Ashley Granata (New York, NY) began inline skating when she was about 8 or 9 and, although she grew up admiring the speed skaters in the Olympics, she didn’t make the transition to the ice until 2019, nearly 30 years later.
“I was always an inline skater when I was a kid. My dad and my brothers and I, we all skated- just recreationally; it was never competitive. It was always really fun and I did it through when I was a teenager. Anywhere we went, I just always brought my skates with me,” Granata said.
When she left her home state of Pennsylvania to attend college at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Granata turned her attention away from skating to focus on starting her career in the fashion and tech industries. She made a home in New York for about 10 years, then moved across the country to work in San Francisco for a while, before eventually returning to New York about one and half years ago to start her own company.
“I started building a company and I was at home working all day by myself-and this was pre-COVID, before it became the norm,” Granata recalled.
She decided she wanted to try something new and recalled an unexplored interest from her childhood.
“I always watched speed skating in the Olympics and thought it looked really fun and, because I had loved inline skating so much, I thought ‘I bet I could do that and it looks like an amazing workout.’ I also remember as a kid seeing Bonnie Blair (Champaign, Ill.) in the Olympics and I always thought she looked so cool; she was one of the first powerful women I ever saw on television. I saw her and I was like, ‘Wow, she is really going for it.’ I found it really inspiring when I was a kid. All of that had kind of stuck with me,” said Granata.
“So, I was just working in my apartment all week and I thought, ‘I’m just going to commit to this. I’m going to learn something new. I’m going to learn this new sport,” Granata said. “I was really nervous at first to lea because I knew I was going to look kind of silly as an adult beginner, but I follow Jonathan Van Ness (on instagram and he was posting stories of learning to figure skate in his 30s. He was literally flailing and falling and laughing in the beginning and then he got better and better as time went on, so I decided to follow his lead and not worry about looking silly learning something new.”
“And, when you’re building a new company, sometimes there are long periods of time between milestones and I thought it would be helpful to be able to measure myself every single week and feel like I was making a lot of progress and that would help buoy some of the slower times with work and that’s another reason I did it also,” she noted.
So that’s when Granata, at age 38, started commuting to Yonkers, New York each week, to join the Taconic Speedskating Club.
“I Googled the nearest club and found one in Yonkers. The first couple of times I was skating with the kids who were learning, so it was me and a few 8-year-olds. I thought it was so fun and humbling, as well as funny... and the kids were actually really helpful to me! I always left smiling, so I joined the club and skated with them as often as possible,” Granata explained.
There, she had short track coaches, and learned the basics, quickly falling in love with the sport…. so much so that she started skating each day in the city at Bryant Park. Although she couldn’t go very fast on the small rink, she was still able to log ice time and complete her drills.
Committed to continued improvement, Granata enrolled herself in US Speedskating’s Women of Speed Camp last summer.
“It was for all women who are members of US Speedskating… all ages and all abilities, which is cool because a lot of times they do camps for kids, or teenagers they want to develop into professional athletes, but this one was for everyone,” she explained.
It was outside, it was all masked, and at that point, the [COVID-19 case] numbers were down…. I thought there were going to be 50 or so people there.I thought, ‘I’ll just blend in,’ but then I rolled up and there were literally 5 campers and the rest of the camp was on Zoom because many didn’t feel comfortable traveling yet. After that, I thought, ‘Okaaaaaaaayyy, I’m not really going to blend in, but whatever, I’ll go with it’ and it was so much fun.”
Granata says although she was really the only beginner in the group, everyone was extremely welcoming, friendly and helpful.
“We had a couple of ice sessions and before the first one I was putting on my skates and Olympian Brittany Bowe (Ocala, Fla.) walked up to the rink. She was one of the coaches for the day and I had no idea she was going to be there. She is the star of speed skating right now and I was so nervous…. I fell twice in front of her. It was so embarrassing but we all had a good laugh about it… I learned a lot at that camp and had a really great time.
Click here to see photos of Ashley with Brittany Bowe at the 2020 Women of Speed Camp.
And, at the end of that camp, it felt like Granata had come full circle, when the woman who had inspired her as a child showed up to camp via Zoom.
“Bonnie Blair was on the Zoom Call. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so cool! She is a childhood hero; this is amazing.’ I just thought it was so cool that she is still involved in the program and mentoring our team,” Granata recalled.
When Granata expressed the sentiment to Andrea DiCristoforo, Marketing Manager at US Speedskating, she was inspired by her response.
