Ashley Caldwell was a competitive gymnast all through her childhood. But when she was 13 years old, watching the 2006 Winter Olympics with her parents, she saw freestyle aerials and it changed her life.
"I had skied recreationally for a long time and did gymnastics," Caldwell said. "My mom was like, 'you can ski and you can flip, you should definitely go try to do that.' I was like, 'mom, that guy just did like 17 flips. Are you sure you want me doing that?'"
So at 14, she moved from Virginia to Lake Placid, New York to train. And after just three years, made the Olympic team. At 16 years old, she was the youngest U.S. Olympian in Vancouver, where she finished 10th. Aerials just came naturally to Caldwell thanks to her gymnastics background.
"It did help me a lot in aerials," she said. "The air awareness, the technical parts, the strength, but also the mental aspect, knowing how to work hard and push through pain, to push through tough days."
There were plenty of tough days for Caldwell after undergoing two ACL surgeries within a year. But after missing most of the 2012 season, Ashley worked her way back and is in prime position to make her 2nd Olympic team at the ripe old age of 20.
"I qualified new tricks, I did new tricks," she said. "I pushed the boundaries a lot, and I'm really strong right now, probably the strongest I've ever been."
Even though she tore ligaments in both of her knees, Caldwell hasn't lost any confidence.
"That's my only real fear is that I'll let fear get in the way," she said. Our sport is inherently scary, to go and do flips 60 feet in the air and try and land on skis. It's obviously really difficult and scary, but you have to be able to acknowledge the fear, understand that you've been working very hard. We do thousands of jumps, and you still go out there, hop turn your skis and do what you know how to do."
Be sure to join us when Neile Jones kicks off our live Olympic coverage from Sochi beginning on February 6th. And Thursday, we'll get a sneak peek at her preparations for the games, live at 5:00 on KNWA News.