San Jose Mercury News: CrossFit Games Gives Campbell Woman Chance to Show She's Beating Cancer

San Jose Mercury News: CrossFit Games Gives Campbell Woman Chance to Show She’s Beating Cancer

Posted July 25, 2013 by the San Jose Mercury News.

By Mark Emmons

CAMPBELL — After undergoing surgery for cervical cancer nearly 16 months ago, Ashley Carriveau couldn’t walk a mile without tiring and doubling over in pain. It was a shock for an ultracompetitive woman who had broken San Jose State swimming records and continued to train sometimes twice a day in an austere gym.

“At first I thought, ‘Oh my god, my body is never going to be what it once was,’ ” said Carriveau, 29.

But on a recent weekday morning, just as the sun was rising, Carriveau was swinging a 44-pound cast-iron kettlebell weight over and over until she was drenched with sweat.

Not content with just beating cancer, Carriveau has regained her health — and more. She qualified for the Reebok CrossFit Games, which began earlier this week and end Sunday, in Southern California where she is competing for “The Fittest on Earth” crown.

“The diagnosis was devastating, and my biggest thing was just for her to be cancer-free,” said her husband, Tom Carriveau. “But she worked her tail off to get where she is now. She’s stronger than ever.”

Carriveau admits to being uncomfortable with how her deeply private story became so public during the buildup to a grueling event that has grown in popularity and is being televised on ESPN networks. But she has shared her ordeal in hopes that others struggling with the disease might be able to gain something.

“I know people are fighting for their lives and going through this every day,” said Carriveau, an accountant. “I was so lucky because it could have been a lot worse for me. But going through something like that really puts life in perspective. I guess I hope to inspire people.”

Carriveau, whose maiden name is Vrieze, attended the University of Illinois on a swimming scholarship before transferring to SJSU. She stepped away from the sport briefly to focus on academics before returning to the pool and making a big splash her senior year. She eclipsed three school records in the backstroke and would qualify for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials.

 “What sets her apart is that she just has this all-consuming drive for excellence,” said Sage Hopkins, the SJSU swim coach. “She was never the best swimmer, but she definitely was the hardest worker. She will just outwork everybody else. Ashley rises to the occasion because she stays so calm under pressure.”

She needed that poise in the spring of 2012.

After retiring from swimming, she gravitated toward CrossFit competitions, which are an extension of a fitness company by the same name. It developed a training regimen designed to build fitness by emphasizing high-intensity repetitions of simple exercises using tools like free weights and jump rope instead of fancy equipment.

Carriveau, who had just gotten married the previous August, was ranked No. 1 in Northern California and training for the regional event. But then she was floored by a stunning medical diagnosis: cancer.

“After I met with the oncologist,” she said, “I felt like my world was ending.”

Added Tom Carriveau: “It was just the first year of our marriage. You know that you’re going to have ups and downs in life, but to have something like that happen so soon was a shock. There were a lot of tears.”

After a five-hour surgery to remove cancerous tissue and about 20 lymph nodes, Carriveau received the best-possible news: She would make a full recovery. Although she could barely walk their two dogs, she tried to return to the gym just one week later.

“It was stupid and I will never live that down with my husband,” she said. “But sometimes no one can tell me anything.”

Gradually, she molded her 5-foot-3, 135-pound body back into shape. Eventually she was training from three to five hours a day again as she recalibrated her goal to reaching this year’s CrossFit Games.

At the regionals in late May, where she finished second, Carriveau made a statement with a T-shirt that captured a defiant attitude: an adaptation of a four-letter word in front of “cancer.”

About 50 supporters there to cheer her on wore the same shirts. Carriveau did it in support of her mother, who is fighting cancer, and for a friend at her CrossFit San Jose gym whose mother died of the illness. But, yes, she was a little embarrassed by the implied profanity. Not her husband, though.

