Photo by Michael Okoniewski
Figure skater Ashley Wagner, 24, is a plucky, passionate competitor. Among her many victories she counts winning bronze with the other U.S. skaters in the team category at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and Wagner is a rare a three-time U.S. national champion. At the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, she won both the short program and free skate, setting a new U.S. record score. Wagner, one of a constellation of skating stars participating in the charity fundraising show Skate for Hope in August, talks about her love of the sport and her future goals.
Skate for Hope
Founded in 2004 by breast cancer survivor and Naples resident Carolyn Bongirno when she lived in Ohio, the nonprofit Skate for Hope makes its Southwest Florida debut at Germain Arena August 29. Bongirno’s aim was to help kids cope with a family member battling cancer. The SFH program offers figure skaters of all ages at U.S. Figure Skating Basic 3 level and above a chance to skate in a show alongside world-class figure skaters, and raise money for cancer charities. The participants attend a five-week training period that includes health and wellness sessions. The Germain audience will be dazzled by the show while they escape summer swelter, as well as help others. Skate for Hope, which also raises dollars through ticket sales, supports several cancer research and support organizations, including Cancer Alliance of Naples. For tickets click here.
How did you become involved with Skate for Hope?
I was approached by the producers, probably in 2012? to do one of their shows. It was something I had been wanting to do for a long time because it’s a really fun show. The cast always looks like they are having a great time; the commitment is not all that much. We don’t really have to do too much but it’s coming together for such a great cause. I was really excited when they asked me to take part in the show. And I’ve been able to keep at it for the last couple of years.
Were you friends with any of the other performers before you joined?
Absolutely. I’ve known the Hughes family for years, and I have been competing against Emily Hughes for quite some time. So I already knew her and a lot of the people who are part of the show I’ve grown up with in skating. It’s kind of like a little family reunion getting together for this cause.
Do you have someone in your family affected by cancer?
No. I am very fortunate to not have any family members with cancer, but I always believe in paying it forward. Just because I don’t know anyone personally with cancer, this is still an incredible cause to get behind.
Does your performance in SFH use elements from your competition?
We usually get together for Skate for Hope and do what we call an exhibition program, which is essentially we can set them up however we want, because it is a show program. We can do what entertains people. But most of the competitive skaters set show programs up like a competitive short program. So you’ll have maybe three or four jumps, a couple of spins, and a lot the elements you’ll see in a competition are in the show program.
How much time do you devote to training?
During the competitive season, which runs about eight months, I’m on the ice at least five days a week, sometimes six, and probably four hours a day on the ice and two hours a day off.
At what moment did you realize you wanted to skate competitively?
When I saw Tara Lipinski in the 1998 Olympics, I just knew that was something I wanted to do. Because she was so young, and I was probably 7 when I saw her, so she didn’t look that much older than me, and it looked like something that was totally attainable, a goal that I could achieve, so that’s where the Olympic dream started.
Which skaters have influenced you over the years, how and why?
Michelle Kwan I really admire because of what she’s done in the sport, and she really became a legend. That is something I’ve always admired. In my style, I’ve always looked at Katarina Witt. She was a very strong, athletic, sexy skater. She makes no apologies for it, and I’ve always loved the way she skated.
Describe a favorite moment from your career so far.
Standing on the Olympics podium hands down is the most incredible experience I’ve ever had. Just the feeling of so many years of hard work paying off and having an Olympic medal put around your neck, that’s just something that’s an untouchable moment. Beyond that, my last national title. I finished the long program and the entire audience was on their feet before I even finished. To have that kind of recognition from a packed crowd, it’s moments like that why I do the sport.
Are you hoping to skate in the next Olympics?
I fully intend to go back to the Olympics. It is such an incredible experience and I think next time I’ll be even more prepared and know what to expect. I’ll have the experience working on my side. As long as I am physically able to do it, I totally intend on going to PyeongChang. I hear that I’m older, but at the same time, I think it’s just this mindset in skating that if you are over 20 you are too old. We have plenty of female athletes where it is common to be competing into their 40s. Even prima ballerinas and top dancers will perform into their 40s. There’s no reason to put an expiration date on an athlete.
What hobbies or pastimes do you pursue in your downtime?
I am really lucky, I live in Southern California. It’s pretty easy to find something to do. I am a coffee fanatic, so I love exploring different coffee shops, and I really like to be outside, going to the beach, going on runs, hiking, things like that are really up my alley.
Are you enrolled in college and pursuing sports journalism?
I’m taking a break from school. You heard my training regimen. At the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is go write a paper. I’m looking to find a program that works with my schedule. I fully intend on getting back to school. My mom was a teacher, so growing up education was something that was very important. As soon as I find the time I am headed back to school and sports journalism is something that I am very interest in. I love writing, I just want to stay involved in athletics in general, even in broadcast journalism. I would want to be someone who is really taking part, not just a talking head.
What’s a guilty pleasure?
Oh, fried food! I love everything dipped in grease and fried to a crisp. Also I am a foodie, I love cooking, I have a very positive relationship with food. During the off-season, I like to let myself indulge and eat what I want as long as I am staying active. I don’t want to come back 30 pounds heavier at the start of the season, but I believe in living life and not only living for your sport.
What are three things few people know about you?
I just got a tattoo of the Olympic rings; I am fluent in gibberish; I despise bananas with a passion stronger than a thousand suns.
Do you choose music for competitions?
I have 98 percent input on that. I am the one who has to listen to it a million times over every single day, straight, for eight months, so I have to like it. If I don’t like it, then I am not going to be able to perform well to it. I really like skating to rock. I’ve skated to Pink Floyd and I love it to begin with. It’s fun, people don’t see that in skating. They get excited when they see something different. It’s what I imagine Katarina Witt skating to if she were skating these days. It’s so raw and edgy and sexy, and that’s what I want to be as a skater.
Do you have a say in your costumes?
Yeah, the costumes are on my dime, so I get total say. Of course, my coaches will come to me with a suggestion, but then I work with my costume designer, and Pinterest is a girl’s best friend when it comes to designing them. I’ll show her all these couture gowns I like, and I’ll say, “Okay, how do we do this with Spandex and sparkles?”