Alex Walsh and Ella Nelson were born just days apart, in late July 2001. A few weeks ago, on the same weekend and at the same swim meet, they both qualified for the Olympic swim trials 2016, which will be held in Omaha, Nebraska, over eight days: June 26-July 3, 2016.
To help correctly gauge just how amazing this is, there are only five 13 year olds in the country who have accomplished this feat thus far for the Olympic swim trials 2016. The odds that these two live in the same city (Nashville), swim for the same swim club (NAC) and go to the same school (Harpeth Hall) is just staggering. Today, we start celebrating our Olympic spirit a year early and catch up with these young superstars in the swimming world.
I met Alex and Ella at Sugar Dive and got to witness first-hand that the stereotype is true: swimmers can eat whatever they want and have an endless appetite. Alex worked on a triple scoop ice cream cone, and Ella drank a milkshake as we talked. Then, it was picture time, so I ordered them each another triple scoop cone, thinking of the cones as more of a prop for a cute photo. But, no, these were eaten entirely as well. I returned them to their parents apologizing that I had ruined their dinner and got a laugh, “You’ve just witnessed the constant hunger. Swimmers are never full and trust that they’ll still eat dinner!”
Just how well are they swimming now? Alex has thus far made the Olympic swim trials for the 100-meter backstroke (time 1:01.79, and she needed a 1:03.39 to qualify) and 200-meter backstroke (time 2:12.49, and she needed a 2:16.59 to qualify). Ella has thus far made the Olympic swim trials in the 200-meter breaststroke with a 2:31.63, well under the needed 2:34.99 to qualify. And, they both pointed out that they are only .3 seconds off of qualifying for the 100-meter breast stroke. That’s right, BOTH of them! They also both have a goal of qualifying for the the 200-meter individual medley (IM). They will continue to compete for spots in other events until the Summer Sizzler meet on June 18, 2016.
When I asked Alex what she most likes about swimming and how it overlaps into her school life, she says both are so different. But swimming has taught her to focus, to learn to relax her muscles and be in the moment. This ability does translate to school work. Ella nodded and then brought up how rewarding it is to progress throughout the season, seeing how her hard work pays off and that cheering on teammates at meets was the absolute best, Alex chiming in with agreement. Talking to these girls you get a sense of how much time they spend together, knowing each other well enough to finish thoughts but being completely respectful to let one another have a turn talking. And, while swimming can be thought of as an individual sport, the amount of time both spent talking about the NAC team made me realize that for them it’s both: an individual sport with individual times, but a team experience. And then there are the medleys …
Of note, the 13-year-old girls age group at NAC is quite formidable. This past weekend they broke the National Age Group Record in the 13-14 year olds 400-meter medley relay. Alex and Ella were part of that team, along with Callie Chelsvig and Lauren Hurt. They are all 13, so just imagine what this group will do next year as they’ll still be young enough to swim in this same race, same age group.
I thought maybe these girls had been training hard since age 3 or something crazy like that. I mean this is Nashville, and people take their kids’ swimming very seriously at quite a young age! But, this is not the case. Alex started swimming on a team at Whitworth at age 6. Her family then moved to Connecticut for seven years, and it was there that she started swimming year-round. Ella swam for Seven Hills’ summer league but only started swimming year-round two years ago. Both admit that trying to do any other sport when they swim competitively just doesn’t work. Ella tried playing basketball for the school team in sixth grade but ended up regretting it. It’s just too hard to balance more than swimming.
What does a competitive swimmer’s typical week look like? They swim six days a week. During the school year, it’s after school, and in the summer it’s early in the morning. Twice a week they have “doubles” where they have to work out with weights and do their “dry land” workouts. They both also swim for Harpeth Hall, but they practice with NAC as adding school practices is impossible. Neither one pays too much attention to nutrition until the day or night before a meet, and both think apple sauce is the go-to food during meets. They also really like it when school friends and swimming friends overlap.
When asked about goals for next summer’s Olympic swim trials, they both firmly believe their times will be faster. They have a year to work, and they want to make the semi-finals, which is the top 16. From there they both get a little dreamy about how great it would be to make the finals (the final 8). And if you are a novice to how this all works like I was, the top two make the Olympic team. For relays, the U.S. team will sometimes take a third place swimmer. But, it is the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 that has them truly excited, and they have definite dreams of making that U.S. team.
Alex: Crepes! I LOVE The Perch!
Ella: Probably hamburgers … American food. Well, I like Italian and Mexican also …
Favorite type of music?
Alex: I like Taylor Swift. She’s country and pop.
Ella: I’m a country person, but I don’t have a favorite group or singer.
Do you say T-Swift of Taylor Swift?
Both: Taylor Swift!
Favorite TV show?
What was the last movie you saw at the theater?
There you have it. Nashville, watch these girls. They have large dreams and many years ahead of them to reach their goals. I have to say, it was a total treat to be around them. They are grounded, nice and personable. I’m ready watch the Olympic swim trials next year with a list of Nashville kids to route for, including these young ones: Alex Walsh and Ella Nelson!
There are several other Nashville swimmers who have qualified for the Olympic trials; let’s give them all a cheer:
- Allie Raab, age 15: 200-meter breaststroke, 100-meter breaststroke
- Tatum Wade, age 17: 100-meter breaststroke, 200-meter breaststroke, 200-meter freestyle, 200- and 400-meter individual medley (IM)
- Elizabeth Stinson, age 18: 800- meter freestyle, 400-meter freestyle
- Taylor Charles, age 19: 400-meter IM
- Meaghan Raab, age 19: 200-meter freestyle, 200-meter breaststroke and 200-meter IM
- Dakota Hodgson, age 23: 200-meter butterfly (of note: Dakota got 6th in the Olympic swim trial finals in 2012!)
- Curtis Lovelace, age 25: 100-meter breaststroke
- Maclin Davis, age 20: 100 butterfly
- Annie Kyriakidis, age 16: 200-meter breaststroke
- Ethan Browne, age 18: 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke
Thanks to Leila Grossman of Grannis Photography for today’s great photos. See more of her work at grannisphotography.com.