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THE GRIND: Forsyth Central swimmer Cesario has come a long way in a short time
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Forsyth Central junior swimmer Ashley Cesario has already finished in the top 3 at the state swimming meet despite taking up the sport just four years ago. - photo by Micah Green

THE GRIND: Forsyth Central Swimmer Ashley Cesario

Filmed by Micah Green

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In one sense, Ashley Cesario has some catching up to do, and so the Forsyth Central junior swimmer is on a tight – and packed – schedule.

Cesario’s mother walks in to the Cumming Aquatic Center about 15 minutes before our interview ends Monday. She’s already taken her two youngest daughters to their swim practices. She leaves with Ashley at precisely 3:30 p.m. That makes three.

This is a family of swimmers. It was probably destined to be, but not at first. Cesario tried almost every sport plus dance. Basketball and volleyball stuck by middle school, but still Cesario was open to something else.

Cesario’s grandfather was a swimmer. He swam in high school and hasn’t stopped, she said, and it’s the same with how much he talks about swimming – he talked about it a lot then and hasn’t stopped.

“Talks about it all the time,” Cesario said.

One summer, Cesario and one of her sisters decided to join a local swim team. By the end, Cesario (and her sister) was hooked, enough to give up basketball and volleyball to join a year-round swimming club.

“I remember sitting outside with my parents at one point, and they were like, ‘Well, if you started year-round you’re definitely not going to be able to play basketball or volleyball at all,’” Cesario remembers. “I was like, ‘You know, I think I’m ready. Let’s just do it.’”

Cesario has come a long way in the short time since. The junior placed third in the 200 and 500 freestyle at the Class 1A-5A state meet last season. She’s already taking college visits, hoping to verbally commit to a program before September of her senior year. This high school season, she has her sights set on the 100 butterfly and 200 free at state.

Cesario has done it all despite being behind, admittedly, many of her peers who started competitive swimming as young as 6 years old. And so Cesario puts in a morning practice with the Bulldogs, then leaves after school for practice with the Dynamo Swim Club in Alpharetta.

Logging long hours is common – necessary, even – for the top high school competitive swimmers, but Cesario says the workload and personal sacrifices aren’t daunting, even if she and other swimmers might act like it.

“Deep down inside you know you enjoy it, and you couldn’t envision yourself not swimming,” Cesario said.

What captivated Cesario with the sport was the seemingly infinite canvas of skills to master. There are four different strokes (back, breast, butterfly and freestyle), and they can be done in sprints or long distances and in between. They can be done one at a time or combined within a single race. They can be done alone or in a relay with teammates.

Each part of each stroke is open to examination and variation: the starting dive, turns, hand placement and on and on. So is a swimmer’s breathing pattern, which can change depending on stroke or distance or both. Cesario is changing her pattern to “two up, one down,” in which she will breathe for two straight strokes then stay underwater on the next stroke, then repeat and repeat and repeat.

“Every little thing matters,” Cesario said. “Even though sometimes that will drive you crazy. It drives me crazy sometimes; I have so much to fix and you can only do so much.”

The interminable paradox for competitive swimmers: spending so much time in a pool, but never enough.

The most stressful part of which reaches its zenith right before a race.

“You don’t know how you’re going to do when you get in,” Cesario said. “You don’t know if it’s going to be a good meet or a bad meet, or how this race is going to go. You can be prepared for it, but you won’t know.”

Her source of reprieve from those moments is her source of love for the sport: the work. Recently, Cesario participated at the 2016 Speedo Winter Junior Championships in Ohio with her Dynamo team. It was a bigger meet than she’d participated in before, and Cesario came away impressed by the talent in attendance. As for her own performance, she was mostly satisfied.

But, still, since returning, she and her coaches have made a list of things for Cesario to work on based on her performances.

The work is never done.