At the recent U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California, the crowd was treated to a preview of skaters who will contend for the Olympic team in 2014. One particular skater had the audience buzzing about her potential -- 16-year-old Ashley Cain, from Coppell, Texas.
If you don't know her name yet, remember it now. Mid-way through the Olympic cycle, Cain put herself on the map as one to watch by her breakout performances in two disciplines at nationals.
Off the ice Cain is a bubbly teenager, but on the ice, she morphs into a cool blonde sophisticate, reminiscent of Grace Kelly. Her poise and prowess belie her youth.
At nationals, she made an immediate impression by winning the silver medal in the Junior Ladies competition. Clad in light blue and skating to David Garrett's instrumental version of Queen's "Who Wants to Live Forever," the teen landed six triples, including a triple Lutz and a triple Salchow-double axel sequence. She also received the highest mark in the field for her interpretation score.
Unlike most skaters who compete in only one discipline, Cain also competed at nationals in senior pairs, where she and her 21-year-old partner, Joshua Reagan, made a splashy debut. Cain and Reagan received a standing ovation from the crowd upon completion of their balletic long program set to the music from Dr. Zhivago.
Cain, statuesque for pair skating at 5'5", had great air position in the lifts and a nice landing on the throw triple flip. Dressed elegantly in white and black, the pair had good speed on their spins and landed a clean double axel-double toe-double toe side by side combination jump. They also completed a solid throw triple Salchow on route to a fifth place finish in the long program and a respectable sixth place over all.
Cain and Reagan won the Junior Pairs title at last year's nationals and the Novice Pairs title in 2010, and are the only pair team in history to win these titles in consecutive years. They now appear on the brink of making the senior podium.
Cain credits much of her success to her parents, who are also her coaches. Her father, Peter Cain, competed for Australia in pairs skating at the 1980 Olympics, and her mother, Darlene, competed at the national level in ice dancing for Canada.
Considering her parents' lineage, skating would seem a natural fit for their daughter, but Cain fell in love with skating on her own.
"I used to play competitive soccer as well as skate," Cain said. "It got to the point where I had to choose between the two. My parents were really supportive and said I could choose whichever one I wanted, and they wouldn't be upset if I didn't choose skating. I really wanted to do skating."
Spending upwards of 10 hours together every day is an arrangement that would test the mettle of most parent-teenager relationships. For Cain, it has had the opposite effect.
"We have a good relationship," she explains. "We make a separation. On the ice, they're my coaches, and at home, they're my parents. We leave what happens on the ice, on the ice. If I get in trouble on the ice, it stays there."
Her parents have always been her coaches and she says she wouldn't have it any other way. "I learn better from them because they know how to work with me, and what my learning style is. They have been through everything I have been through and that helps."
Even as the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, approach, Cain has no plans to choose between disciplines as Olympic Ladies gold medalist and former Pairs and Ladies National Champion Kristi Yamaguchi once did.
"I don't have to pick," Cain says with a smile. "I've always done both and I want to show you don't have to do just one."
She cites her favorite skater as Michelle Kwan because, "She always pushed through when people doubted her. And I always want to push the limit of what I can do."
Cain has had to sacrifice attending school in pursuit of her goals, but the ambitious 11th grader still hopes to attend college one day. "I went to normal school up until 8th grade but then my traveling schedule for skating became too much. Now I do at least four hours of online school every day through Texas Tech University Independent School."
She admits it can be challenging to go it alone. "I do miss the social aspect of school and at times it's hard to be my own teacher, but I get to travel the world and have experiences I wouldn't have in school."
Cain has traveled many places for skating competitions, but says Nice, France is her favorite. "It was so beautiful and relaxing there. China, Russia and Korea were so exciting too, to see the different cultures and explore the sights."
When home, Cain maintains an intense six day a week training schedule which leaves one day for "hanging out with my friends and being a normal teenager," she says, laughing.
All photo credits: Darlene Cain, used with permission