By Caitlin Barbieri
Capital News Service
While most of Virginia shuts down at the threat of snow, Ashley Caldwell thrives in it.
Caldwell, 24, started practicing gymnastics at 4, and after watching the freestyle skiers in the 2006 Winter Olympics, she was inspired to take her talents to the snow. Now, Caldwell is competing in her third Olympic Games.
An Ashburn native, Caldwell and her parents quickly realized suburban Northern Virginia was not the best place to start a career in skiing. So at 14, she moved to Lake Placid to train with the U.S National Development team. Two years later, Caldwell was the youngest American to compete in the 2010 Vancouver Games.
"We've been together from the beginning, through all the new tricks, hard workouts, crashes, injuries and victories," Caldwell said. "It's an honor to be competing alongside my teammates knowing that they are my friends and that we all are genuinely cheering each other on."
Among five freestyle skiing events in the Winter Olympics – moguls, aerials, ski halfpipe, ski cross, and ski slopestyle – Caldwell competes in ladies' aerials, in which she skis off a 2- to 4-meter jump and attempts tricks such as flips and twists.
Caldwell is best known for her trick – the full, full, full – which involves three somersaults while twisting her body. This trick is traditionally performed by men; at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Caldwell was the only female to attempt the trick, and she completed it.
"I've said over the years that when I started this sport, I always wanted to 'jump like the boys,' but I don't believe that anymore," Caldwell said. "I don't like qualifying my goals with a gender expectation. I want to jump my best, regardless of gender. I want to be treated like Ashley. I'm proud of being a female, but I don't want to let that define my expectations as an athlete."
Caldwell's career stalled in December 2011 when she tore the ACL in her right knee and a year later when she tore her ACL in her left knee. Those injuries didn't stop her from skiing, though: In 2014, she competed in the Sochi Games.
"One of my biggest struggles in preparing for this Olympics has been injury and doubt," Caldwell told Capital News Service. "I push myself very hard, and that motivation has led to several heartbreaking injuries over the years, but also mild injuries that can make it so much harder to compete your best."
Caldwell's most recent triumph was at the 2017 Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships in Spain, where she took first place.
Caldwell's first appearance in Pyeongchang will be Thursday in the ladies' aerials qualification. She is looking forward to the event.
"I'm prepared to be unprepared. I'm ready for anything that comes at me during this Games," Caldwell said.