From the often times-paralyzing heat of Dallas, Texas, comes one of the most promising up-and-coming pairs figure skating teams for Team U.S.A. Ashley Cain and Joshua Reagan, both Dallas-grown, won the 2010 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships novice title in Spokane, Wash., in January with less than a year training time behind them.
The duo placed second in the short program, and won the freeskate for a total of 121.87 points, which would have put them close to the podium on the junior level.
Fifteen-year-old Cain laced up her skates at the age of two, perhaps a natural progression for someone being born into a skating family. Her father, Peter, won the Australian pairs title four times with his sister Liz, and represented his home country at the 1980 Olympic Games. Her mother Darlene won a bronze medal at the Canadian Championships in ice dance.
“Having parents who skate, you are going to end up on the ice at one time or another.When I stepped on the ice for the first time, I just loved it,” Cain remembered. “For me it was easier than walking. I used to watch the big kids, and seeing all of the things that they could do, I always knew that I wanted to do it, too.”
Reagan started a little later, beginning at the ripe age of eight-years-old, splitting his time between swimming and skating over the years. When they teamed up, twenty-year-old Reagan was away from the ice for several years, and not knowing if he would ever return to the ice.
“I took a bad fall on the ice when I was fourteen,” Reagan shared. “It was really strange because when I fell, everything was okay, but then my vision started getting weird. So, I went to the hospital and they diagnosed me with a really bad concussion. They said that I needed to stay for observation, and the vision in my right eye started getting weird. Before it was all over, I was blind in that eye, and decided to leave skating.”
Reagan’s father, Dave, ironically is an ophthalmologist, and sought out the best care for his son during his recovery.
“We had a lot of tests done, and what they thought happened was the bone in my skull severed my optic nerve,” Reagan explained. “Sometimes it heals and you get your vision back, and sometimes it doesn’t. The vision came back really slowly, but there was no way that they could diagnose it for sure – even with the best technology – because the nerve is so small. Almost a year to the day, I got my vision back, and have had no issues since.”
The accident deterred the would-be champion from skating, and he returned to his other love- competitive swimming, taking a five-year break from skating.
“I was a swimmer when I was younger, and it was just natural to go back to it when I left skating,” Reagan stated. “My mom is really into sports, so it was important to her that I participate in something. My coach and I talked, and he invited me back to the club. It was something that even with one eye I could do, and I picked it back up really fast. At one point, I ended up having the fastest time in the state in the 50 meter freestyle.”
But at the end of his high school career, Reagan came to a crossroads, and things began to sour in the pool.
“My coach and I had a fight, so I wasn’t really swimming much towards the end of high school,” Reagan confessed. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to swim in college or not. I started teaching skating with one of my old coaches, and I wanted to jump a little bit and just get back into skating shape by skating around once or twice a week. Then I found out that Ashley and her partner had split at the end of the 2009 season, and then I had the opportunity to try out with her. I thought what the heck, did the try out, and it worked. So that’s when I really stopped swimming.”
It would appear that his decision was a good one, winning the Midwestern Sectionals and National Novice title with less than a year of training time under their belts.
“We worked all year to make it to Nationals and to do well,” Cain said enthusiastically. “We were really excited when we won. I cried. Everything that we worked for all season finally came together, and we got to do the Exhibition of Champions at the end of the competition. When we got back, there was a party for us, and it was just really great.”
Reagan agreed with his partner, but gives her much of the credit for their success to this point.
“This was my first time at big nationals,” he admitted, “and it was amazing. I had made it to Junior Nationals before my accident, but I had never competed at this level. Ashley is a great partner, and had previous experience at Nationals.”
With the novice title on their resume, it was natural for Cain and Reagan to move up to the junior level for this season, and the pair recently learned that they have been selected to skate on the Junior Grand Prix for the first time.
“We will be skating in Sheffield, Great Britain, at the end of the month,” Reagan confirmed enthusiastically. “I’m so excited because even in swimming, I never had the opportunity to compete internationally and represent the United States. I’m really nervous, but it will be a lot of fun – especially since we will be representing the U.S.A.”
Cain also won the silver medal at the 2010 U.S. National Championships in the novice ladies division, and could find herself doing double duty on the Junior Grand Prix if things fall into place.
“I did some monitoring at Skate Detroit earlier this summer,” Cain explained of the competition where she finished in second place. “They liked me, and we are still waiting to see if I get selected to be sent out on the Junior Grand Prix in singles. I am listed as an alternate for the series, and we are still waiting to see what happens.”
The daunting task of competing in multiple events across both disciplines does not concern the double medalist, however.
“We’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the possibility of me being assigned to multiple events on the Junior Grand Prix between the two disciplines,” Cain said philosophically. “We have asked that if I am selected to compete in singles, if it could be the same event as we are skating pairs. However, if it doesn’t work out, we will make the necessary accommodations in order for me to participate in any event that I might be selected for.”
For now, the duo is focusing on their first assignment, and hope to skate well enough to earn another.
“Of course we hope that we do well enough to earn a second assignment, but we will look at one event at a time,” Reagan said.
Before competing last season, Cain and Reagan were offered the opportunity to compete for her father’s home country of Australia.
“Last year my aunt (Liz Cain), who still lives in Australia said that they would really like us to skate for Australia,” Cain explained. “We want to skate for the U.S.A., because we feel like we want to skate for our country, not somewhere else. I am part Canadian and part Australian, but I just want to compete for my country. Since there aren’t many pairs teams in Australia, they said that we could be more successful and have more opportunities to compete internationally. I guess that we just want more of a challenge.”
