Tumut’s golden swim girl is about to burn in Tokyo

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On Sunday, August 29, Ashley van Rijswijk, 20, of Tumut, will represent Australia in the pool at the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games. Photo: Swimming Australia.

There was a point in her life when Ashley van Rijswijk told her teacher that she didn’t have to do her homework because she was going to the Olympics.

Ashley’s dad, Craig, only remembered it recently when his daughter flew to Tokyo as part of the Australian Dolphin Swim Team currently competing in the 2021 Paralympic Games.

The van Rijswijks are well known in southern New South Wales, having resided in different regions over the years. Craig’s parents, John – who died earlier this year – and Moya, have moved to Young. But Craig and his wife, Tash, have lived in Tumut for 21 years, as has their other daughter, Paige.

Swimming has always been a part of family life. John and Moya, both teachers, ran a swim club in Cudal, their children competed at different levels even during their final years at school in Canberra, and now his granddaughter Ashley is an Olympian.

“We have this joke in the family that if we wanted to punish Ashley, we would stop her from training,” says Craig. “But if it was Paige, we would get her to practice.”

Ashley van Rijswijk swimming

Ashley van Rijswijk has trained at Tumut, Wagga Wagga and AIS in Canberra in the 11 years since she started competitive swimming. Photo: Swimming Australia.

Like most athletes, Ashley’s path to Tokyo was paved with hard training and commitment that saw the van Rijswijks get up at 3.30am for the daily 90-minute commute to Wagga. Wagga because there is no heated swimming pool in Tumut. .

Ashley has traveled hundreds if not thousands of miles along that long black line in chlorinated pools, coming home for school and, among that, competing at the regional, state, national and international levels.

She lived in Wagga Wagga, got a scholarship from Yuriy Vdovychenko at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, and adjusted to a life independent from a family that helped her nurture her dreams, before returning at Wagga Wagga where she trained with another Russian Olympian. Gennadiy Labara.

Then there’s COVID-19, which, ahead of the Paralympics, presented its own special set of challenges that left most of the contestants on the edge of the knife wondering if their dreams of Olympic glory would shine during the pandemic.

But come on Sunday morning, it is full circle for Ashley’s family, town, swim club, friends, former Gadara classmates, fellow athletes and supporters when she goes up the block at 10:22 am AEST for the first round of the women’s event. 100 meters breaststroke.

Ashley is a multi-class, ranked S14 swimmer, which means she competes with other swimmers with an intellectual disability.

On Tuesday August 31, her 21st birthday, she will be back by the pool at 10:46 am with her teammates to challenge the world in the SM14 women’s 200-meter medley.

Members of the Australian Paralympic Games Swimming Team

Ashley (second from right) with teammates Isabella Vincent (front) and (left to right) Kirralee Hayes, Alex Tuckfield, Ben Hance, Tom Gallagher and rookie coach Kate Sparkes. Photo: Swimming Australia.

His selection for the Dolphins was a story of disappointment, then exhilaration.

“She just missed qualifying time for the Olympic trials and we thought she missed it,” says Craig. “But the very next day we got a phone call saying she had been selected, so it went from being very upset to being over the moon and very excited.”

With their daughter now installed in the bubble that is the Australian swimming team and autonomous in the Olympic Village, the family is in regular contact where the relationship between training, the gym and the dates is that it’s hot and Ashley is very excited to be a part of the Olympic experience.

“Every time she does an interview she says she misses her family and her dogs,” says Craig, “I swear she misses her dogs more than we do.”

An easing of COVID-19 restrictions will mean a morning tea at van Rijswijk’s home with close supporters and friends on Sunday for the big race.

The enterprising athlete managed to organize a t-shirt drive in Cairns before flying to Japan. So hopefully some of the 35 Team Ashley t-shirts sold will adorn the show.

“The first time we found out was when a friend called us to ask where to send the money,” laughs Craig.


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