"They didn’t go down without a fight and neither will I," tweeted figure skater Ashley Wagner after watching "Titanic," just hours before stepping onto the ice.
Her heart was beating faster as the music started. Her skates sliced into the smooth ice like a knife into butter. The playful music, her flowing dress and the flowers in her hair created the feeling of spring on a platform of ice.
The anticipation was ever building and all eyes were focused on her. She landed the triple flip into the double axel. One more jump remained; the hardest in the program. She landed it. The music stopped but her heart was still beating faster than ever. Her cheeks were rosy from the chill of the rink and her wide grin was visible to even those in the back-most rows. She received a standing ovation. With a tone of admiration, the TV commentator said, "seven points behind the leaders … and she fought."
Wagner, only 18 years old, awed the audience and judges with her free skate program. Her performance brought her back into medal contention after she fell behind the leaders in the short program, and won her the bronze medal at the 2010 U.S. Women’s Figure Skating Championships this past January.
It was an amazing accomplishment, yet at the same time, an overwhelming let down. Only the top two could advance to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Wagner had missed making the Olympic team by four points. She had almost grabbed her dream of being an Olympian, but it was pushed just out of reach.
"Any other Olympic year, third place would have been good enough to make it onto the team, but this was the one year where it was different," Wagner said. "The fact that I had skated the long program of my life made it easier to stomach the fact that I wasn’t going to Vancouver."
Wagner gave it everything she had. She took home a bronze medal that complemented her many other skating achievements, but it wasn’t the medal she had dreamed of for years. That dream is still in the cards if she holds onto it.
This past season has been very successful for Wagner. She was the first U.S. lady figure skater to qualify for the Grand Prix Finals in the past two years and came away with an impressive fourth place. Wagner’s skating at the Grand Prix put her on the global radar and her performance at the U.S. Championships showed the world the determination and fortitude that lie beneath her graceful demeanor.
The ice has been a home away from home for Wagner since she was 5 years old. She didn’t start skating because she saw a pair of intriguing skates in a window shop or because she felt inspired after watching a performance on TV. Rather, her skating career began because her mother needed a break from the then 5-year-old Wagner and her 3-year-old brother. Her mother signed her up for skating to get her out of the house occasionally and Wagner has been on the ice ever since.
Born into a military family, Wagner has done a fair share of moving around while growing up. It was not until Wagner was 12 that her family settled in Alexandria. She trained at the Mount Vernon Ice Rink prior to joining the Skating Club of Wilmington in Delaware.
Like many of her fellow West Potomac High School 2009 graduates, Wagner moved out of the house the summer following graduation. However, rather than moving onto a college campus, Wagner chose to move in with her coach Priscilla Hill to prepare for the upcoming season.
IN ADDITION to fulfilling her passion for skating, Wagner takes online classes through Northern Virginia Community College. Wagner sacrifices many of the typical college student luxuries for skating, including sleeping through the morning hours.
Every morning Wagner hits her 6:30 a.m. alarm, rolls out of bed and makes her way to the skating rink by 7:15 a.m. to begin another busy day. She spends an hour and 45 minutes to warm up and skate before getting a less than two-hour period to grab food and catch up with her online classes. Wagner then returns to the ice where she spends the next three-and-a-half hours perfecting her skills.
Her day is still far from over. Depending on the day, she then either has an hour dance or workout class. Twice a week she attends a one-hour strength and conditioning class. Wagner spends the remainder of her time either helping out at the ice rink’s café or teaching a "Learn to Skate" class until she finally heads for home around 6:30 p.m.
Exhaustion has already been hovering over her, but she pushes it aside for yet a few more hours. Online classes take up a large chunk of the evening. At last, her head hits the pillow at 11 p.m. and she is soon asleep until the next day’s alarm.
Wagner goes through this routine day after day, never complaining.
"I’ve been doing it for so long and often I wonder what it would be like to have a ‘normal’ life, but in the end I always realize that I have gotten to experience so many things that people my age haven’t because of skating, and I’m really grateful for that," Wagner said. "I love the sport and what I’m doing so that keeps me going."
WAGNER’S DISAPPOINTMENT in not making the Olympic team has not dampened her spirits. She continues to train just as hard as ever in preparation for the coming season and the next Olympics, four years down the road. Hill said, "Of course she was disappointed by not making the team, but she's worked very hard this spring to keep refining her technique."
Her dream of becoming an Olympian is not lost but rather coming nearer. She could almost touch it after placing third at this year’s U.S. Championships and she retains high hopes for what the future has in store. In one of her online video blogs, she tells her fans to "watch out for me next year."
Wagner has accumulated hundreds of fans because of her inspirational skating and her always-positive outlook. She takes the time to show her adoring fans her appreciation by reaching out to them through her official Web site, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and video blogs. Wagner’s family and friends stand along side these many fans to always cheer her on. Through the disappointments and triumphs, Wagner is backed by a huge support system.
The future stands open to Wagner’s imagination and she hopes to find herself in Russia for the 2014 Olympics. Her bittersweet bronze medal helps to drive her motivation and keeps her dreaming of the possible. She continues to build on her experience and skills every day with the help of her coach and her support system. The next four years will find Wagner on the ice. Wagner continues to strive for perfection.