A student driven to succeed on the snow -- and in the salon
Someday Alissah Ashline is determined to stand on a podium at the top professional level of the demanding winter sport she loves. But I found her standing with the same determination in a classroom at the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center, a pair of crutches at her side, carefully placing rollers in the hair of a mannequin’s head. 

Alissah, who is 18, grew up in Hartland and powered her way through her academic requirements at Windsor High School last year. That left her in a position to spend her senior year as a full-time student in the Cosmetology program at the HACTC. 

Alissah with her cousin in the chair.

The standard she has set for herself as a Cosmetologist, as in all things, is high.

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“I want to be the best at this,” she said.

That intensity of purpose also explains her winter sports passion -- and her crutches. Alissah was with her family in Minnesota earlier this winter, practicing for a national women’s snocross race, when she went over a jump. In landing, she jammed her left leg and broke her tibia.

“It wasn’t really a bad crash at all,” she said. “I just kind of laid there and my knee hurt, but I didn’t really know why I couldn’t move it. I thought I just jammed it.”

She talks about her injury in a matter-of-fact and more-than-slightly annoyed tone. After all, it brought an abrupt end to what would have been only her fifth racing season -- and the first in which her goal of establishing herself among the top women racers in the country seemed within reach. 

Snocross is a form of snowmobile racing in which drivers push their high-powered sleds through lap after lap of jumps and tight turns. Winning takes a combination of no-room-for-error, no-time-to-think judgments and peak physical conditioning as you wrestle your sled through races that can last many laps.  

“It’s a very dangerous sport, hence my broken leg,” she said. “... A lot of people think you’re just sitting on the snowmobile, squeezing the throttle. I hate when people say that because it’s not close to the truth.”

Alissah grew up trail riding with her parents, Nick and Amy, and her younger brother Adam. She took to that early -- in a terrifying sort of way. She was a toddler about to head off for a ride with her mom when Amy stepped off the sled for a moment. Alissah reached for the throttle and goosed it. The sled leapt across the yard as she flew off the back. “My dad looked out the window and all he saw was a snowmobile going across the lawn. I was just sitting in the snow.”

It started early ...

An uncle who was into snocross got her brother racing when he was 8. It’s a sport that consumes weekends, leaving Alissah no choice but to come along. “I had no interest in racing,” she said. “I was like, ‘Nope. I don’t want any part of it.’ ”

She was 14 when another racing family prevailed upon her to try it, just once -- and what a rush! “I’m pretty sure I got last,” she said. “But I loved it. I was like, ‘I don’t know why I waited so long to try this.’ ”

What followed was a rapid climb toward the top. In her first year, racing against women in what’s called the sport class, she took third for the season on the regional circuit; the next year she won the championship.

In her third year she jumped to the professional level on an independent snocross team, racing for Ski-doo. And in year four, she started racing for Ingles Performance, and crushed the regional circuit, winning the championship.

“I won 10 out of 13 finals that season, and the rest I crashed in,” she said. “I was going to win or crash trying. That was my goal.”

With this season, her fifth, her focus shifted to competing at the national level. Her goal: place in the Top 5 for the season, with a spot on the podium in the Top 3 as often as she could. In her first race she took first in two qualifying heats and fourth in the final. 

Then came the broken leg, ending her season just as it began. She is undaunted, already thinking through her rehab workout plan and looking to next year. “When you’re hungry to win,” she said, “and you want to win so bad, you just don’t want to give up.”

That win-or-crash standard was set by her father, Nick, and it’s lifting her brother Adam up the men’s side of snocross racing too. “My dad’s a great coach,” she said. “... He’s pretty hard on me and my brother, but it’s a good thing. He just knows what we’re capable of and wants to see it.”

It’s a team effort. Her mother, Amy, is “the nice one in the family who keeps the peace.” And together her parents have poured untold hours and dollars into their children and the sport. Ski-doo aside, she said, “My parents are my sponsors. They’re my full ride. They could have bought a brand new house with all the money they spent with us in racing.”

Balancing school and racing hasn’t been easy. “What’s really cool about my Cosmetology classroom is we move at our own pace,” Alissah said. Attending as she does all-day, she can push her skills as far and as fast as she chooses. Her teacher, Mrs. Dunham, blends training in techniques with instruction in the business side of running a salon. Alissah’s family comes to the classroom for practice haircuts.

By the time Alissah graduates this June, she figures she’ll have amassed most of the 1,500 hours she needs for state licensing.

You might wonder why she is preparing for a career in Cosmetology when her racing is still on the rise. It’s largely because an imbalance in prize money makes it difficult for a woman to pursue the sport into their adult years. “Snocross for me isn’t a long-term career, but more of a passionate hobby,” Alissah said. 

And as for now, she’s found a way to bring her two careers together, by cutting hair on race weekends. “I know how busy you are when you’re racing,” she said. “I want other people who have busy lives like me to get their hair cut too.”


The post was written by Mark Travis for Story Kitchen Creative.


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