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Ashley Caldwell started competing internationally at age 16, was the youngest U.S. Skier to compete at the Olympics, and is a 2017 Aerials World Champion. Read Ashley's story and learn the secrets of how she stays motivated and keeps the COLOR in her life alive and burning! Follow Ashley Caldwell's Olympic journey on Instagram @ashleyskis93
Listen to the interview here:
Q: Tell us how you got started skiing?
A: I was flipping off furniture at three years old, and you might imagine my mom was a little bit nervous for me. So, she thought I needed a productive outlet for this, so she got me into gymnastics. I also started skiing at three, because my dad was an avid skier. Around age 12 we watched the Russian Winter Olympics and saw freestyle skiing. At that time, my mom said "This would be perfect for you." I loved skiing and I loved flipping and I was getting kind of tall for gymnastics. I thought my mom was kind of nuts for suggesting that at the time, being only 12 years old. I mean, your 12-year-old daughter is going to do triple backflips on skis? But turns out she was right. I signed up for a summer camp the following year. I did my first backflips at the Lake Placid ramps that year. Then, I started online school and began competing and freestyle skiing. At 14, I did my first backflip onto snow, and it was then that I knew I LOVED it. I mean, I hate the cold, but flipping on skis? It's exhilarating. I made the national Olympic team at 16-years-old, as the youngest representative of Team USA in the 2010 Olympics.
Q: So when your parents saw you doing all of these dangerous flips and tricks, how did they feel?
A: My dad thinks it's incredible. He loves that I get to live in Park City and do what I do. It's honestly his own dream in a lot of ways, so I think he lives vicariously through me in a way, haha. My mom, on the other hand, is more like, 'I know you love this, but I'm going to turn around and not watch.' She knows I love the sport and she's happy for my success, but she does cringe at the crashes more than my dad does.
Q: What do you love about skiing most?
A: To be honest, it's the toughest parts of aerials - the big crashes, the challenging events, the big victories...overcoming those difficult challenges and proving to myself that all this hard work and everything I've done has been worth it. In a big way, it's proving that my brain can overcome and I can do something incredible. Those are my favorite moments.
Q: What is your process for mentally preparing for dangerous tricks?
A: I mean, you don't just like wake up one morning and do a triple backflip. You build over time. You have some success, you have some adversity, you have more success, etc. It's a circle that just keeps getting bigger and bigger. You experience the gratification, and that's the risk/reward reaction you develop over time. Over time, you learn what you can and can't handle and you continue to push those boundaries more and more. The risks get bigger, but the reward gets bigger too. I think that's one of the challenges of making it to a higher level in a sport is sometimes the risks outweigh the benefits. So, the question is, how do you keep that cycle going and keep moving forward? I think that just evolves over time. Now, I crash, and I say, "Wow, that was horrible. I really don't want to do that again." But then I say, "The next one's going to be so good!" And when it is, I just went from the bottom to the top. And when everyone watches me crash, I think "but just watch this next one."
Q: Do you always do your biggest tricks into pools first, or directly on snow?
A: You qualify all your tricks on water before you go to snow so you have a relative understanding that you're good enough to land at least close to your feet, right? The first time you do it on water, it gives you some confidence. But nothing compares to the first time you land a jump on snow. That stays with you. The first time I jump on snow this year will be equally scary in some ways as the first time I ever jumped on snow.
Q: Do you rely on past successes, and do those drive you to do more and push your boundaries?
A: Yeah. Naive or not, that works out as long as you do it the right way. You think, "Well, the last time I crashed this hard the jump after that I won the event." And sometimes believing that works. That's not going to work every time, but the point of it is seeing if you can remain positive. You're always in a mind game. It's all about how you manage the fear and the drive and stay focused on the good, and not scare yourself out of doing the entire sport.
Q: We love the aspect of putting the positive first. Can you tell us more about how you do that.
A: Many times I'm notorious for being someone people look at and say, "You're not focused. You're out there dancing and singing and laughing. You need to get your head in the game." And I say, "I have to keep the positive going." If I start getting too serious, I'm going to realize what I'm doing is scary. I just stay in that positive space as best I can, and that's what works for me.
