ALWAYS IMPROVING Jess Ashwood of Australia.
ALWAYS IMPROVING Jess Ashwood of Australia. Adam Pretty

Ashwood striving for perfection

JESS Ashwood hated swimming when she was little.

Then when she became good at it, in her early teens, she discovered she had scoliosis - a curvature of the spine.

The condition has cut short many promising sporting careers, but 23-year-old Ashwood battles it every day and does so with a smile.

The welcome curve in her life - her continued improvement - is part of the reason for that smile, but she is also happy and grateful to be making a living doing something she loves.

"I see myself as very lucky because there are a lot of others with scoliosis who have bigger curves than I have,” Ashwood told Australian Regional Media.

"They are in a lot of pain and aren't able to do what I'm able to do.

"I can't run and do land training, but swimming is really good for it.

"Whenever I decide to finish up with swimming I'll have to get surgery done.

"(But) we're very lucky in the sport we do. We've got equal pay among male and female swimmers.”

Having secured a place in her second Olympic team with outstanding swims in the 400m and 800m freestyle at the selection trials in Adelaide in April, it is fair to say Ashwood no longer hates her sport.

Every week, the self-described perfectionist racks up more than 70km in the pool.

"I started Learn to Swim classes (as a kid) and my grandma was my coach,” Ashwood said.

"I absolutely hated it. I would cry all the time.

"It was so cold. I used to train at Padstow indoors down in Sydney. It was like 32 degrees in the water but I'd cry and say 'Daddy, I'm cold' but after a while they'd say 'she's all right'.

"As I grew up, I started to enjoy it more.”

In Adelaide, Ashwood beat teenager Tamsin Cook in both her events, taking out the 400m in 4min 3.71sec, just outside her Australian record, and the 800m in 8min 18.42sec, only 0.01sec outside the Australian record she created in coming fourth at last year's world championships in Kazan.

Last year's world championships represented a terrific breakthrough for Ashwood, who won bronze in the 400m freestyle.

"I hadn't really swum to my potential at other international meets before,” she said.

"I heard people say 'she can't swim well internationally'. That was a bit hard because I started to think 'maybe I can't'.

"So last year was so good for me because I was like, 'I just want to be able to do PBs'.

"I think I did PBs in every race.

"I was absolutely stoked with that so it was a real breakthrough for me to think 'I can do well at this level'.”

If Ashwood's improvement curve continues in an upward direction, brilliant American 400m and 800m world record-holder Katie Ledecky may become wary of her at the Games in Rio.

"You try not to be in awe of the people you race, but she (Ledecky) has done really great things,” Ashwood said.

"Usually when one person starts pushing the limits, other people start to follow, so it'll be really good to see what's going to happen.”

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