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Ashley Wagner Explains How Brutal Figure Skating Is (And Gets Naked For ESPN's Body Issue)

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ESPN the MagA relentless training regimen. Battling through concussions. The ability to withstand hundreds of pounds of force slamming against your body. If that sounds more like what it takes to be an NFL linebacker than a figure skater, then you haven’t met Ashley Wagner. After posing for this year’s Body Issue, the 26-year-old Olympian … describes her body and her sport, in her own words:

I think figure skating has this stereotype as a sport for little girls — that we are these pretty porcelain dolls. I don’t think people put a lot of thought into the athleticism that goes into the sport. … I am on the ice 6 days a week, I am physically training 3-4 hours a day on the ice, off the ice sometimes up to 2 hours a day. This sport is my life. I feel strongly that I’m an athlete through and through. I am a fierce and hungry competitor. … I was not in this for the spandex and the sparkles. …

When we’re coming down from these jumps, we land with something like 500 pounds per square inch of force. It’s a ridiculous amount of force. The majority of our muscle strength goes into our glutes, our core and our lower back muscles. … I’ve been professionally falling for 21 years [laughing]. It’s not too intimidating at this point. I probably don’t have as much sense in one of my butt cheeks from falling on that one butt cheek all the time. …

I have suffered about five concussions. 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. 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. … The vertebra would become dislodged, press into my spinal cord and literally cause my entire body, including my heart, to short-circuit. …

I’ve worked on strengthening my little itty-bitty muscles in my neck, and that has helped me. … You don’t even have to hit your head on the ice to get a concussion, so having that neck strength has helped a lot in that aspect of my life.

Take THAT, everyone who mocks me for liking Figure Skating! Suck it, anyone who thinks it’s a sport for weenies. There it is, an insider’s look, straight from the mouth of one of the fiercest competitors in the game. It’s not all spandex and sparkles, getting roses thrown at your feet, picking stuffed animals up off the ice and carrying them to the Kiss & Cry area. As much as I appreciate all those things, it’s much, much more.

Skating is a grueling, relentless and unforgiving test of mind and body. It’s thousands of hours of sacrifice, striving for greatness in a pursuit where perfection is unobtainable. It’s multiple concussions, sometimes by smacking your head on the ice, sometimes just from the fall. It’s 500 psi of blunt force trauma on every landing. Getting your neck snapped back like you’re in a car crash. It’s rock hard glutes but with one butt cheek numb from the pounding it’s taken. It’s body tremors, heart palpitations, dislodged vertebrae and strengthening the itty-bitty muscles in your neck because you know that when it comes down to it, they could mean the difference between life and death.

So this should shut up anyone who’s ever ridiculed this great sport and these great physical specimens. Here’s to you, Ashley Wagner. Skater. Champion. Warrior.