Ashley Wagner finds place to call home
Ashley Wagner's heart needed a place to call home.
"I'm an Army brat, and growing up I was painfully shy and always the new kid in school because we were moving pretty much every year," the 2012 and 2013 U.S. national champion said. "While I was constantly trying to get used to a new situation, the rinks were pretty much universally the same."
Wagner, who is aiming to defend her title at Skate America this week, was first introduced to the ice as a 5-year-old when her family was living in Anchorage, Alaska.
"My mom devised a plan to get me out of the house and gave me the choice between ballet or skating," the 22-year-old said. "She knew both of those sports were time-consuming and would keep me busy with hours of practice."
Choosing blades over the barre, skating came naturally to her.
"I'm about the least coordinated person on the face of the earth, but something about the ice clicks with me," she said. "I just felt instantly comfortable."
As her family moved from Alaska to Washington to Virginia and then Delaware, Wagner quickly discovered, while everything else in her life was in constant flux, the rinks all looked, smelled and sounded the same.
"I really fell in love with the sport because it was the one place I could go and feel a sense of home," she said.
With an innate competitive sense, the young Wagner also found she harbored a unique talent for the sport.
"I accelerated through basic skills very quickly, and then started private lessons," she said. "I was just always hungry to learn more and so fascinated by the speed and flow and always loved jumping."
After watching Tara Lipinski's long program at the 1998 Olympics, Wagner's mind was made up.
"I remember watching her reaction when she saw her scores and she was jumping around and screaming," she said. "I wanted to feel like that, so from that moment on, I wanted to go to the Olympics."
While plenty of kids say they want to be Olympians, Wagner's resolve to achieve that goal has never wavered. As she continues to live much of her life on the road traveling to competitions, it is skating that still keeps her grounded. She finished fourth at the world championships in 2012 and fifth in 2013. Sochi, naturally, has a bright red circle.
"Skating was my rock when everything was crazy, and it's still one of those things I just feel like I'll never get sick of," the 5-foot-3 Wagner said. "It's what I love to do.
"I have this dream of being an Olympian and standing on the podium, and I feel like I owe it to that kid who watched Tara Lipinski to keep working toward that."