By PHYL NEWBECK
Growing up, Ashley Williams-Wenschhof swam competitively, but she stopped in college and didn’t take it up again until she was in her mid-30s.
Last year, in honor of her 40th birthday, she took part in an open water swim across Lake Champlain to raise money for the Lake Champlain Committee. “I did horribly,” she recalls, “so this year I really focused and had a strong swim.”
Williams-Wenschhoff swam the 3.76-mile distance from Essex, N.Y. to Charlotte in two hours and three minutes, placing seventh out of 30 women.
Last year her husband kayaked alongside her for the swim, but this year her father drove down from Maine to do the honors. “Not much has changed in 41 years in terms of his dedication as a father,” she said.
A resident of Hinesburg, Williams-Wenschhof is probably best known for teaching at Sweet Yoga. She was been practicing yoga for 18 years and teaching for the last eight. She chose to get certified as an instructor after resigning as a Spanish and Italian teacher in her hometown of Rochester, N.Y., after the birth of her first child.
She continued to teach Italian to college students at night but found she was spending more and more time teaching yoga, a trend she has continued in Vermont. In addition to Sweet Yoga, Williams-Wenschhof teaches at The Edge and has led programs at Charlotte Central School and the Audubon Center.
Although she loves teaching yoga, Williams-Wenschhof said she would be happier if she could spend more time teaching Italian. “Yoga is an overlooked necessity for people’s lifestyles,” she said. “I would never want to cancel out the yoga, but it pains me that although we have a remarkable language school in Middlebury, Vermont is stuck in this French/Spanish box. Teaching Italian is my passion.”
For several years, Williams-Wenschhof managed to combine both with an annual yoga retreat in Italy which she hopes to revive now that her children are older.
The passion for teaching Italian dates back to Williams-Wenschhof’s Italian mother, who grew up not knowing the language. She studied Italian at Cornell University, and then spent a year working in Milan for a women’s nonprofit.
Back in Rochester, she started an Italian program at a boy’s prep school. She spent another year in Florence while getting her master’s degree at Middlebury. Despite limited opportunities to teach Italian in Vermont, Williams-Wenschhof has provided instruction at Champlain Valley Union High School and Burlington Technical Center and is now part of the state’s first elementary/middle school Italian program at the Schoolhouse in South Burlington.
Williams-Wenschhof moved to Hinesburg in October 2013. Seven months later, her house caught fire and the family had to move out for three months.
“I’ve never seen such overwhelming support from people I hadn’t met before,” she said. “It was a horrid experience but we met so many great people and found so many connections. This has been the most welcoming community.”
With yoga, sailing out of Kingsland Bay with her husband, swimming on a Williston-based master’s team and teaching, Williams-Wenschhof relishes that she has multiple points of focus. “I’m in 100 places at once,” she said. “I’m always trying to multi-task and learn something new and do something different.”