Once afraid to enter a pool, TT’s Ash says

AMARI Ash, 13, moved from being afraid of swimming to representing and medalling for TT at international competitions. She is the 2019 Central American and Caribbean Amateur Confederation (CCCAN) Championships 11-12 50-metre freestyle gold medallist.

Her interest in swimming began at age four and she eventually decided to attend swimming lessons, but was admittedly nervous.

“I used to go to the beach but I never used to go in the water, and then we started to go to the pool at the Centre of Excellence and we joined this club called Eastern School of Life Saving and I didn’t want to go in the water at all. My brother would jump in and I would just sit there crying, but after a while I started to like it and I was much happier,” she said.

Ash began competitive swimming in 2017 and now trains with Tidal Wave Aquatics based at the Centre of Excellence, Macoya. She described herself as a competitive person, adding that she uses swimming as a form of relaxation and that she trained very hard leading up to the 2019 CCCAN games.

“I enjoy competing against other people. It (training) wasn’t as hard as for Carifta but it was still intense. We trained for like two to three hours. It was hard and easy at the same time.” Asked what was her reaction to copping gold at the Championships, Ash said, “I felt very happy because for my other races I tried but, I didn’t come first, and in this race there was plenty expectations for me to come first so I knew I had to. I felt very happy, super happy. And my family was more than happy, very pleased.”

She also participated in the mixed 11-12 four by 50m freestyle relay, the girls 11-12 200m breaststroke, girls 11-12 50m butterfly, and the girls 11-12 four by 100m freestyle relay. TT placed third with 259 points, with Panama in second place with 461.60 points, and Mexico with 1,480.50 points. The team earned a total of 23 medals – four gold, six silver, and 13 bronze.

Tidal Wave Aquatics head coach Hazel Haynes told Newsday she felt “pleased” and “excited” after learning about Ash’s win.

She said, “Amari has been a very dedicated and hard-working swimmer and has improved greatly over a short period of time. She enjoys her swimming immensely and she has goals and would like to attain her full potential.” Despite being a competitive swimmer, she prefers swimming in the beach as opposed to the pool. She said she gets more freedom at the beach. “The beach has waves and I like the waves to carry me to the shore and to duck under them, but the pool is just swimming up and down, there’s a wall to flip turn. The beach is sunny and it’s nice and you can sit on the sand.” Ash said while she enjoys the 50m freestyle, her favourite event, though a bit challenging, is the 50m breaststroke.

She said, “With the breaststroke, you have to get the kick and the pull in time or you wouldn’t really go fast, and if you don’t kick properly you won’t go anywhere, so you have to make sure your kick is correct and is going in time with your pull. But in freestyle, you have to make sure you get a good pull and you have to be kicking all the time or else you would slow down.”

She attends the NorthGate College in St Augustine and will be entering form two in the upcoming academic year. She said she had to learn time management skills so she could continue swimming.

“When you’re competitive you have more hours of swimming so it kind of ties in with my school work time so, you have to find a way to manage school work and your swimming. Some of her inspirations include American swimmers Katie Ledecky, Rebecca Soni, and Michael Phelps. She said she wants to earn as many gold medals as Phelps, who holds the record for the Olympian with the most medals with an impressive haul of 28 Olympic medals – 23 gold, three silver, two bronze.

Her plans for the future? “I want to win gold medals at the Youth Olympic Games and the Olympics in the 50m breaststroke, 100m breaststroke, 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, and 50m butterfly,” Ash said. Her next swim meet is the National Long Course Championships in October.