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Swimming the freestyle in the Lancaster County Swimming Pool, Ashley Mellinger, 13 lives in Mount Joy, is home-schooled in the Manheim Central School District. She is the number two swimmer in the country in her age group, and trains with Lancaster Aquatic Club on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.

Many 13-year-olds are likely spending this summer without an alarm clock, waking up whenever they desire.

Ashley Mellinger is not one of them.

She’s usually up by 5:30 every weekday morning. About an hour later, she joins her Lancaster Aquatic Club teammates in the Lancaster County Swimming Pool.

“I like waking up early,” she said. “It’s hard sometimes in the summer. ... I always set a bunch of alarm clocks just in case.”

The setup tracks with Ashley’s passion for the pool — a passion that has blossomed into her being among the best swimmers in the country in her age group, and on track to potentially reach the 2024 Olympic Trials, according to Lancaster Aquatic Club coach Casey Coble.

Ashley, a homeschooler headed into eighth grade who lives in the Manheim Central School District, recently broke the club’s 100-meter fly record for 13- to 14-year-olds, posting a time of 1 minute, 3.92 seconds. She topped the previous club record of 1:05.57, swam by Emily Cameron in 2009.

Cameron went on to become a seven-time state champion for Warwick and a standout swimmer for the University of Georgia, later competing in the 2016 Olympic Trials.

What has Ashley on track for such heights is her ability to excel across multiple swimming events. For instance, she competed in the Middle Atlantic Swimming Long Course Senior Championships earlier this month, going up against prep swimmers of all ages. She held her own against older competition.

Among 13-year-old female swimmers at the event, Ashley had the top time in the 400-meter individual medley, 200 butterfly, 400 freestyle, 100 fly, 200 individual medley and 200 freestyle, and second-fastest time in the 200 backstroke and 100 freestyle.

“I haven’t had a swimmer like that since Emily Cameron as far as at that level,” Coble said. “We’ve had swimmers who are very good at every stroke, just not at that level.”

A quick study

Ashley was 5 years old when she sat on her mother’s lap watching a summer swim meet at the Mount Joy Lions Club Pool in 2013.

“Mommy, (will) you sign me up for this?” Ashley asked.

“Yeah, but the season has already started,” her mother, Adriene Mellinger, replied. “You’ll have to wait until next year. And you’ll have to swim the full length of the pool.”

The rest of the summer, Ashley took breaks from playing with friends in the water in order to put in laps.

“She swam the whole length of the pool,” her mother recalled. “It was awesome.”

Little Ashley joined the Mount Joy swimming program the next summer.

“My first freestyle I got disqualified,” she recalled recently. “It was my first time ever swimming (in competition).”

The fact she hasn’t forgotten about it all these years later likely wouldn’t be much of a surprise to those who know Ashley.

“She’s definitely her own worst critic,” her mother said. “She will pick apart a swim or a race.”

She also has trouble sitting still. Swimming gives her an outlet to channel that energy.

“She always needs to be doing something,” Adriene Mellinger said. “If we have a down day of not doing anything, it’s rough for her.”

Ashley’s passion for the water extends beyond the pool, too. Her favorite area of study is marine science.

“My dream job someday would be something in that field,” she said. “So I can be out in the ocean.”

Her father, Penn Manor alum Sean Mellinger, recently underwent surgery.

“We came home from the hospital and Ashley had cleaned the whole house for us,” Adriene Mellinger said. “She’s highly competitive and has a strong spirit, but she has this big heart.”

That big heart carries over to the pool.

“Sometimes she feels bad beating other kids,” Coble said. “She doesn’t want them to dislike her.”

In August, Ashley will participate in the Eastern Zone Senior Championships, which will pit her not only against older competition, but with some of the fastest prep swimmers in the region.

Planning for the future

Meanwhile, Coble feels that some of the times Ashley has already posted in previous events this year should earn her an invite to a USA Swimming Zone Select camp next summer.

“That would then give her an opportunity to be able to gain advice from some of the higher-ups at USA Swimming,” Coble said. “To learn what the next steps are to potentially make the Olympic Trials (in 2024).”

In the meantime, Ashley will stick to what has worked thus far.

“Definitely diet,” she said. “Not eating a bunch of junk food.”

And waking up early.

“It’s never pulling teeth with her with swim,” Adriene Mellinger said. “I’ve told her, ‘If I ever have to drag you to practice, it’s not for you anymore.’ The last few weeks she’s beaten me in waking up.”

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