Ashley Wagner's life has imitated her art.
The figure-skater has glided across the map virtually nonstop, as if it were an ice-surface, completing each move, each landing with poise and purpose.
The daughter of an Army officer, Wagner spent her childhood in Germany, California, Alaska, Kansas, Washington and Virginia.
When skating became her life, she trained for several years in Delaware at the Skating Club of Wilmington, then, three years ago when she changed coaches, moved back to California.
Through all those relocations, the ice has been her only real home.
"I'm so proud to be an Army brat," Wagner said, "but it was not an easy life. Moving around so much, skating was that one constant thing I had to hold onto."
Now, at 22, she has traveled to the brink of a dream -- an appearance at next month's 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Barring injury or unanticipated calamity this weekend, Wagner will be named to the U.S. team Sunday. In the meantime, starting with Friday's short program at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships that begin Thursday in Boston, she will attempt to become the first American woman since Michelle Kwan to win three consecutive national titles.
A teenage Wagner got to this same point four years ago. But a subpar performance at nationals left her four points shy of a trip to Vancouver.
"That was absolutely devastating for me," she said.
Four years wiser now, Wagner said that experience should benefit her at the Boston event, which will conclude Sunday with the men's finals and the naming of the 15-member Olympic figure-skating team.
"In 2010, I was 17 or 18 and thought, 'Yeah, the Olympics, that might happen,' " she said. "Now I'm set on making it a reality. I've taken all the thoughtful steps to get there.
"My approach for nationals is that, while no doubt this is a huge event, if you make it that in your mind, it becomes unbearable. So just make it another day at the rink and it's cool."
Things have not been so cool for America's female skaters of late. Asians have won six of the last seven world championships and the two most recent Olympics.
No U.S. women medaled at Vancouver in 2010, the first time that's happened since 1964. In fact, none has shown up on an Olympic or world championship podium since 2006. That's America's lengthiest drought at worlds since the 1930s.
While this could be another medal-free Olympics for American women, Wagner should be their top contender in Russia.
"The U.S. ladies team needs a medalist," Wagner admitted. "For this sport to be able to survive and keep going on, we need a medalist. We need that for interest in the sport."
Her chief competition this weekend figures to come from a trio of teenagers -- the aptly named Gracie Gold, who finished sixth, one spot behind Wagner, at the 2013 Worlds; Agnes Zawadski, and Christina Gao.
"I'm on a mission," said Gold, who skates with a charisma that some of her competitors lack. "I'm giving it everything I've got. No holding back."
Also battling for spots will be the top two U.S. finishers at Vancouver, Mirai Nagasu (fourth) and 2010 national champion Rachael Flatt (seventh).
In addition to the three women, the U.S. also will be sending two men to Sochi along with two pairs and three ice-dance teams. All but the men will be revealed Sunday afternoon. The male announcement will come after competition concludes that evening.
Ironically, it's the dance discipline, in which no American duo has ever won a gold medal, that will provide the nation's best bet for one at these Olympics.
The team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White, which captured the most recent world championships and earned a silver medal at the 2010 Games, is expected to cruise in Boston.
Davis and White, who train in Michigan with the Vancouver gold medalists -- Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir -- have won the last five Grand Prix events.
With Evan Lysacek missing because of a torn labrum in his left hip, the U.S. men also will arrive in Sochi with long-shot hopes. At Boston, three-time national champ Jeremy Abbott, Max Aaron, Adam Rippon and Ross Miner will battle it out for the two available spots.
Aaron, a former hockey player who made the sporting switch after he broke his back, is the defending national champion who, if he's hitting the difficult jumps he favors, could repeat.
Miner, the only American to earn a medal at each of the last three national championships, is a native Bostonian.
His routine is meant to evoke the toughness his hometown exhibited in the Boston Marathon bombing's aftermath, something that could bring down TD Garden's roof during Sunday's free skate.
Among the pairs, none of which are expected to contenders at Sochi, reigning titlists Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir will defend. Top challengers include Caydee Denny and John Coughlin and Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim.
The championships begin Thursday with the men's and pairs short programs. Ice dancers and the women start on Friday. All but the men's competition will conclude Saturday.
Wagner, meanwhile, is counting on a beefed-up program -- one that includes more of the difficult combination jumps essential for success in the sport's complex point system -- to carry her this weekend and beyond.
"(In 2010) I came as close as I could to achieving my dream," she said. "That just wasn't my day. I wasn't good enough.
"It was one of the worst and best things to happen to me ... I don't think I was ready to be an Olympian. But because of all that disappointment and downfall, I was able to become national champion."
(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services