Q: When the negative voice starts winning, what do you do to turn it around?A: The first thing I do is start head nodding. I know my patterns of behavior, so as soon as I start feeling bad, I force myself to think of a song and I start head nodding. That gets my body into a rhythm. I start feeling better, then I start smiling, and eventually I start joking. Sometimes I force the jokes to be a little extra weird. In ways, I guess it takes me forcefully changing my personality. I have to force my mind to change. I do this because I know that I will not be successful if I get too serious. But that isn't true of everyone of course.
Q: Tell us a little more about the journey to become a professional athlete. What was your big break?
A: You honestly just keep going. At 16, my goal wasn't to go to the Olympics. My goals were much smaller than that. I had one goal, and then another, and then another. They became bigger and bigger each time. You keep going. I just assumed that I'd keep skiing until I didn't want to anymore. And now, I'm still here doing it.
Q: What does an average day in the life of a professional skier look like, both in the on and off-seasons?
A: In the summer, we typically wake up, eat breakfast, have coffee, and then head to water ramp training. We warm up at the pool, then jump into the pool for a couple of hours... When I was younger I used to do two sessions a day, plus a trampoline session and a strength conditioning session. Now, I don't do as many sessions each day. It's more about quality than quantity. So, I only do one session, and then I do a couple strength conditioning sessions throughout the week. We go five days a week during May-October, with a schedule of three weeks on, one week off. In the winter, we travel a lot, so it just depends on the week. With the World Cup, for instance, it is taken a week at a time. You travel, get one or two days to acclimate to the time change or the new venue, three days of training, and then usually a day or two of competition. Each schedule is a little different. But typically, your whole schedule is centered around your two-hour jump and what is needed to best prepare.
Q: What is it like to be in the Olympics competing in front of the whole world, or at other events?
A: The Olympics are completely different than any other event. It's very...dramatic...and incredible. You can feel - even 'taste' - the blood, sweat, and tears; the passion and inspiration; the powerful energy and mood. You can seriously feel all of this raw energy and emotion coming from all the athletes in the Olympic Village. So, that's the Olympics - it's powerful beyond words. One of my other favorite events is in Deer Valley. It's at night in front of a huge crowd. They're really a local support system, which doesn't happen when you go to a place like Russia or elsewhere. You know, in Russia, for instance, they're not really cheering for you...unless you crash. Whereas, being at events where others cheer for you is like being a rockstar. You feel like you are competing for all of those people. That can be a bit overwhelming, and so you need to manage the expectations you have in your own head, but overall it's really incredible.
Q: What's it like to be the person representing an entire nation when you ski?
A: In the beginning, skiing was for me, me, me. Then, it became about my team. Then it also became about my parents. I feel like the more experience I get, the more I feel a higher sense of responsibility. I say, "Okay, who am I representing?" And eventually, that becomes anyone who has helped me out or put work into getting me where I am now. Then, I went to the Olympics, and I thought, "Oh, now it isn't just the people who helped me that I'm representing... it's my entire country." And I think I comprehended that previously, but I didn't really KNOW it until I walked into the Opening Ceremonies. Then it really hits. I felt this whole other level of responsibility. I had to really embrace that and try not to feel overwhelmed by it. You think "This isn't just me. There's some little girl in Virginia, Utah, or Tennessee that's watching me right now. What do I want that to say? What do I want to represent?" It's not just my parents. It's not the US Ski Team. It's the whole country, and that's huge! Honestly, experiencing that feeling is so invigorating. When I'm at the Olympics, I'm so grateful to be with all of those amazing athletes, being filled with so much raw energy and emotion. The entire time I'm filled with this 24-hour energy - and not like the bottle - but this overwhelming energy that is so powerful I practically can't sit still.
Q: Was there a mentor or someone else who inspired you?
A: I mean, in many ways all of the older athletes I trained with did that. My teammate Emily Cook was a huge inspiration to me. She embraced the responsibility of representing her country like no one I'd ever met before. 'Speedy' Peterson really personified cherishing every moment out there. And there were so many others. You take a piece of each person with you, learning more and more as time goes on.
Q: How does nutrition play a role in your everyday life and your life as an athlete?
A: Nutrition is obviously very important. If I am trying to be the best in the world at something, then that means (as selfish as it is) the tiniest things can make the difference between first and second place. And I'm not just taking about the week before training. How do you make sure that you're continually preparing yourself to be the best? And again, that's something you develop over years as you figure out what works for you. But making sure I'm always doing what I need to be doing is important. Every strength session counts, every trampoline session counts, every water session counts... China is training right now... Russia is training right now... Australia is sleeping right now. What do I need to be doing right now? Nutrition could be that 1% difference between me and someone else.
