By Leah Adams
Finding a quiet place to interview the effervescent Ashley Wagner before makeup at the July 19th fundraiser, “An Evening On Ice” in Los Angeles, was not as simple as it sounds. The star-struck young ladies of Team Fusion (synchro) were all giggles and excited for their performance as we shared their locker room. Gracious and beaming, Ms. Wagner spoke of her life since the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
FSO: What do you want to say since the Olympics?
AW: It has been a crazy ride. The Olympics opened up so many doors for me and I have had so many opportunities since then. I have been incredibly grateful to be at the Games, first of all. Beyond that, I came straight back after the Games and went to New York City where I got to walk through the In Style magazine fashion closet and I got tickets to go to the Oscars so I brought my best friend, Adam (Rippon), with me and we had a blast! I felt so glamorous. What an incredible experience! Beyond that, heading to Worlds and finishing my season really strong was just the cherry on top of the cake. Then going straight into Stars on Ice — I love performing and this was perfect for me. This was my third season with them so it is really like a big family now. To be with everybody from the Olympic team and travel together and being in that relaxed atmosphere without a competitive environment was a nice way to ease on out of the crazy season. There were twenty shows, which was the longest tour I’ve ever been on — sleeping on the bus and really feeling like you were on tour. I felt like it was the good old skating days when I used to go watch the show. It was really fun.
FSO: Talk about the relationships you developed on Stars on Ice. These are skaters who have been competitors and now you are traveling together more as friends, did you see another side of people you didn’t get to know before?
AW: Yeah, I have known most of the people on the tour since we were all babies, but I hadn’t gotten a chance to know Gracie (Gold) all that much because we have been competing against each other and not being our normal selves. We had to be on our toes. To be able to spend a couple of months with her, she is a great girl, really sweet. I had a great time enjoying skating without the pressure of competition.
FSO: Twenty nights on tour, did you wake up in the morning, look up and the ceiling and go, “Where am I today?”
AW: (Laughing) I got to the point where I would forget my room number and I would have to take a picture. If I left my room before I got on the bus, I would have to take a picture of my room number so I wouldn’t go to the wrong room. Honestly, I love that kind of life. Performing every single night in front of an audience, I was so excited to have the U.S. team there.
FSO: Was there ever a day you didn’t feel well but you knew you had to get out there and perform?
AW: The last day, everybody got food poisoning. So the last day should have been our happy ‘Yay we’re finishing up. It is the end of the season, finally.’ But I think once you get to this level, just like any sport, you learn to tough it out and push through. We are performers at heart so you put on the show.
FSO: Let’s talk about Hawaii a little bit. Maybe I’ll mention Hilton HHonors in here. Hurray, you got to go to Maui!
AW: I was so lucky that Hilton was one of my sponsors during the Olympics. I got to go on a weekend adventure any where I wanted to go with a plane ticket for me and a friend. So I brought along Adam and turned it into my vacation. It was my second time in Hawaii and my first time in Maui. I wanted to go somewhere that was totally relaxing, away from everything so I could shut off my phone, sit by the pool and relax. I wanted to get myself back together. It was amazing to be on the beach for a whole week with my best friend, hangout and go see the rain forest.
FSO: Your face went viral at the Olympics and it has become the McKayla Maroney of the Winter Olympics. Can you laugh at that?
AW: I think it is hilarious and, honestly, I think it speaks a lot about the type of person that I am. I am not one to put on a front. What you see is what you get. I don’t sugarcoat things so that was an honest reaction and I do not regret it. It was kind of funny and that one moment that I forgot I was a figure skater and supposed to be a little porcelain doll and keep my smile. (Chuckling) I acted like myself. When you watch the video, it was so quick but I find it hilarious that my face became a meme. I did not expect that to come out of the Olympics.
FSO: Did everyone on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team get a bronze medal for the team event or only the skaters that participated?
AW: Only the skaters that skated in the team event.
