From Durham, USA
(May 18, 2020) – For the second installment of “Getting to Know…”, we head south of the equator to the home of Men at Work, Midnight Oil, and the Perth Heat to chat with women’s bobsledder Ashleigh Werner. Ashleigh has never finished out of the top five in monobob action since taking her first runs down in the 2018/2019 season. In women’s bobsled she’s finished in the top ten in 13 of 19 races.
If there’s a slider you’d like to get to know, please drop me a note with who on Twitter: @TheKenChilds
We’ll start off with a softball: What’s your favorite track and why?
I really have to think about this. When I first started driving, I had a coach say that if you say that you’ve got a favorite track you sort of pigeonhole yourself to that kind of track only. So I’ve tried to get out of the habit of saying what my favorite track is, but I DO have some favorite towns that I’ve been to.
Okay, so that was going to be question number two, but let’s go with it: What’s your favorite town on tour?
I think I’ve got three that are up there: I really love being in Lake Placid. It’s just home for me, I’ve spent so much time there. The people and the town really make it feel like home, and the track is really interesting and complex. You can never take it lightly.
I really love being in La Plagne, it’s just so other worldly. It really feels like you’re just outside of the realm of what’s humanly possible. The track is fast, and fun, it’s flowy, and I just love it. Apart from the terrible internet connections it’s just great.
One of my other favorite places to be is Park City. I love Salt Lake City, I love the mountains, the track is awesome and the view from the track is amazing. We spent three weeks there this season and made a really good group of friends and it’s nice to have a home when you’re on tour.
Tell us about your pets.
I have a brother, who’s the best family pet of all! I have a little dog, she’s this really little mutt who’s a Pomeranian, Pekinese, Maltese mix. She’s the biggest princess I’ve ever met in my life! I’m the tomboy of the family, she’s the princess. Because I spend so much time overseas she’s also obviously the favorite child as well. She gets fed before I do, and she also gets to ride shotgun in the front seat when we used to leave the house in the car.
She’s definitely the favorite child in the house.
You race both women’s bobsled and monobob, which is your preference?
I get this a lot! I come from team sports, so I really enjoy the team aspect of the women’s discipline. I love my girls; coming from Australia we’re traveling for like six months. We can’t go home because it’s both expensive and like a day of travel time. I love having a team around me, having shared goals, values and a shared culture just makes it a little more enjoyable.
Monobob is a really cool opportunity to get an extra discipline in and extra runs on the track. I love getting in a monobob because I feel like I can test lines out and not feel concerned that I might hurt someone in the back of the sled. So monobob is really fun, everyone’s really friendly, and we all have such a great time when we’re at the track. So there’s really positives for both.
Leading up to your runs on-track, do you have a go-to song?
For me, each track actually has its own song. I’ll do my normal warmup, but the music depends on how I’m feeling. Sometimes I like my Latin flow, sometimes it’s heavy metal, it just really depends. Once we’re about to go on the ice I have this one track song on repeat. It really depends, but each track has its own feel and vibe, so I try to choose a song that matches the flow of the track so when I’m doing my mind-run it just flows. Once I’m sliding I sing to myself and I know what part of the song I’m up to and it just makes sense.
I started that when I was in Lake Placid when I was driving the first time I went from the top. I was so nervous and so scared, so to distract myself I put on a song. Then when I was pushing I’d sing to myself as I went into Corner 1 and it gave me something else to focus on other than how terrified I was! And it’s kind of stuck ever since. That song USED to be Merengue by Kent Jones, but it has since changed because I feel like that song was a little too chill for Lake Placid.
Where’s your favorite place to visit NOT on the schedule, or a trip you’d really love to take?
Dream vacation: I really want to go to Mexico and Columbia. I’m a big Latin America person, and spent six months in Chile studying over there and I just love everything about the culture there. I really want to backpack through both Columbia and Mexico, I love the food, and the people, and the culture, and the music.
On the night before a race, do you have a certain meal you go for?
Usually the night before a race the girls and I will sit and have our team talk. I don’t like doing that on the day of because people have other jobs and things to focus on , so we do it the night before. We have a big family dinner, I really like pasta in any form so I try to incorporate that as best I can. The morning of I’ll wake up a little early, do some yoga, cook a big breakfast (usually with eggs), and then try to take the day as slowly as possible. It also usually involves me having my headphones on while I’m dancing around the kitchen!
What are you watching right now on TV/Netflix/etc?
