US aerialist Caldwell eyeing Sochi after torn ACLs

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 7, 2014 at 4:43 pm •  Published: January 7, 2014

Ashley Caldwell felt her left leg twist underneath her as she hit the ground. She heard the pop in her knee as the ACL ripped to shreds and understood right away what it meant.

Another long rehab. Another season of competition lost. Another hurdle in the budding aerialist's increasingly long path to Sochi.

But mostly the thought that kept running through the mind of ever blunt, ever optimistic Caldwell as she lay on the snow in Park City, Utah on Dec. 20, 2012 was, "Are you serious?"

"I felt gypped," Caldwell said with a combination of sarcasm and exasperation.

A year earlier Caldwell had torn the ACL in her right knee at the same venue. Now here she was, 363 days later, at the bottom of the same hill with the same searing pain in the one good knee she had left.

Forgive her if she can't help but laugh at the absurdity of it all.

"I had worked so hard, I came back, I qualified for jumps," she said. "I'm at the point where I'm not scared and I felt really confident and now here I am looking at going through the whole process again. It felt like it was very unfair."

And maybe unavoidable.

When Caldwell went in for her second surgery, her doctor admitted the channel for her right anterior cruciate ligament was so shallow, he figured there was a better than 50/50 chance she'd end up on the operating table again with the ACL in her left knee ripped to pieces. He took no joy in being right.

Funny, Caldwell has kind of enjoyed proving the doubters — including the ones inside her own head — wrong.

A month away from Sochi, Caldwell is in the mix to make her second U.S. Olympic team, just like she always planned after finishing 10th in Vancouver four years ago.

She was runner-up at a World Cup stop in China in her first event back in mid-December and will have three opportunities over the next two weeks to make a pretty compelling case to be on the plane when it heads to Russia in early February.

Heady territory for somebody who spent the bulk of her time during the Olympic cycle away from the snow. The former gymnast from Hamilton, Va., went nearly two years between competitions working mostly on water ramps that offer a decidedly more gentle landing experience than the side of a mountain. And she'd be lying if she said she attacks her sport with the same fearlessness that made her the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic freestyle team in Vancouver.

"I know I'm scared," she said. "But you try and constantly take all the things that you've done to help you understand that you don't need to be scared and apply them, but it's still scary."