U.S. aerial skier Ashley Caldwell may be heading to her fourth Winter Olympics next week, but nothing about hucking herself off an icy 15-foot kicker at more than 40 miles per hour and nailing dare-devil tricks at 60 feet in the air and landing on her feet is old hat.
For the 28-year-old Caldwell, the 2017 World Championship gold medalist and the only woman to ever land a quadruple-twisting triple backflip in competition, it’s that rush of adrenaline — and natural instinct to pump the brakes — that keeps her on her toes and coming back for more.
“When you’re the most scared you’ve ever been and then you go and overcome that fear — it’s incredible, an incredible feeling, and so I live for that,” Caldwell said in a recent episode of the On Her Turf podcast. (The full episode of the On Her Turf podcast featuring Ashley Caldwell is embedded below. You can also listen to the On Her Turf podcast on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app.)
“The fear never goes away, and every time it’s telling you the same thing: Don’t do what you’re about to do, because it’s a bad idea, bad idea … But I think I like overcoming fear, ultimately, I think that’s what it boils down to.”
Her parents, Mark and Leslie Caldwell, were quick to recognize that spark in their daughter, who started practicing gymnastics at age 4. After watching the freestyle competitions in 2006 in Torino, it was Caldwell’s mother who suggested she try combining her love of skiing with gymnastics… and a career path was born.
At just 13, Caldwell moved from her hometown of Ashburn, Va., to upstate New York to train full-time. She made her first U.S. Olympic team in 2010, finishing 10th, and replicated the result in 2014 at Sochi. At the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, she was set to throw the toughest trick in her arsenal – the quadruple-twisting triple backflip nicknamed “the Daddy” for its status as a skill that signals one’s arrival as a contender.
But on her last training jump before competition, a freak gust of wind caught Caldwell mid-trick and she crashed out hard, separating her collarbone from her shoulder (known as the acromioclavicular or AC joint). She still competed but finished 17th.
“It’s ‘go big or go home,'” said Caldwell, who had surgery to repair her shoulder and has since recorded five World Cup podium finishes and two more at the 2021 World Championships. “Sometimes it’s ‘go big and go home,’ sometimes it’s just ‘go home.’ …
“I have to continually conquer my fear. Sometimes it’s just telling yourself, ‘I’ve been here, I’ve done this,’ even though fear is still just as overtaking. The reward is still there, I know it.”
Caldwell, who has her master’s in real estate development and is working on a second in legal studies at the University of Utah, also knows that she has more to accomplish and has her eye on the Olympic medal that has thus far eluded her. No U.S. female aerialist has won an Olympic title since Nikki Stone in 1998, when she took gold with a trick that was one flip and two twists less than what Caldwell could unleash in Beijing.
“(After my accident in 2018), the next day I woke up and I really want to do aerials,” she recalls. “That’s when I knew I’m not done yet, I still love the sport. This sport just broke my heart and my shoulder at the same time, the same day, and I still want to go do it. So it’s not always about the success or the failure, I just really like doing this.”
2022 Winter Olympics: Schedule for Women’s Aerials and Mixed Team Aerials
WWE Superstar Charlotte Flair is the queen of pro wrestling. The 14-time Women’s Champion has not only been a pioneer in carving out a path for women, but she’s elevated the sport as a whole with a level of athleticism, skill, and personality that very few have been able to match.
The Queen (who also happens to be the daughter of 16-time World Champion Ric Flair) opens up about her family legacy, what WWE means to her, how she’s evolved, and the sacrifices she’s made to rise and become one of the leading faces of pro wrestling. Flair, who seeks to defend her SmackDown Women’s title, also gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how she’s preparing for WrestleMania 39 and the message she has for Rhea Ripley ahead of this weekend’s match.
WWE’s WrestleMania 39 streams live on Peacock this Saturday, April 1 and Sunday, April 2 at 8:00 PM ET (5:00 PM PT). Live coverage begins at 6:00 PM ET (3:00 PM PT) with a special kickoff you won’t want to miss. See below for additional information on how to watch the WWE’s biggest event of the year.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
NBC Sports: This is going to be your seventh WrestleMania, what does this WrestleMania mean to you?