“There was some discussion about whether the shirt was appropriate,” said Tom Carriveau, a special-education teacher. “But when you lose someone or know someone fighting this terrible disease and see what they’re enduring, I think it’s entirely appropriate.”

Part of the CrossFit Games’ challenge is that athletes don’t know what the events are ahead of time. But Carriveau said before the competition, after everything she has been through, that she was ready for anything.

“I’ve learned that you have to keep fighting the good fight, stay positive and don’t let all the small things get to you,” she said. “Life is short. You have to appreciate what you have.”

Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745. Follow him at

Ashley Carriveau

Age: 29
Who: Former San Jose State swimmer who set three school records in the backstroke event and qualified for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials. The Campbell resident is one of three Northern California qualifiers to a worldwide fitness competition, the Reebok CrossFit Games.
When: Going on through Sunday
Where: StubHub Center, Carson
What: The CrossFit Games is a multi-event competition where athletes vie for a title of “The Fittest on Earth.” There are 44 athletes in the women’s category.
TV coverage: ESPN2 will air the finals Sunday. ESPN3 will have live coverage Friday through Sunday.

Spartans Defend WAC Swimming & Diving Championship

Swimming & Diving Team Wins WAC Championship

Spartans Defend WAC Swimming & Diving Championship

Alli Davis in the 200 IM (photo courtesy of Regina Cunningham).

San Antonio, Texas — Ashlyn Acosta set a San Jose State University record in the 200 yard butterfly and the team’s overall depth prevailed as the Spartans successfully defended their Western Athletic Conference Women’s Swimming and Diving Championship.

San Jose State had 695 points in the team scoring to finish ahead of Northern Arizona’s 688 and Denver’s 631.5 in the nine-team championship. The Spartans now have back-to-back championships after not having any prior to 2012.

“When you have 25 people working together through the season with a common goal, they can do great things,” said San Jose State head coach Sage Hopkins, who was named WAC Women’s Swimming Coach of the Year for the second year in a row. “The depth and strength of our team carried us through the whole season.”

Acosta broke the school record twice on the meet’s final day with a 1:59.86 qualifying round time and a NCAA Championship provisional qualifying mark of 1:59.03 to finish second in the championship final.

The Spartans won the championship without a first place finish in any of the last 13 events on the final two days. San Jose State won the first three relay races and 2012 WAC Swimmer of the Year Marisa DeWames captured the 50 freestyle for the second year in a row during the first two days of the four-day championship meet.

Acosta and DeWames in the 100 freestyle and Amy Kilby in platform diving finished second in their events.

“They (Kilby and Jessica Holden) were humungous,” said co-captain Julia Craddock, who was third in the 200 butterfly final, about the Spartans’ diving contingent. Kilby scored points with a third in the 3-meter and fourth in the 1-meter to go along with her second in the platform. Holden’s fourth in the platform was her best finish in the WAC Championship. “They really, really helped the team and dove extremely well.”

“This is a tremendous team, a tremendous group. I’m very lucky to work with a great group of student-athletes,” Hopkins added.

Get all the results from SJSU Athletics.

a swimmer taking a breath

Spartans Win WAC Swimming & Diving Championship

swim team group photo

Spartans also scored Coach of the Year and Swimmer of the Year awards (SJSU Athletics image).

By SJSU Athletics

SJSU won its first Western Athletic Conference Women’s Swimming and Diving Championship on Feb. 25 at the Palo Alto College Aquatic Center. The Spartans finished the four-day championship with a 728 team score. Northern Arizona was second at 622 and Hawai’i was third with a 524 in the eight-team championship. San Jose State had first-place finishes in eight of the 21 events (four individual, four relay) during the four-day meet, including three winners on the final day. Following the conclusion of the championship, San Jose State’s Sage Hopkins was voted WAC Coach of Year. Marisa DeWames was named Swimmer of the Year, the first such award for a Spartan, in a vote by the conference’s eight coaches. Read more.

SJSU student Darcie Anderson is swimming in a pool wearing her SJSU swimming cap and goggles.

