Ash’s path to Paralympic glory

Ashley Van Rijswijk.

Tumut swimmer Ashley Van Rijswijk left her Wagga base on Saturday, making tracks for Queensland as she and the Australian Paralympic Swimming team get final preparations underway ahead of the Tokyo Paralympics next month. 

The 20-year-old will compete at a Para Grand Prix on the Sunshine Coast this weekend before working closely with Swimming Australia coaches as she prepares for both the S14 100m breaststroke and 200m individual medley events. 

Considering everything, it is quite remarkable that Van Rijswijk will even compete in Tokyo, after missing the initial qualifying times at the Australian swimming trials in Adelaide last month.

Head coach of the Australian Paralympic swimming team, Brendan Burkett, basically explained that Van Rijswijk’s selection in the squad came down to ranking and her high chance of medalling at the games. 

“There is a quota and structure that say how many athletes we can have going into Tokyo. We could have 17 males and 15 females, and all of the selections were decided on the way athletes delivered at the trials and world rankings,” Burkett said. 

“While Ash’s individual time was outside of the time needed, Ash then made it in on her ranking.

“Ash was the highest ranked swimmer out of our 15 females to make the team, so essentially her ranking was enough to get her into the team.”

Burkett has watched the Tumut product over the years and explained how Van Rijswijk came to be a Paralympian. 

“Ash has been part of what we call the development program,” Burkett said. 

“There are a number of athletes that have achieved a performance that have put them on the pathway, so Ash has come through that process.

“She is very talented, very diligent and she has earned her spot on the team to Tokyo.”

The Australian coach further explained the three key steps in Van Rijswijk’s path to the Paralympics. 

“So, from trials, which we had last month, we now have three touch points,” Burkett said. 

“Firstly, everyone headed back to their home program and daily performance for about four weeks.

“On the 16th of July, they will all come together for a grand prix and this is all about racing and rehearsing for Tokyo.

“We rehearse how we work and the other part is about getting up and racing and then because of Covid and potential lockdowns, we have formed a couple of bases in Queensland and we will keep everyone together.

“And because its winter, we will go to Cairns and prepare there before flying out to Tokyo, which is the last big step.”

Burkett explained that Van Rijswijk and her fellow 31 teammates would have a strong support network as they focused on potential Paralympic glory.

“There is a number of things that are put into place to help the 32 swimmers and we have a number of staff, carers, managers and assistant managers who look after members of the team,” Burkett said. 

“Seven are still in school and we’ve always had that proportion of younger athletes, and we need to make sure the needs and requirements of these kids are met. 

“The support also comes from within the team; we have team leaders and we have swimmers who have natural instincts to look after the younger and less experienced swimmers.”

Burkett explained that Van Rijswijk and many of Australia’s swimmers had a unique story.

The former Paralympic gold medallist also acknowledged the support of a community, which he believed was very important, and he praised everyone that had helped Van Rijswijk and other Australian swimmers along the way. 

“That story of Ash is like so many others who have gone through the ranks,” Burkett said. 

“About 70% of the team started in regional and rural areas, and I was one of them and can attest to starting my career in the country.

“It all started from that local club, from learn to swim, to stroke correction, to club nights, to regional events, state and then country and we need to make sure we acknowledge all the people who helped on that pathway.”