Athlete Profile: Ashley Wagner
By Colette Harris
When Ashley Wager, 25, won the silver medal at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Boston in 2016, she became the first American ladies singles skater to medal at the event in 10 years, breaking a long-time medal drought. She is a three-time US national champion and a 2014 Olympic Team Event bronze medalist. Her accomplishments are many, but Wagner doesn't plan to slow down anytime soon. While a seventh place finish at the 2017 ISU World Championships in Helsinki, Finland wasn't her best result, Wagner continues to pursue her skating dreams. GOLD caught up with Wagner to learn how she keeps her motivation high and her dreams big.
GOLD: What motivates you to keep competing?
AW: I feel like I really owe it to that 6-year-old girl who kind of started this whole journey. I’ve been doing it for so long and I’m kind of getting my first real taste of success now. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I owe it to myself to see this through to the end. I’ve wanted to be on an Olympic podium, an individual Olympic podium, for my entire career and I feel like I’m so close I can almost taste it. It’s just really kind of the fire in my belly right now and what’s pushing me through.
GOLD: Training intensely for so many years can be difficult on the body and mind. How do you still push yourself at practice everyday?
AW: It can be hard. I think it’s a blessing and a curse, but in skating it seems like every other day there’s some new wonder kid who’s coming up. You know, they’re 15-years-old years and they’re doing triple axels. You know that they’re there. So for me, I know I can’t afford to take any time off. I can’t afford to slack off. I need to push and train as a hard as I can every single day because that’s what’s going to give me the upper hand.
GOLD: Many athletes choose to retire in their mid-20s, but it seems like you’re just reaching your peak now. How did you decide to compete into 20s?
AW: I think that skating has become a huge part of my identity. It has always been a huge part of my life path. It was kind of my plan to make it to the Olympics and then after Sochi, I came back to the drawing board and I was like, I can retire or I can keep going. I felt like I just switched to a new coach [Rafael Arutyunyan] at the time and I felt like there was so much that I could still do with him. That was exciting to me, so I decided to stick with it and see where we could take it. It’s really been coming together in the past couple years.
GOLD: What is making it all come together now?
AW: I think time with Rafael, my coach, has been the answer to all of this. He is Russian, so to start off with we speak different languages. The way that he coaches and his style and technique - it's totally foreign to what I’m used to. Time working with him, understanding what he wants, and physically being able to do that has kind of been the reason why all this is just starting to pay off.
GOLD: Readers always want to know top competitors manage their pre-competition nerves. How do you mentally prepare before an event?
AW: Nerves are just a part of the package. They never go away. I think the first part of being able to deal with them is accepting that they will always be there, you know? If you’re nervous for something, it’s not a bad thing. It means you care. I just have to trust in my training as much as I can. I work so hard for a reason and that preparation is what gives me confidence. So I’ll always feel the nerves, but at the end of the day I kind of have to let go. I dance backstage and that keeps my loose and lighthearted. When I’m competing I just need to get into that kind of a mindset. If I’m super intense, it doesn’t work.
GOLD: What advice would you have for younger athletes who are working to overcome a setback?
AW: Get a plan. That would be my advice. Find some way to get a grasp on everything. It’s so easy to let things kind of quickly slide into a downward spiral and then it just gets worse and worse and worse. It’s kind of up to you to stop that momentum. I tore my quad going into worlds (2016) – about a month before – and in that moment I thought that I wasn’t going to be able to compete. I stepped back and looked at my off-ice training, looked at my on-ice training and what I was capable of. I got a plan for recovery and I was able to put it all together in time for worlds.
Photo at top courtesy of US Figure Skating.