Ashley Dolan was born to twirl. At the tender age of two-and-a-half, somebody stuck a baton in her hand, and she’s been doing it ever since. You might even say it’s in her blood. Her mom, Ann Osborn Dolan, past president of the Colorado Baton Council, twirled for the Broncos back in the age of Elway. Her grandmother, Sheryl Osborn, also a lifelong twirler, now teaches it at Westminster Parks and Rec.
“Most people think of twirling as the majorette in the tasseled boots leading the band,” momma Dolan said. “We’re proud of our past, but that’s an image from the 1950s. Twirling has evolved. It’s become much more athletic and artistic. Twirlers at the highest level train as hard as any other athlete.”
“I put it in the same category as figure skating and gymnastics,” echoed daughter Ashley, a graduate of Cherry Creek High School, and now a junior at the University of Texas where she’s the featured twirler for the school’s football team. “You need stamina and upper body strength. There’s a lot of leaping and jumping.”
Twirlers at Dolan’s level practice three to five hours a week, in addition to loads of cardio and strength training. Dolan runs as many as six miles a day, five days a week, and lifts weights at least three times a week, “mainly for injury prevention,” she said.
“Baton twirling is a contact sport,” her mom explained. “We don’t wear pads or helmets. If the baton hits you, it hurts. There are lots of bumps and bruises, bloody noses, and broken nails.
Every spring Dolan spends one weekend a month training with her baton twirling team — KOS (AKA Karen Ogden Studios) — in Sulphur, Louisiana, a tiny town three hours east of Houston. KOS recruited her after seeing her perform at the 2011 Internationals in Jacksonville, Florida. This August, the team goes to the Internationals in Almere, Netherlands, and Dolan is going with them.
Make no mistake, the girl is good at what she does. She can do five spins under a toss. She can do a hands-free cartwheel and come out of it in time to catch the baton before it hits the floor. She’s also perfected a little wonder known as the “one spin double illusion,” a trick that involves throwing the baton thirty feet into the air, spinning once, leaning over to rest her trunk on her extended left leg while simultaneously rotating the right one two times in a clockwise direction, all before straightening up to catch the baton. The whole maneuver unfolds in under five seconds, almost quicker than the eye can see. “A lot of physics goes into it,” Dolan said. “I’ve been working on it since I was a kid.”
In addition to the “aerials,” a one-and-a-half to three minute routine has to incorporate “rolls” (rolling the baton over the arms, neck, elbows, etc.), and “contact materials,” which consist of “flips, whips, swings, wraps, and finger twirls, all in close contact with the body. These are the small moves that connect the big tricks,” Dolan explained. “You want the baton to spin quickly, because it looks more exciting when it’s moving fast.”
As difficult as such tricks are to perform – and they are — the mental component is by far the hardest element to master. “You have to get into your zone before you hit the floor,” Dolan said. “I do lots of deep breathing. I visualize the routine, and try not to stress about the outcome. I remind myself how much I love the sport and how much fun it is to perform. For me, twirling is a form of artistic expression, a way for me to convey my deepest thoughts and feelings to my audience. After I’ve performed, there’s this huge sense of satisfaction. You’re proud of your team, and proud of yourself. You come off the floor so elated that you say, ‘Right. This is why I do it.'”
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