Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc were in two different places and two different spaces. Cain was contemplating the end of her singles career in Texas while LeDuc was traveling the world performing on cruise ships.
Neither was completely satisfied with what they were doing and in May 2016, at the suggestion of U.S. Figure Skating (USFS) officials, they got together to work on some moves. “When USFS suggested I have a tryout with Timothy I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue pairs again,” Cain said. “After my partnership with Joshua (Reagan) ended I focused on singles for four and a half years and I thought that last season was possibly going to be my final one.
“We started warming up off the ice and doing lifts, and I think that that was when I knew that this was what I wanted to be doing. As soon as Timothy lifted me into the air I was like, ‘I miss this feeling. This feels good.’”
After LeDuc split from his former partner DeeDee Leng in 2014, he stepped away from his competitive career and turned to show skating. “I had run out of funds for my training and that was a large part of the reason why I decided to stop skating competitively,” he explained. “I was really burnt out and was at the limit. I had totally lost my love of skating. The idea of skating on cruise ships was pitched to me and I decided that it was something I would like to pursue.”
LeDuc toured for 20 months, sailing through the Mediterranean, Scandinavia and the Caribbean. On his second contract, his sister, Leah, with whom he first began skating after watching the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, joined the cast. “It was such a cool experience, doing something that we both loved together,” LeDuc said. “It really helped bring back the joy of skating for me.
“After my sister and I finished our contracts in March 2016, I decided that I wanted to compete again. I felt like I had more to give to the sport and I thought it would be great to push myself to that next level and see what I could do.” LeDuc was surprised by the federation’s suggestion to try out with Cain. “When I contacted them, I wasn’t sure I would be able to find a partner with that much talent and ability, so I was really excited before the tryout,” he said.
Though he knew Cain could jump and execute throws, he needed to “lift her and feel her above me in the air to see how the balance would work and how she held herself in the air,” he recalled. “The minute we did that first press lift on the floor — in my mind — it was like ‘done!’”
Cain and LeDuc made it official on May 30 and choreographer Serge Onik began crafting new programs for them.
At the beginning of the season, the USFS wanted Cain to skate both pairs and singles because they thought she could be successful in both. But Cain called an end to that after Mid Atlantics in September, which she described as a Zamboni fest. “I realized that my body couldn’t handle doing both disciplines at such a high level. I wanted to devote all my energy to pairs and I am 100 percent happy with my decision.”
They followed up a fourth-place finish in their international debut at the 2016 Nebelhorn Trophy, and repeated that result three weeks later at Finlandia Trophy. In early December, the duo captured their first international medal, a bronze at Golden Spin in Zagreb, Croatia.
The next stop was the 2017 U.S. Championships in January. “Heading into nationals, only being together seven months, we wanted to skate well and just have a positive experience,” LeDuc said. “And we wanted to end up on the podium and be named to the Four Continents or World teams.”
A solid performance in the short had them in first place. Though they made a few mistakes in the long program, which left them in third place overall, Cain said they were proud of each other. “Going into the competition we were totally fine backstage, but I think that a bit of physical and mental fatigue set in halfway through the long program,” Cain explained.
“It was an incredible feeling,” said LeDuc. “I was so excited and grateful to be back that I wasn’t even thinking so much about the competition. A year ago, I was watching nationals on a ship in the Bahamas.”
The medal ceremony at the U.S. Championships was the highlight of their season. “When they announced our names, I turned to Timothy and said, ‘We just medaled at nationals.’ It was crazy,” Cain said with a laugh.
“My whole family was screaming so loudly,” LeDuc recalled. “They actually apologized afterward, but I didn’t care; it was just so cool to have them all there sharing that moment with Ashley and me.”
Cain and LeDuc closed out their debut season with a ninth-place finish at Four Continents in February.