|Ashley Wagner performs in the ladies short program during
the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final at the Iceberg
Skating Palace on Dec. 7, 2012 in Sochi, Russia.
|Sarah Hughes won
the gold medal in
the ladies' figure
at the Salt Lake City
2002 Olympic Winter
I sat down with 2013 U.S. champion figure skater Ashley Wagner the day after she successfully defended her national title in Omaha, Neb. By winning the night before, Ashley became the first American lady to defend an initial national title since Rosalynn Sumners struck back-to-back gold in 1982-83 – for those of you doing the math, that’s right – it has taken 30 years for a first-time champion to win again the next year.
In a competition Ashley described as “the most stressful event ever,” she said afterwards all she wanted to do was “talk to my mom and relax a bit.” So it follows suit that we decided to talk about interests elite athletes, such as Ashley, pursue outside the arena – and how they’re especially helpful following challenging competitions.
Q: Figure skating is an intense sport and there’s no moment that’s more pressure-filled than when they call your name and you skate out to take your starting position. There are tens of thousands of people in the arena and millions more watching at home. What’s going through your mind between when they call your name and when the music starts?
A: For me, those are usually the most stressful moments of the entire competition. Just because you’re nervous, you feel all the eyes on you, and for me, I’m usually trying to stay focused on what Mr. Nicks, my coach, is saying, and making sure that I tune everything else out and just focus on him.
Q: What about right before you start – when you strike your opening pose, before the first few notes take over. The moment the camera zooms in your face. So much drama!
A: Usually at that point, it’s like, “Ok, breathe, breathe, breathe, you’re going to be ok. Breathe.” And then, the second that the music comes on, I usually get right into character. And then it’s just muscle memory from there.
Q: After a competition like this, what do you do to relax, to take your mind off of everything for a few days?
A: For me, I love yoga. That’s really what gets me to that nice, relaxed place. I love to do hot yoga – that’s really what helps to calm myself down. Other than that, I live in California. There are beaches to go lie on and relax. I think I have a good setup back home so I can kind of get away from the rink.
Q: How do you enjoy training in California, where the atmosphere is so different outside compared to in the rink?
A: It’s nice. It’s a nice contrast because you’ll go into the rink and it will be freezing because the rinks don’t have heaters out there. And then you walk outside and it’s 75 and sunny. And you can go and enjoy the rest of your day.
Q: You’ve been involved in a lot of activities off the ice and one of them is Classroom Champions. [Olympic champion and founder] Steve Mesler was just telling me, ‘You have to ask her about a recent Skype chat she did with one of the classrooms.’ So, I’m wondering, what do the kids ask you and what do you talk about?
A: They’re so cute! I mean, Classroom Champions is an awesome program. I’m so lucky to be able to work with them. I usually just talk to them about my skating and how I handle the pressure and time management – things that I try to pick apart for them and help them apply it to their daily school life.
Q: What do they ask you about? Any specific questions?
A: They ask me if I play video games and what my favorite books are and if I like to read. Things like that. They’re younger kids so it’s not a lot of hard questions like, “how do you feel the moment before you perform or something like that.” [Note: Uh oh, that was my first question when we sat down…] It’s fun stuff like, “What’s your favorite food? Do you like cheese?” Things like that. They’re so cute.
Q: Do they ever tell you that they see or on TV or that they watch you skate?
A: They do. They let me know when they see me skate and they’re always really excited. I was able to Skype, maybe about two weeks ago, and it was so cool to be able to put faces to all the classrooms and see how excited they were to be part of the program. I was really curious because I wanted to know how the boys were dealing with having a figure skater as a mentor and how they are doing with the glitz and the glam and the sparkles. I’ve been trying to explain to them that skating requires a lot of strength and you have to have a lot of speed, and more masculine qualities like that so they can really get into it.
Q: And do they seem to?
A: Yeah, for the most part, a lot of them seem to! I mean, sometimes when I’m Skyping them, you see some of the boys in the back, like, twiddling their thumbs! (laughing)