SUNY Empire State College alumna Ashley Caldwell ’14, last season’s overall FIS World Cup Champion in freestyle skiing, women’s aerials, and a two-time member of the U.S. Olympic Team, took home the gold medal at this year’s World Cup event held Jan. 14, at Lake Placid, N.Y.
Caldwell’s final jump garnered a score of 99.63 from the international panel of judges, with Australian Danielle Scott, 92.00, and Russian Kristina Spiridonova, winning the silver and bronze medals.
“I faced some adversity coming into this event, with some knee pain, and I hadn’t really trained any triples,” Caldwell said, “I had to put it (knee pain) into my mind vise and crush it, so I did.”
The 23-year-old native of Ashburn, Va. was the only woman at Lake Placid to attempt – and land – a “triple” jump. Triple jumps consist of three flips. Her competitors attempted doubles, which gave Caldwell more than enough of an edge to prevail.
She described her attitude to competition as “stay safe, then win.” Caldwell added, “Sometimes neither of those things happen, but sometimes both of those happen, like tonight, so I feel good about that.”
Because of her very sore left knee, she had not attempted a triple jump since December 2016 at Lake Beida, China, the site of this year’s opening FIS World Cup competition and, even at Lake Placid, she held off attempting triples during practice.
“It’s sore, it hurts, but it’s not injured,” said Caldwell.
Eagar to compete, and win, she told her coaches, “I really need to do some triple backflips.”
Overcoming adversity and setting goals were major themes for Caldwell’s remarks as the keynote speaker for the college’s 2016 Student Academic Conference.
Coming off her second ACL surgery in two years, Caldwell told students, fellow alumni, faculty and staff that her goal was to make the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team and compete in Sochi, as she had in 2010 for the Vancouver Games.
She made the team but, like Vancouver four years earlier, she finished 10th, which she believes was far less than she was capable of achieving.
Caldwell told the academic conference audience that had she set her sights on winning the gold medal, her performance would have been much stronger.
She also said that winning an Olympic Gold Medal for her country is her goal for the 2018 Winter Games at Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Back at Lake Placid, Caldwell said that winning there was an example of the benefits of setting aggressive goals and working hard to achieve them.
“If you aren’t confident and believe in yourself and you don’t push yourself, you’re not going to get there,” said Caldwell.
For Caldwell winning at Lake Placid holds special meaning.
“I am super proud I could show off all my hard work at a hometown,” said Caldwell. “All the hard work I put in during those years, to have a victory here means a lot.”
After 11 years of gymnastic competition, Caldwell experienced a life-changing moment of inspiration while watching the 2006 Winter Olympic Games on TV and thought it would be “totally awesome” to try aerials.
In 2007, with the support and encouragement of her parents, she packed her bags and headed north at the age of 13 and, after attending an aerialist program at Waterville Valley, N.H., Caldwell was invited to participate in the U.S. Ski Team’s Elite Aerialist Program at Lake Placid later that year.
For the next five years, she called a small town in upstate New York home.
She completed high school while in the elite aerial program and enrolled at SUNY Empire State College, where she completed her Bachelor of Science in Business, Math and Economics, with a concentration in finance.
Caldwell graduated with a 3.9 GPA and was a 2014 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, SUNY’s most prestigious student honor.
Today, she trains at Olympic Park Utah, an official training site of the U.S. Olympic Ski Team, and lives in Park City, Utah.