Charlotte Flair: I want to say it gets easier with experience, but it doesn’t. I think pressure and expectation–all of it kind of adds up. You’re having to rise to the occasion that many times and on the grandest stage. I’ve always either been a contender, or a champion and here I am going into my seventh with the performances and the rivalries I’ve already had.
With experience, I know what it’s like to be out there. But with my own personal pressure, my own goals, and my own expectations for myself and my performance–I feel like the weight of the world is on my back right now. I love proving people wrong so I love the pressure.
What are some of those expectations that you have for yourself going into this the seventh time around?
Flair: Well, for instance, I have an A&E biography coming out next week and it’s the for Legends series–which I didn’t know it was for at the time. So here I am, an active performer with the title, “legend.”
That means I’m at the top of my game. I’m there. I’ve made it. But personally, I feel like I still have so much further to go. I still want to grow, learn, and get better. I still want to have that “greatest performance of all time” moment. All of those things weigh on me on a professional level, but it’s good things. It’s not bad. It’s a good thing to have.
Who is Charlotte Flair now? How has your character evolved?
Flair: The People’s Queen. For so long, I told everyone else to bow down. Whereas now I’m just embracing the journey. I wouldn’t say that Charlotte is good. I wouldn’t say she’s bad. I think she just knows that she’s given her all for so many years and this is what she loves. She just wants the audience to know that, whether she’s acting up–whether she’s being bad or whether she being good–she’s here to be the greatest of all time. She’s going to give you that consistency, that passion, that love for the business every time she goes out there. And I think that’s very likeable.
Being a superstar is in your blood. You mentioned your love for this business. Can you talk about what WrestleMania and WWE mean to you? I know it’s your family legacy and business but most importantly it was your brother’s dream. Tell me about that and how that fuels you every day?
Flair: Specifically, what WrestleMania means to me… obviously, to the world, it’s a pop culture extravaganza. It’s our Super Bowl. The biggest show of the year, the biggest rivalries, and the biggest stars. But for me, when my brother Reid died in 2013, it was the day before WrestleMania, and he was coming home for the first time to see me wrestle. I wasn’t on WrestleMania [at the time], I was still in developmental, but I was at Axxess where we put on exhibition matches.
Every WrestleMania week, all those emotions are hitting me where I’m walking into WrestleMania and I’m here because of him. 100% it was for him in the beginning and now I will always carry him with me. But now it’s still like how did I get this far? How do I get this opportunity? I guess I feel closest to him around this time because WrestleMania is such a big deal to the superstars. Everyone dreams of a WrestleMania and I’m living his dream so when I’m out there WrestleMania I’m like, we did it.
Thank you for sharing that and my condolences to you and your family for your loss. Switching gears – Where does your confidence come from? Earlier on in your career you mentioned that you watched Nikki Bella and noticed that she walked and talked like a champion. You had moments where you second guessed yourself, but now it’s the complete opposite. What changed for you and how did you get from that to who you are now?
Flair: Fake it till you make it right? There aren’t moments now that I’m faking it because now I know how good I am and I’m proud of it because I know what it’s taken to get there. I know the dedication that no one sees. I know the hours that I’ve spent that no one knows about. I think that’s what I hold so dear to me. That’s why I have all that confidence–it’s knowing I put in the groundwork. I also know that there will never be another talent like me because of how consistent I have been these last 10 years.
I don’t even know how I got here but I’m proud of that. I went through this weird phase where I felt like I had to apologize for having opportunities. Now I’m like, wait, it took me like three years after that to be like, “Why am I apologizing for having opportunities?” Why do we as women feel like we have to say sorry? We don’t need to say sorry. Don’t dim your light to make other people feel comfortable.
Why did you feel like you had to say sorry for those opportunities that came your way?
Flair: I think that I took the criticism to heart and being an athlete when you’re MVP or team captain–the camaraderie that comes along with sports, that’s what I was raised in. With gymnastics, basketball, I played volleyball in college, diving, softball, track–in all those sports there’s no one telling you that you’re only good at something because of your last name… I can’t lose my last name. I am, who I am.
I felt like so many people felt that doors open for me because of my lineage. I always felt like I had this chip that I had to apologize for being Rick’s daughter. I didn’t think it was true but it was my own pressure that I was putting on myself. Even today, when you hear your opponents say, “Well, why is she in the title picture so many times?” like it’s a choice. Why aren’t you asking yourself why you aren’t in the title picture that many times? Ask yourself that.
