The Louisiana native brings infectious energy and a fighting spirit to each workout.
When Ash Wilking was in the third grade, she completed a questionnaire that asked her age, her favorite color, and what she wanted to be when she grew up. The other kids in her class wanted to be doctors and lawyers. A few even said they wanted to be president. But Ash had a different idea. “I wanted to be a PE teacher,” she says.
Already a few years into her training in taekwondo, Ash wanted to share the thrill of mastering new movements with others. “I personally love learning a new skill,” she says. “And I love being able to help people find a light-bulb moment.”
Now, 25 years after scribbling “PE Teacher” on that paper, Ash is exactly where she is supposed to be, motivating other athletes to complete their workouts and enabling them to feel accomplished and powerful, while also being kind and compassionate with themselves.
We caught up with Ash, one of Tonal’s new New York City coaches, to learn more about the power she draws from athletics, and how she will help you step into yours.
Tell us about your athletic background.
When I was a kid, my parents didn’t really do the whole indoor thing, so I was always outside and always active. I started taekwondo when I was 5, because my parents had put my brother into it, and once I saw him breaking boards in his cool uniform, I wanted to do it, too. I trained taekwondo for 12 years and earned a second-degree black belt. In high school, I played softball and volleyball, and swam and ran track and field. I’m a competitive triathlete. I love to run and cycle, and I love to strength train.
What’s your vibe as a coach?
As a coach, I see myself as your best friend. I’m the person you want to run errands with and chat about life, but I’m also there when you have a task you need to get done, because nobody wants to do hard things by themselves. I want to show up and help you through the tough stuff. I’m always going to bring energy, because I just can’t help myself, but I like to say it’s the energy you didn’t know you needed. I want to meet you wherever you are, and I want to help you step into your power.
Why should we take your class?
I live by the mantra, ‘We are not invincible, but we can be unstoppable.’ When you come to my class, you’re going to do some hard things. And it’s going to remind you that it’s a fleeting moment, and if we fight through it and stick it out, we will make it to the other side. And that applies to all challenges in your life. We all get knocked down. We may even go in reverse at some point. But sooner or later, we’re going to turn the wheel back the other way. We’re not invincible. The good stuff is going to be great. The bad is going to be terrible. But at some point, it all evens out. We can work through it all, and my classes remind you of that.
What are your areas of expertise?
A huge passion of mine is teaching to special populations. My mom is an athlete; she’s an athlete going through breast cancer. My dad is an athlete, but he has Parkinson’s disease now. So, how do I teach those athletes? People who maybe can’t balance, or who have to work out sitting rather than standing, or who have some other limitation. I want to help you work with that limitation and feel strong because of it.
What was one big takeaway from your time in taekwondo?
My sister and I were the only girls in taekwondo where we lived, and that was powerful in itself. We competed against only boys. I learned so much about being strong and athletic, but also about integrity and discipline. I learned how to stand in front of a fight and say no, because it’s not worth it. I also learned the importance of showing up. Taekwondo is not an easy sport to move through. It took me almost 12 years to get my black belt, and that’s an incredible commitment. It was definitely a long game, and it gives me a lot of self-confidence and pride knowing I stuck with it.
You were raised in LaPlace, Louisiana. How has that shaped who you are today?
Growing up in a small-ish town, you realize how little you need and how good that feels. You have everything you need, you’re with your family, you’re outside, whether it be sport, or just riding your bike, or fishing, or whatever. It was simple, and it was a little raw and gritty. I worked in the woodshed with my dad and I welded with my brother, and it taught me to blur the lines around the roles women were supposed to be in and the spaces we are supposed to fit into.
Why are you inspired to help women get over their fear of strength training?
I never want anyone to feel like they’re put into a box, or like they’re stuck in the roles society fed them. As a young girl who was constantly in situations that were deemed “masculine,” I realized that those were just spaces into which I was meant to bring my energy. It’s about finding a space you feel comfortable in, and filling that space with your energy. I want women to feel comfortable lifting weights, being strong, being opinionated, and showing up in spaces they’re afraid of, because they were told they weren’t allowed to be there. To me, strength is the foundation. When you lay it down, you can build anything on top of it, and I want everyone to have that.