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Q&A with Ashley Caldwell

Olympic aerial skier Ashley Caldwell
Justin Lubin/NBC Sports

Q&A with Ashley Caldwell

The reigning aerials world champion explains why fear never fully goes away and reveals that she has a favorite insect

Aerial skier Ashley Caldwell is on the verge of competing at her third Olympics. This time though, she holds the distinction of being the sport's reigning world champion.

Earlier this year, we sent Caldwell a list of questions. Here's what she had to say.

What's your earliest memory of aerial skiing?
The first time I saw aerials was on the Olympics in 2006. My parents and I were watching TV and my mom said I would be good at it because I loved skiing and flipping. I thought she was crazy! I never thought that I would end up competing alongside the same athletes I watched on the TV four years later.

Was there a breakthrough moment when you finally realized you could compete at a high enough level to reach the Olympics?
I think I realized that if I put enough hard work into aerials that I could make the 2014 Olympics. I never anticipated that I would be good enough to qualify for the 2010 Games when I was 16. My coach said that it was always his goal. He pulled me aside the summer before and told me he thought that I could make it if I worked hard and I thought he was crazy, but I worked hard and I qualified as the youngest athlete for the U.S. delegation.

How influential were your parents in your athletic career?
Both of my parents were very influential in my athletic career. My mom signed me up for my first gymnastics class when I was 3 and my first freestyle skiing camp when I was 14. She always knew what I would love and be passionate about. She saw me flipping off the couch when I was 3 and put me in gymnastics to keep me safe while I flipped. And she knew that my passion for skiing and flipping would help me in aerials and she was right. I don't know many moms who would encourage their 13/14-year-old daughters to try doing backflips on skis, but she knew I'd love it. My father is super athletic and he always took me skiing as a little kid and pushed me to be the best athlete I could be.

What’s the hardest part of aerial skiing?
I think one of the hardest things about our sport is that you are always scared. It goes away little by little, but even guys doing triples for 10 years get scared to go up on a windy day or a sketchy site. There are days when I don't feel that scared because I've gotten comfortable on a specific site, but every first jump on a new site is terrifying. Part of the reason I love the sport is for that adrenaline rush followed by going off the jump and realizing I've been training for this for a long time and I'm prepared to handle it.

I think one of the hardest things about our sport is that you are always scared.

Ashley Caldwell

Any misconceptions about aerial skiing that you'd like to clear up?
We train all of our tricks into a pool in the summer time. We don't just go out and huck ourselves in the winter... even though it might look like it sometimes!

Favorite perk of being an Olympic athlete?
Traveling the world and surrounding yourself with extremely motivated people.

Best part of living in the Athletes’ Village during the Olympics?
The Athlete Village is incredible because of the atmosphere. Everyone is so excited to be at the epitome of their sport and to be competing on the biggest stage. There is so much potential, hope, dreams, fear, ambition, stress, passion, and it all is bottled up in this one village filled with incredible people. It's intoxicating.

What's a typical training day like?
In the summer, I wake up and head to the water ramps, get a good warmup in and water ramp for about two hours. Some days I have two water ramp sessions; other days I head to the gym for trampoline (1 hour) and strength training (1.5 hours). I also go on hikes or go swimming to be athletic and have fun, but that isn't entirely sport-specific. In the winter, we cut back on volume and focus on quality. We only have one session of jumping a day, but it takes a lot longer, about 3-4 hours to get the hill prepped, warm up and jump. We continue with strength maintenance but cut back on trampoline work. We travel around the world for our World Cup season.

What's your favorite workout?
Considering our sport is only three seconds long, I'd say that I'm a "get it done quick" type of person. I like workouts that are super hard but super quick. That means a lot of Olympic lifting and hard circuits. I like feeling like I've gotten a lot done in a short amount of time. I hate doing long cardio sessions, I can't stay focused!

What would people be surprised to learn about training for the Olympics?
That I eat my fair share of ice cream and chips, potato and tortilla! That sometimes being happy, feeling good and having fun are way more important than making sure that you get every workout done or eat perfectly.

Have you ever been seriously injured?
I've torn both of my ACLs. ACL surgery and recovery is about six months long. I had my surgery in Park City, Utah with Dr. Cooley. I did my rehab mostly in Park City but also spent some of my recovery in Boulder, Colorado and did some of my rehab at a local clinic there. I had a herniated disc in my neck that I also had to take six months off for.

Any pre-competition rituals?
I wouldn't say that I have rituals. But I always warm up. I usually need some sort of PT and taping because something on my body always hurts at some point. I usually blast my music and dance around while Kiley [McKinnon] laughs at me because we got ready too early and have to kill 20 minutes.

Ashley Caldwell at the 2014 Olympics

Ashley Caldwell placed 10th in women's aerials in both of her previous Olympic appearances. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Biggest fear when competing?
That if I fail, then all the years of training were for nothing. Or that I didn't reach my potential or show all the hard work I've been putting in and what I'm capable of.

How do you unwind after a competition?
Usually we don't get much time to unwind. We have to pack up and head out pretty early to get to the next event. But I like to enjoy hanging out with my teammates. Crazy that we spend so much time together and I still want to hang out with them.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
"If you work 50% at some times, be prepared to get 50% of your goals." Dmitriy Kavunov, who was my first coach, told me this once and I really took it to heart and tried to make sure that I did 100%, not just training at 100% all the time, but understanding exactly what you want and how to use each day the most you can to get there.

Who's your Olympic role model?
Hannah Kearney. She's incredible.

What advice would you give to a young skier just starting out in aerials?
Try hard, but make it look like you're not trying at all. Aerials is about making it look easy, even though it's tough and scary. The best thing I do to help make it less scary is make it funny that we do something so scary and still enjoy it.

Favorite animal?
Dolphins! Duh. I've swam with dolphins a few times. I also have a favorite insect, which is super dorky, trap jaw ants. Check them out, they can do, like, standing deca-backflips.

Do you have a personal motto or inspirational quote?
To those who understand, no explanation is necessary; to those who do not, none is possible.

What will success look like for you in PyeongChang? What are your goals?
I want to do a straight-landed "full, double full, full" [a quadruple-twisting triple backflip] in the super finals.

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