Clarksville, TN – Winners all say the same thing. “This is all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
Meet Ashleigh Edlin. The pride of Woodlawn, Tennessee.
Iowa Hawkeye.“Egg,” as she’s known around these parts, or “Smash” to her Iowa teammates (nobody knows why), is one of those people who knew at an early age what she wanted to do, and the sport that would not only define and shape her body, it would also mold her character and teach her more about life than she ever imagined.
It would also bring her family together in a way that most people only dream about. Making the sacrifices necessary to be your very best, and investing in each other in a way that brings rewards far more important than winning games, or “sticking the landing.”
Ashleigh Edlin is the youngest of three children born to Charlie and Dianne Edlin. Along with her two brothers, Chuck and Tyler, the Edlins live on thirty acres of beautiful Woodlawn Tennessee heaven.
Charlie, a building supplies sales representative, and Dianne, a bookkeeper in the school system, worked their butts off and poured everything they had into their family. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t cheap, but they made it work. It’s what you do. These are your kids.
After work and school, their days were consumed with sports. Charlie and the boys would be at the ballpark, while Dianne and Ashleigh were at the gym. Chuck and Tyler would grow up to be fine young men, and played baseball through high school and college.
Ashleigh, wanted to be at the gym. There was something about cartwheels and handstands that she loved, and the extended “family” she found there made her feel like she was part of something. Something special. It was hers. This is where she belonged.
“I wanted to play softball, but when I was 7 I realized I was getting better at gymnastics and I really liked it, so I started to concentrate on that” said Ashleigh.
Her mother agreed.
“I could tell how good she was getting because they would give her this skill sheet and they could check off what skills she had. The more she mastered her skill set, they would move her up, and eventually she made “team.”” “Plus, the other mothers would point to Ashleigh and say, “I want my daughter to be like her.””
Clarksville Elite Gymnastics not only prepared Ashleigh for Iowa, but they’ve trained other Clarksville gymnasts who have moved on to the collegiate level. Hannah Lee and Steffi Heuer are members of the Division III National Championship Gymnastics team at Wisconsin/Whitewater, and they trained with Corrigan.
So how did Charlie and Dianne make this all work?
“There were days where I would come home, throw something on the table for the boys and tell them to eat it, and off to baseball practice we would go” said Charlie. “I lost count of how many frozen pizzas and grilled cheese sandwiches we ate.”
Dianne would arrange for someone to take Ashleigh to the gym, then she would meet her there after work. “At first, it was one day per week. Then two. Then we were there 4-5 days per week, four hours per day” said Dianne. “In the beginning, I would stay and watch, talking to the other moms and such. But when her training went to four hours per session, I would go for long walks, run errands or go to the mall to kill time.”
Charlie doesn’t know how much money they’ve spent or how many miles they’ve traveled, but it’s a lot. “I just worked, gave my paycheck to Dianne, and she took care of it,” he would say. “It was a lot,” said Dianne. “But who better to spend it on but your kids?”
“Dianne has a nine-year old car and it has over 190,000 miles on it,” according to Charlie. “We’ve logged a lot of miles, and eaten a lot of pizza, but it’s been worth it. If I never ate another grilled cheese sandwich, it would be too soon.”
“It’s all about what your definition of normal is” said Ashleigh. “This is normal to me. My best friends are at the gym. This is what I love to do. When I was younger, I had my eyes on the Olympics, but I had gotten too old and would have had to move to work with an “elite” coach. I wanted to be in show choir at Clarksville Academy, but I always had a competition and would have to miss the big Steak Dinner Fundraiser, so I couldn’t do that. I don’t think I missed out on anything growing up. This IS normal to me.”
The road to Iowa City Iowa wasn’t easy. Collegiate gymnastics teams have their pick of the very best in the country. There aren’t that many programs available, so it’s difficult to make it to a top program, much less earn a scholarship.
Ashleigh’s coach, Larry Corrigan, connected her with the Iowa program, and head coach Larissa Libby, a former Olympic gymnast herself. “Ashleigh definitely had all the skills and she had great potential” said Libby. “Her grades were good, and she was committed to the sport. What we look for at Iowa though, is someone who can become part of our family-who fits in well with the other team members and is dedicated to the sport. That is Ashleigh Edlin. Not to mention she has a great family and is a wonderful young lady.”
“I visited Illinois State and Iowa” said Ashleigh. “But I fell in love with Iowa. The girls were wonderful and they welcomed me when I visited. I just felt like this is where I wanted to be, and I love it.”
Women’s gymnastics involves four disciplines-the balance beam, the vault, uneven bars, and floor exercise. To be a top “all around” gymnast, you must master these four exercises. Ashleigh’s strength is the balance beam. She’s one of the best, and it was an injury that helped her become so good at it. She broke her hand.
“I was doing a double back flip when my hand slipped away from my leg, and I knew I wasn’t going to land properly, so I stuck my hand out to break my fall, and broke it” she described. ‘While I was recovering from that injury, the only thing I could practice was my balance beam.”
Coach Libby agrees. “When we were evaluating Ashleigh, we could see she was very good on beam, and when you find a kid who likes that exercise, and is good at it, you want her in your program. She performed very well this past year for us and we expect bigger and better things from her this year.”
“She’s one of the best balance beam gymnasts I’ve seen at my gym” said Corrigan. “When she injured her hand, all she could do was practice her beam and she gained confidence and strength and it became her best exercise.”
The hard work and dedication to the balance beam paid off for “Egg.” She has a move named after her, the “Edlin Salto.” The Edlin Salto is a standing back-flip on the balance beam, while landing on one foot, with the other leg extended parallel to the beam. It’s officially recognized in the gymnastics Code of Conduct. So her legacy will always be that move,
But, being the perfectionist she admits that she is, Ashleigh is not satisfied with just being a balance beam specialist. “I want to be an all around gymnast” she says. ” I want to be the best at floor, vault and the bars. I won’t be satisfied until I’m an all-around gymnast.”
Last season, Iowa was a very young team. The team was dominated by freshmen, like Ashleigh. They will be returning this year, and their experience is expected to help them improve dramatically over last year. Ashleigh is excited to return to Iowa City.
“We go to every competition” said Dianne. “It’s a nine hour drive, but we wouldn’t miss it. I get goose-bumps when I see her in that Iowa uniform, competing in front of thousands of people.”
“I’ve learned more about gymnastics in the past year than ever before” said Charlie. “I never really got into the nuts and bolts of the sport until she landed at Iowa. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Ashleigh is in the Iowa Pre-Med curriculum and has her sights set on becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
So while we celebrate her accomplishments, and look forward to watching her perform, we also celebrate what a fine “all around” woman she has become. It’s the end result of the love and sacrifice of a family that wouldn’t let anything get in the way of their children’s success. And a coach who believed in her, and made her the best gymnast she could be.
Ashleigh Edlin. Homegrown Hawkeye.
Now, for some reason, I’m craving a grilled-cheese sandwich.
Editors Note: Thanks go to the University of Iowa Sports Information Department, Larry Corrigan of Clarksville Elite Gymnastics, Coach Larissa Libby, Charlie and Dianne Edlin, Ashleigh Edlin and Michael Rios.