In preparation for this season, Cain and Reagan have retained their coaching staff from last season – David Kirby and Cain’s father Peter. Both men are International Skating Union Technical Specialists, which the duo feels is a huge asset for them in terms of training.
“I’m not telling you that our practices don’t sometimes get tedious, because believe me, they do,” Reagan said somewhat cautiously. “But I think that we all recognize how much knowledge they have in terms of levels, calling, and such. All of that helps to make our programs better because they choreograph everything so that we can get the maximum amount of points. If something is not the right level, or we don’t do to earn the right level, they tear it apart so it will be in competition.”
Cain’s mother, Darlene, serves as sort of a team manager, focusing on off-ice ventures such as media, competition registration, and travel plans. She is also their costume designer, and ensures that the team’s look works with their program music. This season, Cain and Reagan have made some huge additions to their programs, and could make a huge splash in Great Britain if they are able to manage these new elements.
“We actually just started the throw triple flip, and it is going really well,” Cain said of their newest element. We also have side-by-side triple toe loops in the free skate, which replaced our double Axels from last season. We are also working on adding side-by-side triple loops into our freeskate as well. We jump double Axels in the short program.”
The short program this season will be to music from The Matrix soundtrack, and the freeskate is set to Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet.
“Our coaches wanted to show that we have two distinct sides to our skating,” Reagan offered. “In our short program, our goal is to do what we need to do to stay in contention for a medal. Since you can’t win the competition in the short program, we developed our program strategy with that in mind. The program is more about checking off the elements and the strength of choreography. The long program is where we do our big tricks, which will help us to rack up the points and win the event.”
The big tricks, as Reagan calls them, have been going well in recent practice sessions. The side-by-side triple toe loops are already in the program, and they are being hit at a rate of eighty to ninety percent of the time according to Reagan.
“We are just choreographing the loops into the freeskate, but outside of the program, we are hitting three or four out of five,”he shared. “On the first day of trying the triple flip, Ashley over rotated a few, stepped out of a couple, but had no hard falls. She is straight in the air, has a strong landing position, and it was really close.”
Though their freeskate is packed full of new and challenging elements, Cain and Reagan are not concerned about the pressure of landing them in competition.
“We are really smart about making sure that we learn from our mistakes, correct them, and move on,” Reagan said of his team’s philosophy. “For now, it’s about getting the program under our belts, and letting our coaches decide which elements we need to work on in order to improve their quality. I think that we can handle all of the pressure, though.”
Cain hopes to qualify for U.S. Nationals again in both singles and pairs, and has been working equally as hard in singles to make that happen.
“In singles this year, I have all of the triples except for the Axel. I have worked hard on the Lutz and the flip to go with my loop, toe and Salchow, and they are now in the program,” she shared. “I am also working on the double Axel-triple toe loop and a triple toe loop-triple toe loop, and I would like to put one of them into my program.” Qualifying for Greensboro, NC, isn’t the only goal for the ambitious duo, however.
“I want to medal in both just like I did last year,” Cain confessed. “I don’t have to win, I just want to medal.”
Reagan’s goals were somewhat loftier than his counterpart’s.
“Ashley is more conservative in her goal at Nationals than I. Not winning would be a little bit of a disappointment because winning is why I go to events,” he explained. “I want to be the junior national champion, win Junior Grand Prixs, and go to Junior Worlds. My main goals this season are to win Nationals and get to the Junior Grand Prix Final.”
Cain is heading into her sophomore year at Texas Tech University Online School.
“Last year was the first year that I started doing home schooling because the school I was going to couldn’t handle the amount of time that I needed to be away for competition,” she revealed. “The people at Texas Tech are really great. It is an online school, so I don’t have the traditional classroom environment. I do get textbooks, and everything that I need is in front of me on my computer. Someone is always available by phone or email if I don’t understand something, and they get back to me very quickly so I am not waiting to move ahead.”
Outside of the rink, Cain does typical teenager things.
“I hang out with friends a lot. Many of my friends are also home schooled, so we work on homework together. In summer, we go swimming, to the mall, or something like that.”
After her skating career has run its course, Cain hopes to work with animals, a lifelong passion.
“I love working with animals, which is something that I have done since I was little. I think that it would be cool when I am older to be a Marine Biologist or something in that field,” she explained. And she has plenty of pets to keep her busy. “We have two cats – Jingle Bells and Snow Ball, a rabbit named Buns, a hamster Choctaw, and of course, Mr. Turtle.”
Cain has just one sibling, older brother Brenden, who used to be a pairs skater, but gave up the sport for another.
“He made Junior Nationals a few years ago, but he decided that he wanted to play hockey instead,” Cain shared. “He’s a big goalie now.”
Reagan is a high school graduate and attended college for one semester.
“With skating and work, I just didn’t have enough time for school then,” he admitted. “It just wasn’t the right time for me.”
Reagan admits to being inside of a rink from morning until early evening, working at the Galleria in Dallas as a skating instructor, and training with Cain as scheduled. He also picks up some hours helping his father David with his medical practice. Reagan’s mother Kristine is the glue in the family, working tirelessly as a stay-at-home mom.
Like Cain, Reagan has one sibling, a thirteen-year-old sister named Jade who also used to skate, but has left the ice for the pool.
“She’s a swimmer now, which is kind of funny.”
Reagan likes to play football and hang out with friends when he isn’t in the rink, and has two cats and an aquarium full of salt-water fish that take up the rest of his time.