Strong, powerful and elegant are all words that aptly describe U.S. ladies competitor Ashley Wagner. Resilient, tenacious and triumphant can now be added to the mix.
The 2014–2015 season proved to be a strong one for Wagner. She medaled at her two Grand Prix events and won the Bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, Spain. Intent on reestablishing her place atop U.S. ladies skating, Wagner captured her third senior title at the U.S.Championships in Greensboro, NC with the highest ladies score ever recorded U.S. Nationals with a 221.02 for two flawless performances.
"Of my three titles, this one tastes the sweetest and means the most because it shows every single person that I am capable of being a leading lady," said Wagner.
Ashley continued her on ice success in 2016 by capturing the Silver medal at the World Championships in Boston, becoming the first American woman to win a medal at the World Championships in a decade.
Skating since the age of 5, Wagner said she has developed a new attitude, enabling her to just go and skate and not worry about things beyond her control.
“I’m constantly learning,” Wagner said. “Mistakes are inevitable, but when I take the negatives and the not-so-great performances and I turn them into something I can learn from and use as fuel, it gives me the tools that I need for the next three years pushing onto Pyeongchang (site of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games).”
Wagner unquestionably upped her technical content in the 2014–15 season—putting two triple/triple combinations in her free skate—and also continuing to progress artistically. Her free program set to music from the film Moulin Rouge, choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne, was something she connected with, which made every performance genuine.
After rough skates at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Wagner proved her mettle by delivering strong programs at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi — helping Team USA win a bronze medal in the inaugural team competition and placing top 10 in the ladies event.
“I was chosen to be on the Olympic team for a reason,” said Wagner.
Upon arriving in Sochi, Wagner went from the airport to an interview with NBC at Olympic Park, next to the hockey arena. Gazing at the Olympic rings on the side of the building she soaked in the moment and all that it meant in her life.
“I was an Olympian,” she said. “It was my time to compete. In any sport, you have to give up so much to get to that elite level of competition. That moment made it all worth it.”
The experience of standing on the medal podium with her American teammates was “probably the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me in my entire life.”
“It’s 18-plus years of sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears,” Wagner said. “Eighteen years of my family giving up everything that they could to make my dreams come true. Being so passionate and madly in love with what I’m doing. To be able to have that Olympic experience, it confirmed to me that I’m not crazy. I’m crazy about the sport, about how hard I need to work and what I want to accomplish.”
It’s not been an easy or direct path to sweet satisfaction. Wagner has rebounded from disappointment to thrive. Determined to become more consistent, she moved to California in June 2011 to work with renowned coach John Nicks, a member of the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame. Nicks instilled in Wagner the belief that not only does she need to be a solid technician, but also a performer.
Heading into the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Wagner dubbed herself the “almost girl,” referring to being close to her goals, but not quite achieving them. On Jan. 28, 2012, the word “almost” was gone as Wagner skated her way to the U.S. title. She defended her title in 2013, making her the first U.S. woman since Michelle Kwan to win consecutive U.S. titles.
After the 2012-13 season, Nicks announced he would no longer travel with Wagner to competitions. Shortly after she decided to begin training with Rafael Arutunian, the rink where he had been based for more than a decade closed. Undaunted, they relocated to the East West Ice Palace in Artesia.
Relocating is not new to Wagner. The daughter of an Army officer, she grew up a military brat as the family moved seven times during her childhood. They settled in Northern Virginia and remained in the area after her father — who was working in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 — retired from the Army about 13 years ago.
Until she moved to Delaware to train before her senior year of high school, Wagner attended a regular high school where she was on the Academic Honor Roll and a member of the National Junior Honor Society. Now in her 20s, she understands a training/life balance is essential to success. To that end, life in Los Angeles includes exploring the city’s art, culture and cuisine.
As her career has unfolded, Wagner has become a media darling—known for her frankness and humor. She has also been incredibly popular with sponsors. Over the past two years, she has worked with Nike, Toyota, Bridgestone, Dick's Sporting Goods and Zico Cocnut Water.
“It’s been great to call myself a ‘Cover Girl’ and a Nike athlete,” Wagner said. “Companies believe in me as a competitor.”
She grew up watching America’s Next Top Model and recalls seeing the contestants vie for a Cover Girl contract. When she had to deliver the line “easy, breezy, beautiful Cover Girl,” she was both terrified and elated.
Post-Olympics was a whirlwind of public appearances. CoverGirl sent her to the Oscars, where she walked the red carpet, attended the ceremony and went to the renowned Governor’s Ball. She threw out the first pitch at a Los Angeles Angels game. Her talk show appearances included Bethenny, FOX Sports Crowd Goes Wild and Arsenio. Recently, she was named Maxim's Hot 100, which she said is flattering and also helps her push forward as a woman in he sport.
Wagner has toured with Stars on Ice in the U.S. and Canada. The performance aspect of skating helps fuel her competitive fires. In 2015, she toured with Stars on Ice Canada.
“Every time I go on Stars I learn a little bit more about how to interact with an audience,” said Wagner. “I try to see what works for an audience, what entertains them. I play around until I find something that people can grab onto. It helps me during the competitive season because I’ve figured out what works.”
The diverse range of choreography in the show helps her push the boundaries of her skating and helps her grow artistically. She is keeping the Moulin Rouge free skate for the 2015–16 season, and Bourne is choreographing a new short program.
One project on tap for Wagner is to develop a blog with best friend Adam Rippon, in which they will provide fans insight into their lives as elite athletes.
“I like to think that my career is very relatable,” Wagner said. “I was never one of those wunderkinds. I am not extremely talented, but I am extremely hard working and stubborn. When someone tells me no, it becomes my life’s goal to prove them wrong. I like to be an example of someone who does what she wants to do. Skating makes me happy. As long as it does, I’m going to keep doing it.”
Wagner is active on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. You can follow her at @AshWagner2010. You can also check out her web site: http://www.figureskatersonline.com/ashleywagner/.