I’m watching “The Last Dance”, which is incredible! I’m also watching I Am a Killer, which is a really interesting documentary about murders and stuff. It’s very interesting, and VERY different, so I like to keep it interesting.
What’s your favorite sliding sport memory?
I’ve got two, one for monobob and one for women’s bobsled.
One of my favorite moments from this season: We had a really disruptive season this season, with a lot of injuries and a lot of equipment issues, so we had to change plans pretty frequently. We had a rough couple of weeks and ended up in La Plagne. It was my first time there as a driver, we didn’t have a coach so I did the track walk with the French team, which was fantastic. I had about ten minutes to look at my track notes and figure out what I’m going to be doing, which is exactly what you want to do on a new track.
It was New Years Eve, and I was like “This year has been so long, what do we want to do?” and Kaela [Sparre] said “I want to bomb it off the top!” I told her I hadn’t even looked at my track notes for the first six corners or something like that and she said “well you’ve got seven minutes, you better learn up!” So we go to the top of the track and she’s watching me as I’m studying my notes and they call our name. She asked if I was ready, I said “nope!”, she said “okay, cool!” and we just went off the top of La Plagne! It was a great way to end the year, it was such a fun run. It was a really great way to end the year.
In monobob it would have to be my first gold medal in Lake Placid [April 12, 2019], which was just awesome because I wasn’t expecting it at all. I never went into that race thinking anything other than I was going to try my best.
I remember sitting in third place after the first heat, and I was sitting at the bottom with Bianca Ribi from Canada and we were just chatting about the weather and life. The next two girls are coming down and Bianca says “Ashleigh, you’re still in first!” with one sled to go and I got super excited because I figured I’d won a silver medal. Then Cynthia [Appiah] came down and Ribi shook me and went “Ashleigh! You just won!”, and I didn’t understand. Like, it just didn’t register. I was super excited, it was just an amazing feeling!
On the other side of that, what’s been your toughest moment/memory in the sport?
This past season was a little bit tough for us, and we kind of forewent most racing this season. We just didn’t have the resources for it, so we decided to take a training season. We went to Europe and went on our own dollar and own time and sort of went around to whatever track to whatever track to just learn and get some experience.
We had one race in Igls at the end of the season and we were so tired at that stage. We figured we’d just do that race and it would be a really good way to end the season in Europe, and thought “we can do this!”
We were trying to hit a start time that we knew we could get and I really wanted to hit it, but I just ran way too deep. We came out of the groove and tagged the left wall which is just the end of your race in Igls. I was really upset about that, but thought I drove really well. I looked up at the time and was like “Jeez, we came down so slow!”
I got back up to the top and we flipped the sled and we had gouges in our sled from front to back on the left side of our runners. It turned out there’d been a bolt in the track that we had found. It completely destroyed an expensive set of runners. So not only was I devastated that we had gone down slow and I knew that it was all my fault, but then we destroyed a set of runners. That was absolutely crushing.
We flew out the next day.
Guest Question: Jayson Terdiman: “What is it like to get into sliding as someone from Australia with no tracks or extensive winter sport history?”
It’s kind of a double-edged sword. It’s really, really difficult. There’s obviously incredible financial barriers, like we can’t just bring people to the track. I spoke to a friend from Austria who said they recruit people they just bring them to the track. I do the same, but it’s a seven day trip, $20,000 and the sacrifice of your first born child! It’s difficult in that sense because we’re asking a lot of athletes to leave their summer sport because it’s during our summer, pay their own way to do a sport that a) not a lot of people have heard of that much, b) doesn’t exist in our country and c) tey don’t even know if they’re going to like it. It’s hard to kind of pull athletes in based on that.
We also don’t have the opportunity to test girls out. So when I ask someone to come over, I can’t ask them to come over for a week. It’s more “hey, can you devote the next six months of your life to this?! You might not like it, you might not be very good, you might hate the winter, and you can’t really leave. So you’re stuck with me, and I hope you like me as a person!” It’s really difficult in that sense. It’s also really cold because you have winter all year like this.
It’s really cool, though, because you’re a part of a really small community of people and it does fill any conversation. Once you tell someone you do bobsled it’s the only thing anyone wants to talk about. A lot of people think I’m saying “boxing”, which would be a lot more appropriate than bobsled. It’s just this amazing ultimate lifestyle. I’m working full time and I think to myself that it’s cool because I’m only doing this for six month than I can go live my life for six months. I think it’s an amazing opportunity to do something completely different!”