Meet Ashley Caldwell, member of U.S. Freestyle Ski Team in Pyeongchang
HOUSTON – The Caldwell family always loved to ski, but Ashley wanted more excitement.
Competitive gymnastics was fun. And for years, Ashley did both, but started veering away from skiing.
"Once she learned to ski, (she would say) 'Oh. this is boring, skiing is boring," Ashley's mother Leslie said.
Until the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy.
"Jokingly, I said, 'Oh Ashley, you should watch this sport (freestyle skiing). I think you'd really like doing this on skis," Leslie said. "And I kid you not, she sat down and watched, and said, 'I'm going to do that.'"
Ashley was 12 at the time, and four years later, she qualified for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
She was the youngest athlete on Team USA in any sport and she was flipping 40 feet in the air.
“I come into this games with a lot more confidence, but also with a lot more pressure. Neither of the two games before did I feel like I was a medal contender and now I really feel confident that I’m a medal contender doing the biggest tricks out there,” Ashley Caldwell said.
"I'm scared on every jump, but they're professional fallers," Ashley's father Mark said.
Her mother has similar feelings.
"She says I'm not allowed to say I'm nervous or worried," Leslie said.
Ashley's younger brother, Jack, gets nervous too.
But mostly, he just feels pride.
"Whenever I get the chance to tell people that my sister's going to be in the Olympics, I'm telling them ... I show them a video, what she does, and they're like, 'Oh my gosh!" Jack said.
For years, Ashley Caldwell has pushed the limits of her sport. In Pyeongchang, she plans to perform a quadruple twist , triple back flip.
"There’s a lot of risk in what I do, and uncertainty, but I know I’m going to go out there and do my hardest tricks, and hope that theye the best I’ve every done," Ashley Caldwell said.
But even professional fallers get hurt. Ashley tore both ACLs, back-to-back.
Recovery took years. She missed the 2012 and 2013 competitive seasons.
"I'd never really seen her depressed, but that was, that was tough," Leslie said.
But there was never any question if Ashley would be back.
She did come back -- better than ever.
After Sochi in 2014, she became the reigning aerials world champion.
"She's worked extremely hard. You know, she's just been one of those, kids that, trained the hardest, worked the hardest," Leslie said.
This year in her third Olympics, she said it has a different feel.
"Everybody expects her to win, and she expects to win. So that's, a different level of pressure," Mark said. "You see a few seconds on TV, behind that there are months and years of preparation."
The girl who once said skiing was too boring is now the favorite to win gold in Pyeongchang.
“luckily for me, I come into the competition with the highest degree of difficulty so that means that I can kind of make some small errors but not any big errors so I don’t really adjust,” Ashley Caldwell said.
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