The Toyko Olympic Games are officially a year away, now scheduled for July 2021. With the yearlong wait, one water polo star with South Florida ties is still preparing in the ever changing landscape of a pandemic.
Ashleigh Johnson is used to going with the flow as a fierce goalie with the women’s national team for U.S.A. water polo. Now, she’s needed that skill more than ever as she’s had to shift her training with social distancing.
"That was a really hard mentality shift for me because I am very team oriented. I grew through team sports and I was without a team for two months,” she told NBC 6’s Amanda Plasencia.
The water felt clear before COVID-19 hit the world, but then things got murky once the games were postponed.
“It’s the one thing you think can’t move, so it was definitely a blow but we kind of anticipated it,” Johnson said. “But it took a lot of adjustment to accept it.”
It’s been a challenge, but she’s diving right in.
“I was able to connect over Zoom. I was able to be with my sister and do workouts, but I really had to rethink my training,” Johnson said.
While Johnson lives in Southern California, she grew up right here in Miami. Her passion for the water began when her mom signed her and her siblings up for swim lessons after they bought a home with a pool - and she recently had a chance to come home.
“I was really grateful for the opportunity to be able to be in Miami with my family and have some croquetas,” she said.
Now, Johnson is staying motivated even with all the uncertainty surrounding the Tokyo Olympics.
“I specifically focused on staying in the moment,” she said. “Controlling what I can control and that really was me. My training. My mentality.”
When they won the gold at the 2016 games in Brazil, Johnson was the first Black woman representing Team USA in water polo. She says she welcomes the responsibility when it comes to representation for people of color.
“It’s been a big part of my mission as an athlete to help bring more people of color, specifically little Black girls and little Black boys into water polo and into aquatics and just help alleviate those barriers to entry that exist within aquatics have historical roots in our nation and still carry over to this day,” Johnson said.
Now, Johnson shared what her second Olympics means to her.
“Being able to represent the U.S. in the Olympics and on the Olympic stage means an opportunity to be great,” she said. “An opportunity to represent excellence and to change the world.”