FSO: How much does your medal weigh?
AW: I don’t know, but it is heavy. When they put it around my neck, it felt good. It felt like fifteen years of hard work.
FSO: The kids coming up. I remember you when you were twelve and how you were the next generation. You are the veteran now that kids are looking up to, how do you feel about that?
AW: It is still so weird because it feels like it was just yesterday that I would go to Champs Camp and be in awe of Tanith (Belbin) and Ben (Agosto), Evan (Lysacek) and Sasha (Cohen). To me, they were gods. I could not even imagine talking to them. Now, I am that generation of skaters, but at the same time, it is great because I care about creating a generation that is enthusiastic about skating and make sure we keep on getting this talented kids and pushing them through to the top level where we need them to be for U.S. Figure Skating.
FSO: I think most folks know there was a time in your life where you and your mom had a little bit of friction so if this is too sensitive please let me know if I am crossing a boundary here. You grew up very independent because of that. Do you look back in retrospect?
AW: No, the way I see it, most people when they turn eighteen, they go off to college. I wasn’t going to college. I was planning on training for the Olympics. There really wasn’t any way for me to go about that without leaving home and taking control of my skating and my life. I think it is very tough for a family to understand wanting to do something without their help. I wanted to do something that was mine, so if I had a bad skate, it was only on me. It was my disappointment. It was a lot of pressure on me and I wanted to be the main person in charge of my skating. Since then, years have passed and my mom and I have a much better relationship. She is very supportive of everything I do. I think we had to re-learn a way to be in each others’ lives that was healthy and supportive, instead of skating mom and skating daughter. I wanted to relate outside of skating and it is so much better for us.
FSO: Could you share a Cover Girl tip since they are another one of your sponsors.
AW: Yes, I learned that you can use lip liner as lipstick. I always thought that lip liner was only used on the outside of the lips but now I cover my entire lips and put the lipstick over it so the shade is more intense and it stays on longer. It has a little more pop to it.
FSO: What is the one question you wish people would ask you but they don’t ask?
AW: I always get asked that question and I can never come up with an answer. I try to answer my questions with my actual personality so I’m never really worried about people missing an answer.
FSO: Priscilla Hill (Ashley’s former coach), do you ever talk to her?
AW: I haven’t spoken to her recently. She has been busy. She grooms dogs now. She was amazing for me.
FSO: Such a transformation when you changed to her.
AW: She helped me grow a lot. She was very supportive of me when I left my family and I will always be grateful to her for that.
FSO: 2009: the year of transition. I recall your pink dress when you stood at the boards and I thought, “She’s the one.”
AW: She (Priscilla) gave me a total package. She helped mold me into the skater I am today.
FSO: From Mrs. Shirley Hughes, (Ashley’s coach before Hill), to Priscilla to Mr. (John) Nicks to now Rafael (Arutunian), every coach gives you something.
AW: I am a firm believer that one coach may be the best thing for some for your entire career, but sometimes someone else is good for you at different points. I feel I have gotten the most from every single coach that I have been able to work with. Mrs. Hughes was so great for me technically. She taught me how to get in shape for programs. Priscilla really taught me musicality and understanding the importance of choreography. Mr. Nicks taught me how important the audience is and I am not just competing, I am performing. Then Rafael has been able to take all of those skills and fine tune them to help me mature as a skater.
FSO: I heard you say early Mr. Nicks would make sure you were ready…
AW: To be punched in the gut. In other words, I was always prepared for anything.
FSO: One last question, what does Adam (Rippon) bring you?
AW: Adam helps me relax because it is easy for me to get pigeonholed on one mistake and he can see the big picture and stay calm. We balance each other out. He is my immediate support system. I have my family, but they are far away. He’s right here and always there for me.
Postscript: Ashley currently is scheduled to start her competitive season at the Japan Open on October 4, 2014, followed by two Grand Prix events, Skate Canada and Trophee Eric Bompard in France.