Eleanor Ashdown, 17, is calm and collected and she speaks to a reporter about the 2023 French Cup, the international figure skating competition she and her team will compete in on Feb. 3 and Feb. 4 in Rouen, France.
Hers is the kind of cool composure that befits someone who spends the bulk of her time on ice. There she rigorously trains in preparation for two performances, each just a few minutes long, on which the team will be judged.
Ashdown, a senior at Washington Latin, is one of 20 young women on the DC EDGE Synchronized Skating team. DC EDGE was named to Team USA by US Figure Skating last November. They’re one of eight Junior level teams to represent the US in upcoming international synchronized skating competitions.
Ashdown is the only DC resident on the team.
“We are super excited for this competition,” Ashdown said. “I think it’s going to be really fun for the audience, and I think it’s going to be fun for us as we get to watch the other US teams and cheer for them, too.”
It’s the fourth consecutive year DC EDGE has been named a Team USA team.
The team, made up of 20 high-school aged athletes aged 14 to just shy of 18 years old, practices more than 12 hours a week as a team in addition to the 3 to 4 hours of practice individually.
The rigorous schedule of on ice, off-ice, strength and conditioning, ballet and pilates prepare them both physically and mentally for both national and international competition, said the coaches.
“We are extremely honored to be representing Team USA again for the 2022-23 skating season,” said Jenny Bacon, Head Coach and Director of Skating for DC EDGE. “To skate at this level is a huge commitment, not only of the athletes, but also parents, coaches and our supporters. We’ve been working incredibly hard to earn this opportunity.”
“Lots of hard work goes into it, but it’s well worth it,” Eleanor said. “I definitely have missed out on some normal teenaged things,” such as the senior camping trip, which she missed because she would have been penalized for missing practice. “She was bummed,” she said, and her friends were annoyed. But it was camping or the team, and she’s made the commitment.
That can be hard to explain to others who haven’t dedicated themselves to this level of competition, she said. Everyone has their thing, she acknowledged, but this is hers and it’s worth the work. “It’s really cool to represent DC EDGE and be from DC and have all these real cool experiences that nobody in my friend group has,” she said.
Eleanor’s mother, Jill Cashen, said Ashdown demonstrated early on that skating was something she cared about. “She was extremely self-motivated to practice, and do the early morning training,” Cashen said.
For years now, they have gotten up at 4:30 a.m. to travel to rinks in Balston or Potomac to skate before school. At one of those early mornings, Cashen remembers another parent at the rink asked Cashen if it was hard to wake Ashdown for practice. “We would not be here at 5 am if she didn’t want it,” she recalls telling him. “She absolutely is setting her alarm and is here because she wanted to be.”
“I guess from that regard I’m not surprised that she’s achieved this level of success,” Cashen said. “But it took a lot of self-discipline.”
Together with her own sister and with Ashdown’s elder sister, Cashen will travel to watch Ashdown skate in an international competition for the first time at the French Cup.
But they won’t be spending time with Eleanor. At this level of competition, parents aren’t allowed to socialize with skaters.
The team traveled to competition on Monday, flying with their coaches and two parent-managers. “It’s just a very different experience to cheer on your kid, but you’re not really with them on the trip,” Cashen said. “But I think the teenagers like it.”
But Ashdown says international competition took some adjustment. “When I’m at home and I’m training, I’m completely reliant on them. My mom is making all my meals, she’s driving me to half of my practices, I’m with her everyday, ” Eleanor said. “It’s different having that external support —and then being without it… you can’t ask your team mates to be your shoulder to cry on. Whereas your parents, they’re there to support you no matter what.”
Cashen gets emotional when asked what kind of support she can offer during competition. “Any kid knows if their parent is nearby,” she said. “I know that she’ll be able to look up from the ice and see us there, and so that’s really the support we can give her.”
The USA parents will try to sit together and wear red white and blue to show their team spirit, cheering as a group. “You just sit with nervous excitement hope that in that moment, they do it really well, again,” she said.
Freedom First, then the EDGE
Ashdown started skating at Fort Dupont Arena (3779 Ely Pl. SE) ten years ago. She played soccer and basketball and took dance, but it was skating she fell in love with. She skated for the Fort Dupont Arena team, DC Freedom, for three or four years before trying out for DC EDGE.
She loved the team atmosphere of synchronized skating, skating with friends and having a shared goal. “I love having a team, and working hard with other girls my age and training with them, especially,” Ashdown said.
It’s also a different kind of skating than singles, Ashdown said. “You need to have a different sense of space. People call it it your “synchro sense,” because you need to have pretty strong peripheral vision,” she said. As in singles competition, skaters need to have refined technique, but also to be aware of “tracking” —following teammates and staying in the correct line-up.
“That takes a very long time to learn,” Ashdown said. “It probably wasn’t until 7 or 8 years into my synchro that I learned to do that correctly.”
In January, the DC EDGE Junior Team won Gold at the Britannia Cup, an International Skating Union (ISU) event held in Nottingham, England. It was Ashdown’s first time traveling outside North America and it was made extra special because she was representing her nation.
“It was really, really cool. “I just remember standing out there waiting to go out on the ice and seeing the American flags, and representing DC —and the US is just really really cool.” Eleanor said the team skating their short program the best they had all season; the long program, she said, is a more challenging routine.
Last season, she would get very nervous before competitions. But she decided to face the anxiety. She began mentally reducing the program before bed, envisioning the situation —the audience, the judges. She’d get butterflies, she said, just sitting on the couch. “There’s always a pressure to perform perfectly, and its kind of hard to grapple with, but I’ve kind of gotten more used to it.” By now, she’s also made mistakes in competition, and she knows that the show will go on.
The most important thing for a young skater just starting out to know, Ashdown said, is that you can find the opportunities to learn and skate in the District. “Where I am is at the finish line of a marathon,” she said. “At this point in the season, I’ve been working my butt off for years to skate on Team USA.”
For young skaters who feel like competitive skating is impossible, she encourages them to check out Fort Dupont DC Ice and the District Impact Team. “If you can love to skate, you can do any of this,” she said.
Cashen said that Ashdown has been appreciative of the messages from the community and is cognizant of the support that other people have given her. “She’s a grateful kid, and I’m proud of her for that,” Cashen said.
“I think that raising kids on the Hill, they just learn so many skills and the life experience of growing up in such a vibrant neighborhood, you know, it builds character,” Cashen said, adding that kids on the Hill do incredible things. “I think it’s a really testament to our neighborhood that she’s been able to maintain good relationships with her school and neighborhood friends while being not at home. I think she is really grateful for the Hill community being so supportive of young people like her.”
Opportunity and Persistence
International competitions are not necessarily the end of the marathon. There is a Junior World Competition, Eleanor said. She said she isn’t expecting Team USA to select DC EDGE to compete —there are four other, very strong, junior teams, she said. “But it’s still a possibility if we do win,” she said.
You can learn how to skate at For Dupont Arena with DC ICE Learn more at FDIA.org. Learn more about DC ICE synchronized skating by visiting https://www.fdia.org/synchronized-skating/. Annual registration happens in August.
You can watch Eleanor and DC EDGE skate in the French Cup at 3:30 p.m. DC time —7:30 p.m. in Rouen —Friday, Feb. 3 and at 7 p.m. (3 p.m. in DC) Saturday, Feb. 4. The competition will be live streamed at www.frenchcup.fr Support the DC EDGE team in their pursuit of excellence for Team USA at www.dcedgesynchro.org/supportdce. DC EDGE will hold tryouts in late March for next season!