but the pandemic forced them to be out of the water for an extended period and required an extra year of intense and grueling training. Upon getting back in the water when it was safe to do so, fitness and aerobic levels were not at ideal open water training levels. The idea of swimming a 10K again was daunting to both of them upon getting back in shape after the global shutdown.

“I tried to stay as positive as I could,” Haley Anderson said at USA Swimming’s Open Water Nationals in Fort Myers. “I knew everybody was in a similar situation. The thing with open water is experience is so important. To be out of the water and not have that racing for a while is kind of scary because the 10K is a long time, and I know I do long practices but I know I have done countless 10Ks in the past. Every one is always different so I had to shake off the cobwebs and get ready for the summer.”

“I was out of the pool for 13 or 14 weeks so it was the longest it’s been in 25 years,” Ashley Twichell said. “I was able to get out and do open waters. I have a lake nearby, so I would do like 45 minutes a day in there but once I did get back into the pool, it was a process for sure. As I’ve gotten older I don’t get back into shape as quickly as I used to. I felt like I did it really smartly with my coach and our first 10K was in October and it felt better than expected.”

Having the open water Olympic qualification already solidified, it helped make the process of getting back in elite racing shape easier for Anderson, who is approaching her third Games at 29, and Twichell, who will be 32 by the time the Tokyo Olympics kick off.

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Ashley Twichell. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

“If I hadn’t already been qualified in open water, I probably would have swum this year but it would have been a tougher decision of whether to continue or not,” Twichell said. “I definitely have plans for after swimming, but having already been qualified and having that solidified was a huge relief and I could just focus on the training. I’ll have the pool as well but having that open water qualification was definitely a big relief for sure.

“This year in a way was a blessing in disguise to really soak in everything. Coming into this weekend, I knew this was going to be my last (open water) nationals so I’m really just trying to enjoy each last day of it, each open water, each pool competition and obviously the Olympics will look a lot different. I am bummed my family won’t be there but they were all able to come to this, so I’m just trying to enjoy every minute of it and soak up the last moments.

“In four months when I am done, I’ll be ready to be done.”

Haley Anderson shared a similar sentiment of the anxieties of being out of the water and the uncertainty of what the Olympic field would look like. The two of them were at a training camp in Colorado Springs with other members of the U.S. National Team when the COVID-19 pandemic started shutting things down all over the world, forcing them to leave the camp and retreat to their homes.

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Haley Anderson. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

“That was the scariest part in the beginning thinking like, ‘they might not push it back’ and we didn’t know how long we would be out of the water,” Anderson said. “Once they pushed it back, I felt a lot better and more at ease, and then not worrying about re-qualifying. Because that was up in the air too.

“That would have been so stressful again to go through a Nationals and a qualifying race again, and then the Olympics. I know it is a lot to qualify in the pool but there’s so many steps in open water, and like we already went through that stress so that would have weighed on me so much. It was definitely nice knowing I only had to focus about August and not re-qualifying.”

With Anderson out in Southern California and Twichell based in North Carolina, they were still able to keep tabs on each other during the pandemic, motivating each other that there was still a job to be done come Tokyo when the Games would finally come. With both of them set to retire after the Games, the extra year would present its challenges, but having each other in the same boat was beneficial for both of them.

“She has been coming out a couple times to Mission Viejo to train so it has really been nice, and we have known each other for so long,” Anderson said. “We reach out and check in, but she has always been so great to have around. She is so positive and she has such a great outlook so it is nice to have her.”

“Obviously we are competitors in the water but we are good friends out of it and we train really well together and she pushes me a lot in training so it has been really beneficial,” Ashley Twichell said. “It has been awesome to have her as a teammate and a training partner and competitor. I’m really looking forward to representing the United States with her in Tokyo.”

Last week, Anderson and Twichell met up at the Open Water Nationals in Fort Myers, where they finished 1-2 in the non-Olympic 5K with Twichell coming out on top. Now they shift their focus to the pool Olympic Trials in Omaha in seven weeks.

Depending on the outcome, it could be their last pool meet ever.

“I actually did the Mission Viejo Pro Swim Series last weekend, and when I did the 200, I was like, ‘that was my last 200 free ever!'” Twichell said. “I’m getting to the last of things which is a little bittersweet but I am really trying to soak in every moment and I am looking forward to Trials and competing in the 1500 there and maybe some other events, I haven’t decided yet. I love competing in the pool too so I am looking forward to that.”

“The past couple Trials, I had qualified before so it goes either way for me with it being really fun and I don’t have to worry and I swim well, or I’m not really that focused on it,” Haley Anderson said. “I hope I’ll be able to swim well and not have to worry about everything and sort of just have a ‘whatever happens, happens’ approach.

“Each quad has been so different and I have learned so much in each four year period and now this fifth year is a little extra bonus but I am really enjoying the journey and the process and learning about myself and growing. I’m excited for this last chapter and going out with a smile on my face.”

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