Adam Rippon Says Ashley Wagner Put Rivalry with Gracie Gold Aside to Support Skater's Health Battle
The Olympic skater revealed to PEOPLE that he felt Wagner speaking up about Gold's mental health "meant the world to her."
Last week, Gold — a U.S. figure skating champion and Olympic medalist — opened up for the first time about her battle with depression and eating disorder that led her to withdraw from the competitive skating circuit and even contemplate suicide.
The 29-year-old Olympic bronze medalist revealed to PEOPLE that he, along with Gold’s longtime competitor, Wagner, 27, reached out to the skating star after hearing about her health battles.
However, he says Wagner’s intervention had a big impact and “meant the world to Gold” because the women were often pitted against each other in competitions, including the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships.
“I’ve known Gracie for a while so of course, I reached out and we talked and I did what I thought [I should do], but I didn’t know the severity,” he told PEOPLE.
“I think Ashley knew just as much as I did, but the difference is that when Ashley reached out, it was one of your competitors who you have this huge rivalry with, who wants to beat you, and she wants you to have no success [and she’s] reaching out to make sure you’re okay,” he explained of Wagner, who is also one of his best friends.
“I think that meant the world to [Gracie],” Rippon continued. “Ashley didn’t see her competitor — she saw a girl in trouble and she wanted to make sure she was okay. I think when there’s a rivalry, you put up this wall because all of these people are like, ‘That’s your rival, that’s your competitor,’ and I think that they put it all aside.”
He also added that the athletes had “an intimate bond” because of their shared experiences on and off the rink and noted that nobody else would understand what Gold was going through at that time other than Wagner.
“They’re the only two girls who share those experiences,” he said. “They share such an intimate bond together.”
“I think it says a lot about Ashley that she reached out and it says a lot about Gracie that she talked about it,” he added. “They’re both incredible people.”
Gold, 23, eventually sought out professional help and has since returned to the sport, but Rippon believes that sharing her story, which he said Gold was “incredibly brave” for doing, will benefit the greater good beyond the world of skating.
“For Gracie to share her story like that… it’s gonna help people see signs of depression and anxiety, and it’s going to help people who are going through that — that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Though Rippon has stepped away from the professional skating world — he officially retired from the sport in November —he’s been staying busy, most recently partnering with Vicks DayQuil and NyQuil with VapoCOOL and working on his upcoming memoir.
The athlete, who said he’s always “dreamed” of writing a book but never thought would happen, believes it comes at a great point in his life.
“I thought what better time in my life to write a book right now?” he told PEOPLE. “I’m going through this big transition of basically leaving my job of 20 years — the only one I’ve had — and trying to do something completely different.”
“And at the same time, not lose who I am and keep all the lessons that I learned through my sporting career,” he added.
The book, which is expected to hit bookshelves in Fall 2019, will take readers through Rippon’s life before he became a fan-favorite at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, his experience as a professional skater, and his plans for the future.
“I think a lot of people were introduced to me at the Olympics and they saw this fully grown, evolved, big-mouthed kid from Pennsylvania who lives in Los Angeles now,” he explained of what he’s most excited for his fans to read.
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“And that’s amazing,” he continued. “But I think they will find a lot of humor in the way I grew up and in my family situations and different situations I got into and the people I’ve had throughout my life. Not only shaped who I was, but also the sense of humor I have now and how I’ve used humor to get through tough times.”
“I think it will be really interesting to share all of those stories,” he added, “and I think a lot of people — whether they’re into skating or not — will find some comedy in it.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.