Editors note: Portions of this article appeared in the May 21, 2020 edition of TeamUSA under the byline Karen Price.
When they were little girls, twins Ayla and Zoe Spitz of Newport Beach, CA, would visit their grandparents, Renee and the late Sandy Kasner in Omaha during the summer.
“We always enrolled them in camp at the JCC,” Renee said “and they spent hours in the pool. When they were about eight I thought it would be fun to take them to the Olympic Team Trials that were being held here.”
Little did any of them know how that experience would come full circle 13 years later for Ayla.
“Going to Trials when I was younger really got me excited about swimming,” she said. “And I remember hearing the team name ‘Cal’ come up over and over again.” Spitz, the daughter of Eric and Jane Kasner Spitz, is now a sophomore swimmer at the University of California. She is scheduled to compete at this year’s Olympic Trials for the first time in the hopes of adding to her school’s tradition of producing Olympic athletes.
“It’s a dream of mine, for sure,” Spitz said. “I think looking at all my teammates who’ve achieved Olympic success or have Olympic dreams, I love being a part of that. Even if I don’t get there, to be able to support them is really special as well.”
Renee Kasner still likes to mention how it was that trip to the Olympic Trials in 2008 that really sparked Ayla’s love of the sport. Last year, when COVID-19 was spreading and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo were postponed, Spitz was worried that if they did hold the Olympic Trials in Omaha, her grandmother wouldn’t be able to watch from the stands.
“I was nervous she wouldn’t get to see me,” Spitz said. “Things were so uncertain. Now that things are looking up again I’m incredibly excited that I’ll be able to have her there. It’ll mean so much.”
This year, the Trials were held in two waves in order to create the safest environment possible. The first wave was held June 4-7 and the second wave,
during which Spitz is qualified to race in six events, will be held June 13-20. Based on conversations with those who’ve been there before, Spitz is expecting Trials to be the most nerve-wracking and most exciting meet ever. But she also feels Cal and coach Teri McKeever have her well-prepared.
“I think so far the biggest lesson I’ve learned at Cal is to take things one race at a time, one day at a time and really have gratitude. In the past, a big meet like that might overwhelm me, but it helps if I break it down and think, ‘Wow,
I’m so grateful to be here and have this incredible opportunity and I want to make the most of it.’ Then if you have one bad race, you just move on to the next one. That’s really grounded me."