American Authors’ song “Go Big or Go Home” could have been written with Ashley Caldwell in mind.
The Ashburn native is known for attempting jumps that few other female competitors try. In winning the gold medal in freestyle aerials skiing at the International Ski Federation Freestyle World Ski Championships in Spain last year, Caldwell became the first female skier to land a quadruple-twisting, triple back flip in a competition.
The 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea was Caldwell’s third attempt at a medal in the world’s most prestigious international sports competition. She attempted triple flips in both of her qualifying jumps on Feb. 15 but didn’t land cleanly. Since she didn’t crack the top 12, she had to watch the finals, officially finishing in 17th place. Madison Olsen of Utah was the highest U.S. finisher in the event at sixth place.
Caldwell was reluctant to blame a fierce wind that whipped through the park, but that was likely a factor in throwing her off during a practice jump two days before the event when she landed awkwardly on her shoulder. Her Olympic coach, Todd Ossian, told the Associated Press that she made an “amazing” recovery just to compete two days later.
Only 24, Caldwell will likely have more chances to earn her first Olympic medal. “She’s the world champion, and she’s done the hardest trick in the world,” Ossian said. “She’s certainly not done. You’ve got a lot left to see.”
On her Facebook page, Caldwell wrote on Feb. 15, “Despite the physical and the emotional pain, I am proud to say that I went big and held nothing back. I have always pushed myself as hard as I could in this sport, and that risk has always been worth the reward. While gold would taste sweeter, I’d rather lose pushing myself to my greatest potential than hold back and realize a better result. Thank you to everyone who has helped me on my journey to prove that it doesn’t matter who you are or what’s between your legs, that your goals can be as big and as bold as you can imagine.”
At the Winter Olympics in 2010 and 2014, Caldwell finished tenth – and second among U.S. finalists – both times. In 2014, she came back from surgeries on both of her knees. Such injuries are common in this sport, which requires a variety of jumps and twists from dizzying heights.
Caldwell grew up in Ashburn, training at Apex Gymnastics in Leesburg before she got the urge to branch off into skiing while watching the 2006 Winter Olympics on television.
She trained alongside the U.S. Ski Team in Lake Placid, N.Y., in 2007, then moved there to train full-time when she was 14. She became one of the youngest Olympian freestyle skiers, making the team at age 16. The youngest one this time is 17-year-old Tess Johnson.
Caldwell credits her time at Apex Gymnastics with not just helping her with the obvious acrobatic tricks, but with instilling life skills such as discipline, time management and how to lose and win gracefully.
“I was taught how to be part of an individual sport and a team at the same time, how to work hard even when you’re discouraged,” she said in a Facebook direct message. “I learned lots of other attributes that I have brought with me into my skiing career.”
While she attended Blue Ridge Middle School in Purcellville, Caldwell graduated from an online high school. She then earned a business degree with honors from SUNY – Empire State University.
Moving to Park City, she interned with the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development while training for the Olympics and other competitions. She has participated in the World Games Special Olympics Torch Run and been an ambassador for the Women’s Sports Foundation and Right To Play. Her parents, Leslie and Mark Caldwell, moved from Ashburn to Houston.
There are two other athletes from Northern Virginia on the U.S. Olympic team this winter: hockey player Garrett Roe of Vienna and speedskater Maame Biney of Reston. Roe had an assist in an overtime loss against Slovenia on Feb. 14. His team was scheduled to play a qualification round game on Feb. 20. Biney, who has captured the attention of many with her smile and personality, did not qualify for the finals in her events.
Bobsledder Hakeem Abdul-Saboor is from Powhatan in Central Virginia. His team in the two-man event placed highest among U.S. pairs in qualifying heats at 16th.
Maryland has two representatives: hockey player Haley Skarupa of Rockville [a Wootton High alumna] and speedskater Thomas Hong of Laurel. Skarupa’s team plays Finland in the semifinals on Feb. 19. Hong was expected to contend in events on Feb. 22.