Meet Our Lead EQ Guide Ashley Wagner

Meet Our Lead EQ Guide Ashley Wagner: Bringing the Olympic Perspectives to Learning

We’re thrilled to introduce Ashley Wagner, our new Lead EQ Guide at 2hr Learning. Ashley, a former professional figure skater and Olympian, brings a wealth of experience in grit and resilience, which are key to our educational philosophy. In her interview, Ashley shares her journey, the lessons learned, and how she plans to inspire our young learners at Alpha School.

Early Influences: Can you share a little about your early days in figure skating? What were some key lessons you learned during those formative years that helped shape your approach to challenges and goals?

AW: I started figure skating when I was five years old, living in Alaska. My dad was in the Army, so we moved around a ton! I was always the new kid in school, but walking into the rink, I immediately felt like I belonged. The most important lesson I learned early on was that you can love something but not always like it. Training was really challenging, and there were absolutely days that I didn’t want to go to the gym or get my program run-throughs done. That being said, I regularly checked in with myself and made sure that even when I didn’t really like skating, I still LOVED it. I also never let myself quit on a bad day. Sleep on it, see it as an opportunity to develop grit and resilience, and re-evaluate on a better day!

Overcoming Challenges: Throughout your skating career, you faced numerous ups and downs. Could you discuss a particularly challenging moment and how you managed to persevere through it?

AW: I have competed through three Olympic cycles, but that doesn’t mean I went to three Olympics! I actually didn’t make the team on my first try. I was the first alternate, probably the most painful position any athlete can find themselves in. Sitting at home, watching my competitors skate on ice that I knew in my heart I was good enough to be on, I let myself feel very sorry for myself for a little while. I cried, wrote about how I felt, and processed my disappointment. Then I got to work. You learn a lot from success, but you learn even more from the times you aren’t successful. I told myself I would never put myself in a position where I felt that way again. I evaluated what I was doing really well; I figured out what my strengths were. I also was really honest with myself: What were my weaknesses? What could I have done better? Could I have worked harder? I answered the tough questions and pivoted myself, changed what I needed to, and turned myself into an athlete deserving of the team. Two seasons later, I became a national champion, and in the following Olympics, I was named to the team!

Grit in Practice: Grit and resilience are crucial for both athletes and students. How do you think your experiences with high-stakes competitions, like the Olympics, can translate to teaching young learners about perseverance and grit?

AW: Grit and resilience are some of my favorite skills to teach because they are teachable! I think a lot of people get stuck in this mindset that you either have them or you don’t, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Developing grit and resilience means pushing through the tough moments life throws at us. If you can learn how to be comfortable in the uncomfortable, that’s where the real quality of learning comes from. Some of my career’s most disappointing or embarrassing moments have been center ice in front of thousands of fans, or even worse, on TV for the whole world to see. I learned how to move through my mistakes and come back stronger and more confident every single time. Was I always perfect? Absolutely not! Was I open to challenging myself and potentially failing in a big way? Yep! Grit and resilience take practice, and I think it’s incredibly cool that I get to help young learners figure out just how to get there.

Teaching and Learning: With your transition from professional sports, have you taken on any teaching or mentoring roles? How do you approach teaching young athletes or students based on your own experiences?

AW: I both teach and mentor young athletes and professionals navigating challenges. I think when navigating challenges you really need to connect with your “why”. I was so passionate about what I did on the ice, which is why I could push through these massive challenges and come out on the other side healthier and happier. If you don’t know what your “why” is, it can be really hard to connect with the challenge you are navigating, and you can lose a lot of motivation to keep pushing through. In my work I spend a lot of time getting to know my athletes and what makes them tick. From there I am a firm believer in sitting in the mud with them when they find themselves struggling. I won’t solve the problem for you, but with me on your team you will never feel alone with whatever you’re working through!

Learning Techniques: At Alpha, we focus on a 2hr Learning model that emphasizes efficient and effective learning. From your training, are there specific techniques or practices you found particularly effective for mastering complex skills quickly?

AW: I kept a journal on the boards. When I was learning a new skill, my coach would give me exercises to help build out my strength and edge control in different ways so that I would be able to practice that skill in a few different ways. I would work with my coach to establish jump counts, figure out what kind of training I was doing on a particular day, and give myself time limits for working on certain skills. At the end of the day I would write down what I worked on, recap how everything went and draft a game plan for training the next day based on areas I thought were weaker during my training that day. My performance was a product I was constantly developing, and I kept a pulse on what I was doing well and what needed more of my time and energy. 

Life After Skating: Since retiring from professional figure skating, what new passions or interests have you pursued? How have these experiences influenced your personal and professional growth?

AW: When I retired, I faced an entirely new challenge- I had to figure out who I was beyond the ice. I gave myself a year to say “yes” to as many new experiences as I possibly could. I found out that I love rock climbing and skiing, two things I was never allowed to do because of my sport. I got very into cooking and baking, and started going to yoga a few times a week. I learned that I love mindfulness and am extremely passionate about mental health. From there that lead me into my degree in psychology. Now I’m going to school myself to learn even more about sport performance and psychology, but I never would have gotten here without my year of yes! I was open to trying new things, and showing myself that I am so much more than a figure skater, and I was able to find other things that I feel I’m actually really good at as well!

Alpha’s Philosophy: Alpha School is known for its innovative approach to education, emphasizing not just academic learning but also life skills. How does this philosophy resonate with your own values and experiences in life and sport?

AW: You can’t just be one thing in life- it leads to burn out and it isn’t sustainable. What I love about Alpha is that it helps young learners not only thrive and excel in their own education, but also opens a door into life beyond academic learning. What an opportunity to be able to go to school to learn about who you are and what makes you, YOU! I can connect with Alpha’s philosophy because I organically stumbled into my own life skills education once I retired from sport. I was pushed beyond the ice to define myself in a new way, and I had to try a ton of different things out and be okay with being bad at things sometimes, but along the way I learned so much about myself and my own values. 

Vision for the Future: Looking forward, what are some goals you are excited about? How do you envision your past experiences contributing to these new ventures?

AW: I am currently working towards a master’s degree in counseling and will continue on to finish up with a doctorate in sports performance and psychology. I’m incredibly passionate about mastering the mind and helping set people up to discover their own resilience, and working with Alpha as an EQ coach is just the start! My past has taught me just how teachable grit, resilience and all things performance psychology can be, and I love that I’m getting to dive deep into the science of it in this new chapter of my life. I’m also a new mom, and I am thrilled that I get to help mold this tiny human into a capable person ready to take on the world!

Advice for the Next Generation: What advice would you give to young learners and upcoming athletes who admire your career and aspire to achieve their own form of greatness?

AW: You have to be your own biggest cheerleader! Create your circle of people whose opinions you trust and value, and anything else is just noise! I had a million opinions being thrown at me constantly, but I trusted my gut, surrounded myself with coaches I knew would push me when I needed it and support me endlessly, and always believed in myself. If you want to make something happen, make it happen! Learn to love the challenges, seek help through the mud when you need it, and know that you never have to go through it alone. You’ve got this!