I think it takes age, experience, and personal growth. It’s taken a long time to feel that way. Basically my whole career.
You talked about how you know how much time and effort you’ve put in. You are the queen of WWE, a 14-time Women’s Champion, and you have been one of the pioneer’s in making women’s wrestling what it is now – what kind of work do you have to put in behind the scenes to get to this level individually? What kind of work do you have to put in to elevate this sport for Women as a whole?
Flair: So here’s an example. When you are the face of the division, you’re not just wrestling, you’re doing media, you’re doing signings, you’re doing all of the above extras, plus being the champ and making extra shows. That also means working on every single live event. Because I’ve been [the face of the division] for so many years, I’ve done that for so many years.
Plus, when we go overseas, I don’t stay out all night. I’m eating my grilled chicken and vegetables. It’s making those sacrifices at the right time. Now, do I have fun? Yes. But I made the sacrifices early on to get to where I am today and I can’t thank myself enough for being so disciplined early on, because I don’t think I’d be here if it wasn’t for being so hungry and knowing what it takes.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
Flair: Male or female, it doesn’t matter, she was one of the greatest of all times, I want to be in the conversation, gender aside. This applies to men too, but I want women in any industry to know that you can make it to the top and stay at the top and be at the top in any boys club and it’s so important.
I love that. Thank you. So switching gears – How do you prepare for WrestleMania? You talked about chicken and veggies, what’s your diet like?
Flair: Ugh, it’s miserable right now. No, actually, for like this past week, it’s been super high carb, so I can lean out [the week before WrestleMania]. So it’s been easy. But this week, breakfast is chicken, asparagus, two tortillas.
Chicken for breakfast?
Flair: Chicken for breakfast. My favorite meal though for breakfast is oatmeal mixed with chocolate protein or an omelet. The next [meal] is salmon and a potato. The next one after that is steak and rice and then chicken, lettuce, cucumber for the last [meal] with a protein shake mixed in there.
What I’ve learned over the years, is that it’s all about moderation. I try to follow this [diet] but it’s not necessarily perfect all the time. I might get it right two days or like I’ll add in a protein bar or salad or smoothie. It’s just about having some kind of layout or format that works. The week before WrestleMania, I’ll probably be more like to the tee.
How do you prepare physically for WrestleMania?
Flair: An hour in the gym daily. That’s it. If I can’t get it done in an hour and 15 minutes, go home. Listen to your body. I isolate muscle groups so maybe one day is glutes, the next day is shoulders and triceps, or back and biceps. I just alternate every day.
When do you practice all of the stunts and flips?
Flair: Oh no, that just comes with the territory now. What you see is what you get!
On the actual day of WrestleMania, what does your schedule look like? Walk me through the full day.
Flair: I don’t know yet but sometimes I could have a [media interview] in the morning and then call time. We’re going to be in L.A. so it’s probably 10:30 or 11:00 due to West Coast time. After that, makeup, walkthroughs, camera angles, entrance practice just to get the timing because the ramps are usually longer, and then getting glammed up because it’s usually the most glamorous–the biggest robes, the biggest and brightest gear you have all year. So making sure all of those are tweaked. Sometimes there might be some signings in between.
WWE has such a loyal fan base, what has your experience with the fans been like and what has their support meant to you?
Flair: My personal fans are as loyal as they come. They’ve been with me through it all. What’s so great about the WWE Universe is they’re going to let you know if they like you or if they don’t like you. They’re not going to be quiet.
What is it like being on the road 24/7?
Flair: I don’t know anything else now so when I’m home for more than two days, I’m like, okay, what’s next? But I love being home. It’s just finding a schedule that works for you. Getting a routine, knowing how it goes–hotels, rental cars, meals, all of it. I’m so used to it now.
Looking ahead to your WrestleMania match up – What did you think of that disrespect from Rhea Ripley, telling you, a 14-time Champion, that you’re going to learn to call her champion and learn to fear her and then taking a cheap shot? What was going through your head?
Flair: Exactly. Talk is cheap. My legacy is cemented. What I’ve done is done. What I mean to this industry… she has a long way to go to be be thinking that. I will have respect [for her] but the last thing I will do will be calling her champion.
Who else are you interested in facing in your career and why?
