Catching Up with Ashley Twichell

Congratulations on winning the 10k at Open Water Nationals by nearly a minute! How did it feel to realize you won?

Thank you so much! It was definitely an exciting win for me. The USA women have always had a lot of depth, so Nationals has always been very competitive. When we started inviting international athletes last year, the race became all the more competitive, so that win really helped increase my confidence heading into World Championships. On top of that, I didn’t have the best 2013 Nationals, and I think that was in large part due to the fact that I wasn’t quite over missing the 2012 Olympic Team. Therefore, having a great race this year (after missing Rio as well), was a big mental victory for me. Lastly, SO many people played a role in helping me get to this point, and in a way, I felt like the win at Nationals was a way of saying “thank you” to all of them.

Now that it’s official, how are you preparing to represent team USA at Worlds?

While I have been to two World Championships, this will actually be my first time racing the 10K there (I’ve done the 5K, 25K and team pursuit in past years), so I am really looking forward to that, as well as the 5K. My training partner is Chip Peterson, who will be doing the 25K in Budapest, so together we’ve been working hard in the pool to get ready! I’ve continued to keep my endurance up, while also working on my speed, as both are crucial for open water races. The open water team will head to Slovenia on July 4 for training camp ahead of Budapest; this is also where we went leading up to Kazan in 2015, and it was a fantastic camp (hotel, training pool, the lake, food, people, etc.), so I know all of us will have a great time and be ready to go once we get to Budapest!

Has your in-pool training regimen changed at all this year?

I think that the biggest change for me has been realizing and adjusting to the fact that as I get older, my body isn’t able to recover quite as quickly. I used to be able to hit workout after workout, without giving much thought to it. I now pay a lot more attention to my recovery (both in and out of the water). I think this has also lent itself to doing a bit more speed work. I’m training with the UNC team, and racing those women has certainly pushed me to get faster in the shorter repeats in workout – which has been beneficial for both my pool and open water swimming.

Keeping your body conditioned and healthy enough to train for such long races must be challenging. What types of training outside of the pool have you found most beneficial to you as a swimmer?

I began having some pretty severe shoulder pain again a few months ago, and while it was extremely frustrating and worrisome, I now view it as a blessing in disguise. It prompted me to get in touch with some people who were able to help me out tremendously. Keenan Robinson, Julie Malley and Dr. Dustin Nabhan, along with the doctor who did my surgery at Duke, all helped to put me back on the right track. I also started seeing a local PT, Matt Hartshorne, and I have begun a shoulder strengthening/dryland program with him that has thus far proven to be really successful in not only reducing my shoulder pain, but making me stronger in the water.

Do you change your nutrition plan at all throughout the season?

I don’t really change my nutrition plan throughout the season; I just always strive to eat wholesome, healthy food that will fuel me well for my workouts and competitions. I enjoy cooking and I like a wide variety of foods, so it is fun for me to find and try out new recipes. I usually listen and trust my body on what it is craving, within reason and while trying to be health conscious. For example, if I am craving a burger, I will usually buy either ground bison or ground New York Strip (both of which are a bit leaner than ground beef), and make them into homemade burger patties that we can grill. If I am craving sugary sweets, I will try to satisfy that craving with fresh fruit. That being said, I’m a New York girl who grew up eating pizza every Friday night, and that is still one of my more common indulgences. I also HAVE to have an ice cream the night before a race!

When your right shoulder just can’t get with the program and be normal like your left shoulder #storyofmylife

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Having had to undergo multiple shoulder surgeries, you understand firsthand what it’s like to comeback from injury. What advice would you give to younger swimmers about the recovery process?

The recovery process can be very difficult, both physically and mentally. I think I had prepared myself for how tough it would be physically to get back into top-notch shape after a surgery, but I may have underestimated the mental toughness it would require. I had about 8 months after my surgery before open water Olympic Trials, so I really had to walk a fine line of balance between getting back into shape quickly enough, and not forcing it too soon (and risking re-injury). I think the best advice that I can give is to keep a positive mindset as best you can (easier said than done, I know). It is going to take a lot of focus, determination and hard work to come back stronger than ever after a surgery, so any negative thoughts are really just wasted energy taking away from that end goal. Another really important aspect for me was remaining disciplined with my PT and rehab. I wasn’t used to my shoulder being pain-free after a tough workout, and sometimes it was tempting to interpret that as meaning I didn’t need to do my exercises that day – when it was really just the opposite. If I wanted to keep making forward progress and remain healthy and strong, the little things were really the most important.

Throughout your career you’ve had the chance to race in some pretty amazing destinations. Can you name three of your favorite places?

That is such a tough question for me to answer! It sounds cliché, but each place I’ve been to has something unique to offer, which makes it really hard to pick favorites. If I HAD to pick three, I think they would be Stellenbosch (South Africa), Bled (Slovenia), and the Cayman Islands. I also loved Australia and Hong Kong (whoops, already more than three!)

Besides Worlds, what are you most looking forward to for the rest of 2017 (both personally and professionally)?

Right now, I’m just preparing for Worlds, and then looking forward to some downtime at the beach with my family.

^^ = my perfect Sunday

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