by Joey Pagano
On March 8, Fayetteville-Manlius alumna Ashley Twichell flew to Colorado Springs, Colorado for training camp as she continued her preparations for distance swimming at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Three days later, the NBA suspended its season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The NHL followed. Then the NCAA canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
Twichell anticipated what would follow. Originally, she was planning on calling it a career at the end of the summer, once the Olympics were done.
But when Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe announced on March 24 that the games would be postponed until July 2021, Twichell didn’t hesitate to change her plans.
Since then, she has honed in on the one word that has guided her through the peaks and valleys of her career and life – perspective.
“I think the biggest challenge for me has been not letting myself get caught up in the uncertainty we’re all still in right now,” said Twichell, who qualified for the Olympics last summer after falling just short in 2012 and 2016.
For seven weeks, stay-at-home orders in Apex, North Carolina kept Twichell out of the pool, meaning an occasional trip to a nearby lake became an opportunity to complement her regiment, consisting of spin rides on her Peloton and workouts with various weights, along with crossover symmetry bands.
Amanda Wittenmeyer, Twichell’s weights coach, said the bands work as an alternative when athletes have limited access to weight equipment, and provide a good substitute for them.
Without access to U.S. Swimming facilities, she said, Twichell entered a cross-training phase – strength training three times a week, plus workouts on the bike and additional core training.
Wittenmeyer said the cross-training is designed to mitigate any loss in fitness and maintain a healthy mindset, while also keeping her healthy and allowing the body to recover from nagging injuries.
“Since I work with Ashley remotely by sending her a program through a fitness app, I have to trust her to communicate any updates on her health or training in order to adjust her program,” said Wittenmeyer.
Once the pool at Triangle Aquatic Center near her home in Apex opened up, Twichell had the chance to swim more. She plans to work on flip turns and do whatever it takes to improve her speed in open-water events from now until next summer.
John Payne, who coaches Twichell at Triangle, said her attitude will help her, as she is a prime example of how important character, commitment and professionalism are in sustaining excellence.
“She has great patience as an athlete,” said Payne. “Combine that with how much she loves the sport, and she has a great mental framework to sustain her until 2021.
“That doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to have challenges. It does mean that we have time to exhale, gather ourselves, collect our thoughts and re-focus.
Twichell said that being able to combine mind, body and spirit is more important now than ever.
The unknowns regarding when training and competitions will resume are stressful, she said. But she’s reverted to her lifelong philosophy of controlling what’s in her power – mainly, her work ethic.
Dan Colella, who coached Twichell at Duke University, said there are few athletes who work harder than she does.
Colella said his fondest memory of Twichell is from 2009, her sophomore year. Duke had just arrived in College Station, Texas for the NCAA Championships and she wasn’t feeling well, diagnosed with a virus and missing the first two days of the event.
On the third day, Twichell swam her primary event, the mile, posting a personal-best time. This, said Colella, exemplifies how she always strove to better herself.
“Ashley would always do additional work in regard to recovery, working with our sports psychologist and maintaining an incredibly high (Grade Point Average),” said Colella. “It was not about doing the minimum but doing what it takes to be world-class and not having to be told to do those things.”