Flair: Well, first Bianca Belair and then Liv Morgan. I’ve never had a rivalry with Bianca and we always said with the athleticism and very similar backgrounds, we can make magic. I’ve seen Liv from her start till now and seeing how much she’s grown, I just would love that opportunity with her.
Are there any specific types of matches that haven’t done yet that you would want to do?
Flair: Yes. Mixed tag!
Who would be your partner?
Flair: My husband [Andrade El Idolo].
Speaking of your husband, you recently got married this summer. Congratulations! What has married life been like for you and how does having that relationship add to your life personally and professionally?
Flair: When you’re doing well in your personal life, it makes everything better. So just having that one person, your person, at home after a good day or bad day just makes it easier.
NXT Stand & Deliver: Kick off at 12 PM ET; Main Event at 1 PM ET
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WrestleMania Sunday: Kick off at 6 PM ET; Main Event at 8 PM ET
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It’s 8:20 AM in Augusta, Georgia. Rachel Kuehn stands on the first tee of Augusta National Golf Club. Her brown hair is tied back in a ponytail, adorned with a black and white bow, and she’s wearing a pink skirt that matches the azaleas lining the hills of Augusta National. It’s the final day of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, and Kuehn is within striking distance of the lead.
A senior on the Wake Forest University women’s golf team, Kuehn has played golf since she was two. In a childhood filled with softball games, tennis matches and gymnastics meets, golf tournaments gradually gained her favor. Her fixation on golf was not unique: her mother, Brenda, had a legendary career at Wake Forest and in the amateur/professional ranks, and both of her brothers play or have played college golf.
Two years before that cool Augusta morning, Kuehn’s freshman debut at Wake Forest was cut short due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Tournaments were canceled, students were sent home and the world spun into a frenzy. Many of the ways that people socialized and exercised – bars, movie theaters, concert venues, gyms – were shut down indefinitely. However, many golf courses and driving ranges remained open as golf provided an outdoor, socially-distanced space for people to be active.
By reputation, golf is often considered a leisurely game reserved for retirees and vacation-goers. But for Kuehn and millions of others, golf is medicinal. At a time when the world felt so chaotic, playing a quick nine holes with a loved one went a long way.
“During COVID, there wasn’t much to do except play golf,” Kuehn said. “I was incredibly lucky that my golf course stayed open throughout the pandemic, and my brother got the chance to come work from home. This meant that we got to spend more time together, specifically playing golf. We are all incredibly competitive. In my family, there is no such thing as just playing for fun. We are always playing for something. Looking back, as unfortunate as it was that the world pretty much shut down, it gave my family and a lot of other families a chance to slow down and spend time together.”
A Norwegian study conducted in 2015 found that this “green exercise” is an effective way to reduce stress. Golf involves (distanced) social interaction that has been proven to reduce anxiety and the effects of depression. In fact, a Swedish study in 2009 found that golfers have an increased life expectancy of “about five years.”
Golf gives Kuehn a chance to shut everything else off and clear her head. “When practicing or playing, I have the chance to be totally present in what I’m doing. The practice facility is my happy place, where I get the chance to do what I love.”
At last year’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur, Kuehn went up against seventy-one of the best female amateur golfers in the world. After heroic birdies on her last two holes of the qualifier at Augusta National’s neighboring course, Champions Retreat, Kuehn finished just inside the top 30 and got the chance to play a third day and see 365 of the most spectacular acres of land in the U.S.
To the outside world, ANGC is a place of mystery and allure. The exclusive club limits its membership to roughly three hundred people, with new members accepted only when an existing member passes away or gives up their membership. The few who are allowed to walk the grounds each year get the unique opportunity to look behind the veil.
Spectators wrapped around the first tee box and lined the fairway ahead of Kuehn. Of the forty thousand fans on the grounds, it felt like every set of eyes were focused on her. As she shakily put her tee in the ground, Kuehn went through her pre-shot routine, her eyes trained on her target off in the distance.
“I was so unbelievably nervous on the first tee,” Kuehn remembered. “The sense of history and tradition I could feel just looking around still gives me goosebumps.”
Amid the dense crowd forming behind her, two figures loomed in the front row. Annika Sorenstam is one of the greatest women’s golfers of all time, winning ninety international tournaments as a professional and earning $22 million before retiring from professional golf in 2008. Next to Sorenstam sat Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State and one of the most influential women in American history. As those two figures looked on, Kuehn felt the enormity of the moment.
