When Ashley Wagner unofficially retired from competitive skating in 2018, she decided it was time to make a lot of other changes in her life. She left Los Angeles, where she had trained for a decade, and headed east, settling in Boston.
Wagner, 31, had reached a point in her life where she needed new inspiration, and moving to a city where she knew no one was just the start.
“I moved to Boston because I believe that if you want to change, you need to be pushed outside of your comfort zone,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone in Boston, and I really had to steer my own life for the first time. It was not easy.”
But it did not take long for her to find her groove, make new friends — and best of all meet Alex Clarke, the man she is now going to marry. The couple met, as Wagner put it, “the old-fashioned way, at a bar through mutual friends.”
“I was home during a break on the 2019 Stars on Ice tour and when I am home, I am a hobbit; I like to just stay in my house. But my friends were like ‘you need to get out and live a little’ so I agreed,” Wagner recalled. “Seven girls were going out and one of them was bringing her boyfriend. He told Alex he was going to hang out with us and could he come as his back up. Alex was like, ‘Oh! Seven single women I can hang out with? Absolutely!’
“When he walked into the bar, I took one look at him and knew he was a person that I wanted to at least date. I did not know I would marry him, but I knew that we would have a connection. It was instant.”
Three years later, the couple was on a camping vacation in the Pacific Northwest. Their game plan was to hike around the Olympic Mountains and the Cascades. “As an army brat, my family always moved around, but we would always go back to my grandparents’ home. My grandfather was a park ranger, so I basically grew up playing in this state park,” Wagner explained.
On June 30, they made their first stop on the trip in an area near the small town of Sequim, which is famous for its lavender farms. “We pulled up at the first farm and Alex was like, ‘This is exactly what I thought it would be.’ I was thinking, ‘OK, you really care about lavender farms.’
“Then we went to another one and as we pulled up, he was like, ‘This is the spot! This is good!’ I’m still thinking, ‘I had no idea he cared that much about lavender.’
“He walked me way deep into the field and when he saw a beehive said, ‘let’s go check it out.’ In that moment, I realized he didn’t know me at all!
“He just kept on mumbling ‘this is perfect. This is the spot.’ I thought he was having a neurotic breakdown. Then he turned toward me and started proposing. I was like, ‘Oh my God! It’s happening.
“It was really sweet. Alex is not one for words, but he had written a speech and it was just a beautiful moment.
“I knew he was going to propose to me on this trip because he can’t keep a secret to save his life. I had taken him to this spot last year and he just hung around the tide pools. It is a really lovely place, and he was dead set on returning to this spot.
“The first time he said it, I was like ‘OK, the boy likes tide pools.’ And then he said it five more times and when our schedule changed and we were potentially not going to go there, he was like, ‘No! I really want to go to the tide pools.’
“He had gotten neurotically obsessive about this one particular thing, and that is when I connected the dots and realized he was going to propose there.”
But even though she knew Clarke was going to propose at some point on their trip, Wagner said she was caught completely off guard by his timing. “I thought it was going to happen way later in the week. So, it was as much of a surprise as it could be at that point.”
Thanks to the subtle help of one of her girlfriends, Clarke presented her the exact ring she wanted. “I genuinely thought it was just two girlfriends talking about engagement rings when she told me to pull up the exact ring I wanted,” Wagner recalled of the random conversation between her and her friend.
“That was the ring he ended up getting for me. It was everything I wanted. It was very sweet.”
Clarke, 35, is a sixth-grade science teacher at a Boston public school. The couple has a pet lizard, which Wagner noted “is the hit of the school.”
Though they are in the early stages of planning a wedding at this time, Wagner said they will likely marry at Scenic Beach State Park, the place where she thought Clarke was going to propose, and where she has always wanted to get married. However, they are in no hurry and will likely not wed until sometime in 2024.
Both sets of parents are excited about the upcoming nuptials. Wagner said her fiancé is “really great with my family and he is a really nice fit into our dynamic. I am very, very close to my younger brother and it was he who Alex asked if he could marry me, which I thought was a really sweet sentiment.”
Though it took a little time after her initial move in the fall of 2018, Wagner has settled into life in Boston. She is currently a full-time student at Northeastern University and is set to graduate this summer with a degree in psychology.
She also started her own business, Skate & Sculpt, which is based at the Skating Club of Boston’s facility in Norwood, Massachusetts. “I think the reason I am so happy now is because I have completely redefined my relationship with the skating world,” said Wagner.
“I was really burnt out and bitter when I retired, and now I have been able to find a new way to relate that is super fulfilling. I have always loved the sound that your edges make when you are sculpting out the ice and carving into it, so that is where the sculpt part came from.
“Skate & Sculpt is a power skating program I created for mature skaters 18 and up. I started it because when I would get onto freestyle sessions for training I would feel wildly in the way, always dodging young skaters who were working on their double Axels and things like that.
“In that moment, it is their space. They are in the early part of their career and I felt there wasn’t a space just for me.
“Skating needs a space like this because there are not many places to go once you are done skating — and especially for the adult skating community, there are not enough spaces that are specifically for adults.
“I want people to feel like they are stepping into a community, and that they are in a place where they can meet other adults who skate.”
Wagner opened six new locations in the fall of 2021, hiring local coaches to run the classes, which all operate adhering to her set exercise list and programming. “It is growing really fast. It is the coolest job ever,” she said. “I feel like I am living a life that genuinely makes me happy. It is easy to show up every day and appreciate what I have created.”
You can learn more about her classes at skateandsculpt.com.
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