Fierce Olympic figure skater poses for naked ESPN issue, opens up about punishing sport, 5 concussions

Although U.S. Olympic figure skater Ashley Wagner disrobed for ESPN’s 2017 Body Issue, which hit the newsstands July 7, she’s not just another pretty face.

She’s an athlete in every sense of the word in a grueling sport that has taken its toll — including numerous body slams in the rink and multiple concussions — all in an effort to portray what look to the audience to be effortless poses while gliding beautifully on the ice.

Clip via ESPN

“I think figure skating has this stereotype as a sport for little girls — that we are these pretty porcelain dolls,” Wagner, 26, told ESPN. “I don’t think people put a lot of thought into the athleticism that goes into the sport.”

And the reason for the misconception, she said, is that people only see the “finished product” — not the fierce dedication that goes into the making of it.

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Screenshot of Wagner laughing after completing a winning routine at the 2016 Worlds — she came in second.

And the self-described “workaholic” who grew up as a “tomboy” obviously has what it takes.

I am a fierce and hungry competitor,” she said. “I am stubborn, I am a workaholic, I am obsessed with being as perfect as I possibly can.

Wagner credits her “tough as nails” military father with instilling her with competitive spirit ands making her “tough as nails” as well.

“I was never allowed to feel sorry for myself,” she told ESPN. “My dad would just tell me to not be a wimp. That might not sound like the nicest parental approach [laughing], but that’s what most kids need to hear these days.”

And what of those leaps on the ice?

“I’m in the air for 0.7 seconds,” she said, But “when we’re coming down from these jumps, we land with something like 500 pounds per square inch of force.” Punishing.

Screenshot of Wagner posing for ESPN

“At this point, I’ve been professionally falling for 21 years,” she said.

Although she laughed at this statement, it really wasn’t a laughing matter.

“I have suffered about five concussions,” she said. “Back in 2009 I received a concussion from a really bad fall in which I fell onto my back and my neck snapped and my head hit the ice.”

And that particular fall had a lasting effect.

“My body started to shut down on me entirely. It was bad enough that I would suffer from full-on body tremors, I could barely walk, I couldn’t even speak through them. I would have heart palpitations,” Wagner explained.

“I just felt trapped in my body,” she added, prompting her to seek treatment from multiple specialists.

“I went to a neurologist, I went to a cardiologist, I went to just about any -ologist you can come up with.
‘Finally I came across a chiropractor, and he suggested I take a look at my neck.”

The road to recovery was long and painful, and that 2009 concussion, as it turned out, affected more than her spinal cord and vertebra — it also re-wired her brain.

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Screenshot of Wagner taking a tumble at the 2012 ISU Grand Prix final in Sochi, Russia

“It’s really affected me in the way that I learn programs because you have to memorize this choreography and the choreography is very intricate. So for me, retraining my brain to be able to learn choreography and be able to remember it, that’s probably my biggest challenge,” Wagner told ESPN.

“I’ve also become ridiculously dyslexic — when I say dyslexic, I mean more with my body. My choreographer has to be right next to me physically doing the movements with me. That helps me process it better, and then after that it’s repetition, repetition.”

So how’s she doing today? She’s scheduled to compete in the 2018 Pyeong Chang Winter Olympic Games. Check out her “sassy, sophisticated, fast and powerful” routine form the 2016 World Championship in Boston.

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