Andrerson, Trammell Qualify For Olympic Trials

SJSU Spartan Darcie Anderson is swimming in a pool wearing her SJSU swimming cap and goggles.

Darcie Anderson is headed to the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 100 breaststroke. (Photo by Terrell Lloyd)

Senior Kirsten Trammell and sophomore Darcie Anderson of the San Jose State University women’s swimming and diving team swam qualifying times in the 100 breaststroke for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team trials at the AT&T Winter National Championships.

Trammell (Goodyear, Ariz./Xavier College Prep) was timed in 1:11.30 and Anderson (Willows, Calif./Orland HS) in 1:11.31 in the long course preliminary heats at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center. The qualifying time for the Olympic Team trials next June in Omaha, Neb., is 1:12.19.

In the 100 breaststroke final (courtesy of USA Swimming & later in the day, Anderson posted a faster time of 1:11.29 to finish in 23rd place. Trammell placed in 26th place with a 1:12.04 time.

Read more from SJSU Athletics.

Spartans Swimmers Rank Among Nation's Best

Swim Team Nationally Ranked

Spartans Swimmers Rank Among Nation's Best

The Spartans own 14 national top-50 times, including seven in the top-10, across 10 different individual and relay events (photo by SJSU Athletics).

A number of San Jose State swimmers find themselves among the nation’s best this week after an outstanding performance at the prestigious Arena Invitational in Long Beach. In addition, SJSU was recently ranked the number two Mid-Major Division I swim team in the nation by The Spartans own 14 national top-50 times, including seven in the top-10, across 10 different individual and relay events. Seven different athletes represent San Jose State among the nation’s elite in individual events, while two more join forces with them to form some of the fastest relay teams in the country. “We’re very pleased with our early-season progress,” said Head Coach Sage Hopkins. “I think it’s a great indication of the progress the team has been making and the sacrifices they have made.” The group is led by the 200 freestyle relay team of Meghan McCurley, Marisa DeWames, Kiley Foster and Erika Harvey, which holds the fourth-best time in the country at 1 minute, 31.15 seconds. The team set a new school record and earned an NCAA “B” standard with the performance at last week’s Arena Invitational on Nov. 17.

Read more from SJSU Athletics.

The swim team gathers for a group huddle.

Swimming and Diving Celebrates Banner Year

The swim team gathers for a group huddle.

Courtesy: San Jose State Athletics

SJSU water polo team gets together for a group huddle.

Courtesy: San Jose State Athletics
Courtesy: San Jose State Athletics

The athletes, their families and friends of the San Jose State Women’s Swimming and Diving program gathered in the Gold Room on Saturday night to celebrate the 2010-11 season and honor their highest achievements.

In 2010-11 Spartan swimmers and divers set 16 school records and swam 10 NCAA ‘B’ Cut times.  As a team they had 64 individual and eight relay wins.

Head coach Sage Hopkins handed out six awards and named the tri-captains for the 2011-12 season.

Senior Julia Koch, who set two school records and achieved two NCAA ‘B’ Cut qualifying time’s was honored with the Most Improved award.  At the WAC Championship, she swam a 4:50.81 in the 500 freestyle and was a member of the 800 freestyle relay team that came home in 7:19.51.  Both times were NCAA ‘B’ Cuts and both set new program records.  In addition, Koch, a native of San Diego, Calif., won six individual races on the season.

“Julia had the senior year that every athlete dreams of,” Hopkins said.  “At the WAC Championship she broke two of our oldest and most challenging team records, the 500 freestyle and 800 freestyle relay.  Both performances were just amazing.  Last spring she broke her arm and missed a significant amount of training.  But, over the summer she dedicated herself in an unparalleled way, to be the best swimmer she could be.  Running stairs in the football stadium, in addition to her work in the weight room and pool last summer was a great thing to be a part of.  It was the foundation for this year’s success.”

Read full story on