“Andrea said, ‘The thing about speed skating is that we really have a culture here of helping the next one up.’ I learned that all of the senior skaters help the junior skaters. And I saw it first hand with Brittany Bowe coaching the younger skaters and myself. When you have the top members of the National Team volunteering at an all abilities camp all weekend, you know that's not all talk. That was when I knew this was a community I wanted to not just participate in but also contribute to,” Granata said.
“I really loved that spirit and found it really inspiring. It’s also very much like the technology industry. We are always very helpful at making introductions, advising, mentoring, and just helping people get to the next level. ….The Women of Speed Camp was amazing,can’t wait for the next one” Granata said.
Moving into the winter, Granata wanted to continue skating, but found it a little more difficult due to COVID-19, so she decided to make a move, signifying an increased commitment to the sport.
“I wanted to skate every single day and I knew that Lake Placid had the oval outside, which was great because I can work from anywhere. I got an Airbnb right across the street from the oval, so I could work during the day and do a session each evening. And then on the weekend, they had two speed sessions per day, so I could skate for two hours a day. So, I was skating outside almost every single day this winter in Lake Placid and I went back to Yonkers a few times during the season to skate with my home club, too,” she said.
Due to the pandemic, Granata had expected to be by herself in Lake Placid, but instead found an amazing community, all while taking proper safety precautions for COVID-19.
Granata met the president of the Lake Placid Speed Skating Club, Christie Sausa, who was extremely welcoming, and Sausa introduced her to Olympian Trevor Marsicano (Ballston Spa, NY) who she began working with as a coach. There, she found that she enjoyed long track a little bit more than short track.She also took some lessons from Olympian Patrick Kelly (Lake Placid, NY) and enjoyed receiving tips from other skaters she passed on the track.
“I loved it. I thought it was so much fun. It was such a nice community, a great experience. It was different from what I expected and better. Everyone was really lovely,” Granata said.
Granata’s hard work paid off when she participated--and won--US Speedskating’s National Challenge.
“We didn’t have a competitive season this year and honestly, I don’t know if I could’ve been competitive, but US Speedskating did a short track challenge and a long track challenge and I entered and I won my age division and thought, “This is the coolest thing ever!’ All my friends thought it was really cool that I had been recognized by the governing body of this sport,” Granata recalled.
“I was just so excited. I think every sport should have these challenges every single month for people who love their sport, no matter what age they are. Do you have to be Mikaela Shiffrin to compete with your skiing community at large?I imagine participation would go through the roof among non pro adults with a little friendly nationwide competition” she continued.
“You can have a passion for sports at any age and being recognized by the community makes me all the more likely to keep playing.”
While Granata has returned to New York for the time being, she hopes to return to Lake Placid next winter, or maybe even sooner.
“I’m considering renting a place there again this summer….There is so much hiking and cycling that you can do up there. If I can still work from anywhere, I’ll be there doing as much training as I possibly can,” she said. “It would be great to compete next season. There are events all over the country and there are a lot in the local New York area also. However, if I wanted to specialize in long track, I’d probably do some traveling.”
Granata’s passion for the sport helped her navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic and, beyond that, has helped her achieve more balance, both personally and professionally.
“I just tried to make the best of the pandemic…. Obviously the beginning was really, really difficult, but then I thought, ‘How can i make this time work for me and get the most out of it?’ I’m so happy I was able to go to Lake Placid and be outdoors for the tail end, I feel lucky to have that time there,” she said.
“What I’ve learned over my career is that you do have to put your energy and intention into other things as well. You have to distract yourself a little bit. If you put too much of your focus and energy on one thing, you can kill that one thing. So that’s what I’m trying to do now with this new company--create more balance. I keep up all of my relationships with my friends and family. I have a community with sports and I have a community with the company, too. I just try to diversify where my energy and love goes a little better this time.
Click here to see Ashley skating at Lake Placid.
When it comes to speed skating, Granata is as driven and as dedicated to making progress as she is with her new company, but she also isn’t afraid to laugh at herself from time to time, ask others for help, or take time to appreciate the journey.
“It was a special experience for me because I expected to be mostly by myself, but was really welcomed by this lovely community with a passion for skating and eagerness to share the magic of the Adirondacks. There were a few times when everyone just stopped skating and watched the amazing sunset over Mt. Marcy,” Granata recalled. “I'm so, so grateful to them for sharing that special place and I’m really looking forward to another season there next year,”