When Ashley Wagner attended West Potomac High School, she said her peers barely knew her name. They could soon: Wagner, 20, is a lifelong figure skater who has her eye on competing for gold in the next Winter Olympics.
Wagner recently relocated from training in Wilmington, Del., to join famed coach John Nicks in southern California for full-time training. Nicks, 82, is a 45-year figure skating luminary whose former trainees include figure skaters Peggy Fleming, Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, and Sasha Cohen.
Wagner was the first Olympic alternate for the 2010 Olympic Games. Her goal now is representing the U.S. in the 2014 Winter Games in Russia, when she will be 23 years old. "With the big move, it's a very realistic one," she said.
The relocation, far from her immediate family now living in Maryland, was meant to maximize her training.
"I'm very competitive," Wagner said. "Anywhere other than the top of the podium, I'm not really satisfied with.”
She said during the past four years she has placed among the top four skaters for the majority of her competitions. Still, she says, a gold medal has been out of reach for too long.
“That's what really what made me decide that I needed to switch things up, change how I was doing things, because I was actually ready to win something," she said.
Nicks also said it was just announced that Wagner will represent the U.S. in upcoming skating competitions in Japan and in Canada. She also will compete later this year in nationals at San Jose. Placing first or second at nationals would mean that she'd represent the U.S. in the world championships, Nicks said.
That's fantastic news for Wager, who has been plagued by a year of health problems that very nearly threatened her skating career.
It started last summer, when she started having mysterious full-body muscle spasms.
"I could barely even walk because my body was, you know, it was just completely out of control. No one could figure out what it was," she said.
After weeks of being evaluated by specialists, it was a chiropractor from Pennsylvania who figured out that one of the vertebrae in her neck was pushing into her spinal cord. The pressure was causing unpredictable reactions in her body. After some physical therapy, it's no longer a problem for her, Wagner said.
“It was something very serious. I thought my season was over, maybe my career," she said in a Februrary posting on her YouTube page.
But by the time doctors figured out what was happening with her, she had to compete in an invitational competition in Japan.
"I wish I could have skated with this huge neon sign over my head that says … 'believe me, I'm not this horrible,' she said. “That was a mediocre competition. It was not my best. But considering what I'd gone through two weeks before, I was very proud of myself," she said on YouTube.
A self-described Army brat, Wagner was born on an Army base in Germany and lived around the world with her family before settling in Alexandria. She first picked up ice skates at age 5, when her mother offered ice skating either or ballet. By age 13, Wagner already had been invited to compete on the international level.
"I was kind of living a double life," Wagner said of her time at West Potomac, balancing her full-time studies with her ice skating career. "I was just that girl who skates. But West Potomac was amazing. It's an extremely friendly atmosphere.”
In her YouTube posting, Wagner says she wants to be known as a well-rounded skater "who has the jumps, the spins, everything.”
“I think that I'm capable of that. I just have to figure out what changes I need to make, how I need to approach different things. I have a lot of stuff I need to work on in the off-season."
Some changes may include tweaks to her short program that may include more upbeat music instead of some of the "menacing and dark" music to which she had skated.
"With these next three seasons leading up to the next Olympics, I just have to master everything" -- she points to her head -- "in here."
You can follow Ashley Wagner's next moves online. Her handle is ashwagner2010 on both YouTube and Twitter. She also has a Facebook fan site.