Q: Is nutrition something you thought about when you were younger? Or have you had to grow into it?
A: I've always eaten really healthy, but I didn't used to know how important it was. That being said I think sometimes eating what you want is just as important as eating the perfect diet. Having some ice cream makes you feel better, you know? So, I wouldn't ever say I have the perfect diet, but I make it a priority. Now, obviously being a professional athlete is time consuming. I don't have the energy and time to make fresh, healthy food all of the time. That's one of the things I love about Ruvi - it makes getting the right nutrition so easy. It's seriously a life-saver. Sometimes, after a day of training, I seriously don't have the energy to chew my food, let alone cook it - Ruvi takes care of both! Haha. It's the difference between feeling lazy after a full day and making a bag of popcorn, and feeling lazy and still getting fruits and vegetables. Then there are the times when I'm traveling. That's a whole other story. When you're traveling on an airplane, what can you bring? Are you going to bring some broccoli or a bowl of fresh fruit? No, you'd get seized at customs, and then you're on a watch list, and that's great. Being out in a place like Russia, you don't have access to fresh food. Again, Ruvi is a total lifesaver.
Q: Around 9 out of 10 adults don't get their daily fruits and veggies. Why do you think that is?
A: I think a lot of people think that they're too expensive. Whether or not that's true, I'm not sure. I choose to think that nutrition is valuable, so I don't feel like it's expensive. I think preparation is hard as well. People often don't have time, knowledge, or interest in preparing fruits and vegetables. I mean, fresh fruit is one thing, but vegetables?...Do you want to cut this up? Do you want to cook it the way that it tastes good enough that you want to eat it? Do you even know how to do that? Is that something that your family or people you grew up around did?...I think it's a vicious cycle of what your parents did. If they didn't do it, then you likely won't do it. If they said fruits and vegetables were too expensive, then you'll think that too. Also, if you've never seen how good vegetables can actually be, because your parents didn't prepare them in meals, or you don't know how to prepare them, that's an issue too. For me, when I think of broccoli or brussel sprouts, I know how GOOD those can be when they're prepared the right way. That being said, I also understand wanting to have a cheeseburger.
Q: We have to ask, what's your favorite Ruvi blend?
A: I thought you might ask that! Right now? It's the orange one. But then there are times where I really needed the green one. Do you guys call them by their colors instead of their names too? Haha. It just really depends on what I'm craving that day and what I feel like my body needs. I pre-make them beforehand and keep them in the fridge with ice in them so they stay cold. So, I guess it's really about what I was craving that morning, right? And also, I think Ruvi wakes me up more than coffee sometimes. In fact, I find I have just as much if not more energy than when I drink coffee, because the energy sticks around long-term. Plus, it's even easier than coffee.
Q: Looking back at your competitions and everything you've done skiing, what is one of your most proud moments?
A: That's a pretty easy one. It was landing a Full Double-full Full at the World Championships in 2017 - setting a world record and winning alongside my teammate.
Q: Can you explain that trick?
A: A Full Double-full Full. Haha. It's a quadruple-twisting, triple-backflip. I was the first and still the only person to have ever landed it in competition... That's my 'one', you know? That was a huge moment for me.
Q: What are some things you like to do outside of skiing?
A: I love to mountain bike and sail. We sail on the jordanelle a lot, which is pretty fun. I like playing guitar and cooking. I just started a Master's in Legal Studies at the University of Utah - I have an Undergraduate Degree in Finance. I also have another Master's in Real Estate Development. So apparently, I like school a lot.
Q: For those who want to get into skiing, where should they start?
A: One thing is, what you do doesn't have to be what I do. If you love it, try it. Whatever it is. Any barrier that you perceive, you can break it down. One of the legacies I'd like to leave in my sport is that no matter what boundaries you think are there, or others tell you are there, you can get passed them. And you don't have to be doing aerials to do that. Whatever you choose to do, don't let boundaries get in the way. Male, female, whatever. Push those boundaries down and make it happen one step at a time.
Follow Ashley Caldwell's Olympic journey on Instagram @ashleyskis93