Teen ice dancer Ashlyn Gaughan trades Florida for Colorado

Ashlyn Gaughan and Cody Lithco placed fourth at the Midwestern sectionals in Ohio.

Courtesy of Hillsborough School District

Ashlyn Gaughan and Cody Lithco placed fourth at the Midwestern sectionals in Ohio.

Move.

A year ago, that simple word became as big a part of Ashlyn Gaughan's holidays as tinsel, mistletoe and carols.

A life-altering gift arrived under the tree last December. But to truly enjoy it, Ashlyn had to leave Bloomingdale High, her friends, her family and the only home she had ever known.

In an instant, the 17-year-old had to decide if walking away from all that familiarity was worth stepping closer to a dream that first began to form 14 years ago.

After watching the world's best skate for gold at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, she skated onto the rink at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum with tiny ankles and big hopes.

Now all the 3 a.m. practices, all the long rides to rinks around Florida, all the competitions, all the spills on that unforgiving surface could yield something greater — if she would just move.

Cody Lithco, a promising 20-year-old ice dancer, sought a new partner. Ashlyn flew to his home rink and took a trial spin — moving like a ballroom dancer on the ice.

So did six other aspiring skaters. In the world of competitive ice dancing, girls struggle to find male partners. They skate, they post videos, they list accomplishments.

They hope.

In the end, the coaches thought Ashlyn held the most promise, but would she move to Colorado Springs, Colo.? Would she pack up her fondest recollections and jet across the country in hopes of creating greater memories?

"I was very hesitant," Ashlyn said. "I went out for Christmas break, and two weeks later I had to make a snap decision to move for a chance that it would work out.

"It's what I've been doing my whole life and I love it a lot. I want all my years of doing it to pay off."

To make it pay off, Ashlyn did more than change addresses. She changed her mind-set. Through the early-morning and late-afternoon workouts, the off-ice dance training, the Florida Virtual School demands (she maintains a 5.6 grade point average), this happy, easy-to-laugh teen grew more determined.

"I think she always wished for it and hoped it but I don't think she believed it until she went to Colorado," said Linda Gaughan, Ashlyn's mother. "She started to eat differently, she started to work harder, she started to put more into it.

"They told her from the beginning 'You're training for nationals' and she believed them. I think that changes how you see yourself. When people put that in front of you, it becomes a possibility instead of a wish."

The possibility crystallized at the Midwestern Sectional Championships this month in Ohio. Linda, so nervous that a woman sitting behind her said, "Don't worry, I know CPR," watched as Cody and Ashlyn skated to a fourth-place finish in the novice division and qualified for January's U.S. Figure Skating Nationals in Omaha, Neb.

"I miss all my friends here, but the accomplishments are worth it," Ashlyn said.

The achievement is not the culmination of Ashlyn's dreams, but a big step toward making them come true. After January, they will move up to the junior division. The ultimate goal will be skating on the senior level and gaining international assignments.

Then the Olympics. Maybe.

The sacrifices seem severe. The goal seems almost unattainable. But, Linda says, "I would much rather her chase something good than run from something awful."

Perhaps, it's not so much about achieving the dream. It's about having one.

That's all I'm saying.

>>To help

Long distance

Ice dancer Ashlyn Gaughan is accepting donations to offset the cost of traveling back and forth between Florida and Colorado and for housing and living expenses in Colorado. Contact Linda Gaughan via email at lindagaughan@cs.com and put "Ashlyn" in the subject field.

Teen ice dancer Ashlyn Gaughan trades Florida for Colorado

11/29/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 29, 2012 3:30am]

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