“If there was ever a time to hit the fairway, this is it,” Kuehn thought to herself.
She hit her drive, and thousands of heads turned as they followed her ball, soaring through the air. It landed in the rough and bounced several times before coming to a stop. Fairway missed.
Kuehn picked up her tee and paced forward. Her nerves faded away as she walked with her caddy by her side. She may have missed the fairway, but she was at peace with that. It was the perfect time to remind herself that golf is a game of imperfections; a game of managing your mistakes and approaching the next shot with a clean slate.
With a renewed focus, Kuehn scrambled and sunk a putt to save par on the first hole. After that, she found her groove.
Kuehn caught fire with birdies on the second, third and fourth holes. Walking up the fifth fairway, she saw a massive white scoreboard putting up a new name, letter by letter. K…U…E… she got goosebumps and looked away before they could finish. That scoreboard has displayed the names of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth. And now hers.
“I’ve been lucky enough to go watch the Masters, and I have seen some of the most famous names in golf on those leaderboards,” Kuehn said. “To see my own last name put up made me feel like all the hours I’ve put in were worth it. It felt like the pinnacle of my golfing experience.”
The Augusta National Women’s Amateur is a monumental step in the right direction for the game of golf. While the exclusivity of Augusta National adds to the sense of mystery surrounding the course, it is also a reminder of inequality in the sport based on race, gender and economic opportunity.
Augusta only allowed male members for many years, which is consistent with the “old white man’s game” stereotype that golf has developed. The club finally invited its first female members in 2012, one of whom was Rice.
“This event has given worldwide coverage to the women’s amateur game,” Kuehn said. “The amount of people that have come to watch the event or followed at home on television has been remarkable. I have no doubt that many young girls have picked up the game as a result of the event. This is a testament to Augusta National’s commitment to continually growing the game.”
Kuehn capped off her flawless front nine with a birdie on seven and pars on eight and nine to shoot a 4-under 32.
When asked if her stellar front nine affected her mindset, she remarked, “I was just enjoying it… it’s fun when you’re hitting golf shots in places that you’ve seen countless times on TV.”
By the end of the day, she carded a 3-under 69 – the second lowest round of the day. She finished just three strokes shy of first place in solo 7th. While her run at the title fell short, her face didn’t show it. The only emotion there was gratitude.
The growth in the women’s professional game coincides with a boom in women’s recreational participation. As mentioned in a study by the National Golf Foundation, since 2014, the number of female participants has grown by 43% – from 8 million to almost 11.5 million.
This increase in participation was most dramatic during the pandemic. Like every other group that was stuck in quarantine, women were looking to get outdoors, move their bodies and experience some social interaction again, and golf was the perfect solution. The increase in participation is evident when passing a driving range or walking through a golf course parking lot. Nowadays, it’s common to see women of all ages: women practicing their game, women trash talking their friends, women lacing up their shoes before a round.
Golf’s surge in popularity isn’t restricted to the golf course. In fact, a study from the National Golf Foundation shows that, of the population of golf participants in the U.S. in 2021, 33% are classified as “off course only.” For many people, golf is a trip to play mini golf, hit the driving range or go to Topgolf with friends. Gone are the days when the only way to be considered a golfer was to play at an exclusive course with expensive clubs.
These changes are even evident at Augusta National, Kuehn observed.
She walked off the 18th green last April into the hordes of spectators, many of whom were young girls. Kuehn smiled and waved as they congratulated her on a spectacular round of golf.
After a 7th-place finish in 2022, Kuehn will be back in the field for 2023, with coverage beginning this Wednesday, March 29th on Golf Channel and Peacock. Golf Channel and Peacock will showcase coverage of the first two rounds at Champions Retreat, from 1:30-3:30 p.m. ET each day. After a day of practice at Augusta National on Friday, open to all ANWA participants, the conclusion will take place on Saturday. NBC will air live action, beginning at noon ET. Streaming will also be available via Peacock.
Wednesday, March 29th: ANWA Round 1 (1:30pm ET on Golf Channel and Peacock)
Thursday, March 30th: ANWA Round 2 (1:30pm ET on Golf Channel and Peacock)
Saturday, April 1st: ANWA Round 3 (12pm ET on NBC and Peacock)