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If you like Tenley Albright's story, you might also like:
Keith Black,
Susan Butcher,
Francis Ford Coppola,
Dorothy Hamill,
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Willem Kolff,
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Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Tenley Albright in the Achievement Curriculum section:
The Amazing Olympic Games

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Tenley Albright
Tenley Albright
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Tenley Albright Interview (page: 3 / 5)

Olympic Gold Medal Figure Skater

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  Tenley Albright

Tenley Albright Interview Photo
Was there something about your growing up that simply masked the fact that there are human limitations from you?

Tenley Albright: I don't think any of us really understands the extent of what we can do, and what we are capable of doing. Maybe when I was diagnosed with polio, getting through that, being one of the lucky ones who did get through it, was what changed it for me and made me appreciate things. It made me realize, wow, it's amazing, we can put one foot in front of the other, we can run up stairs. Another time that occurred to me was when we studied physiology in medical school. I can remember very clearly after our physiology class running up a whole series of stairs outside the main building at Harvard Medical School and thinking, "Whoops! Which muscles are doing what?" And I almost tripped. Again and again, I am reminded that we can do more than we think we can.

Tenley Albright Interview Photo
One place that really struck me was when I was out on the ice at a competition. My name had been called, and I was standing alone on the ice, realizing it's my turn, this is it, there is nobody else out here, here we go! And then my music started. And as soon as my music started, I settled right down, felt like responding to the music, forgot that I should be nervous. But I also can clearly remember which ones of my friends were sitting at different parts of the ice. And I was conscious of the surface of the ice, and where there were holes, whether my music was the right speed, whether my foot was in the right position for the next jump, and hundreds of things were going through my mind. And that evening afterwards, I thought, we can't just think of one thing at a time. Our brains can think of many things at once. We have to realize that. We shouldn't make ourselves ignore everything. Yes focus, but be receptive to other things. Again and again, we are reminded that we can do a lot more than we think we can. Also, even though it doesn't always work, we certainly ought to try.

When you were competing internationally, how far into the future did you look?

Tenley Albright: It scares me when I hear people say, "My daughter is going to be an Olympic swimming champion some day," or when a young skater says to me, "Some day I want to win the world championships." It's nice to have motivation. It's important that it be motivation from within, and not from a coach or friend or family. But I would bet you that most people who have succeeded, even though they had an idea of what they wanted to do, didn't just say, "I want to be... " and then name a title, or say "happy" or something like that. I bet it's because they loved what they were doing. It certainly was for me.

When I was standing on the podium, outdoors in the mountains with the spotlights the night they gave out the Olympic gold medal, I could hardly believe it. I suddenly felt as if I knew everybody in the United States. I had such a feeling that it was my country, and felt as if I'd had such wonderful support from people who had written me.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

Tenley Albright Interview Photo
You do it because you love what you are doing. And you don't say I want to be a certain way or a certain type. It's more a feeling from within, seeing what you can do.

Once my English professor in high school had said, "Why are you doing something as frivolous as a sport like skating? If you are interested in medicine, why don't you just stop doing something so silly?" And I thought, he had a point, but at the same time, I wouldn't be any use to anybody at the age of fifteen as a physician, and I mentioned it to my grandmother afterwards. And I said, "You know, it does sound silly, and it does sound as if I'm doing it just for my own fun." And she said:

You have an obligation to do the best you can with whatever you've got. And if you like to do a sport, and you can do part of it well, that's a way of expressing what God gave you.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

And each of us needs to do that in whatever field it is. Looking back now, I think she was right. because when I wanted to be in medicine, it made me feel the same way. And then when I found I was interested in surgery, one of my friends said, "Tenley, how can you stand to be in surgery? How can you stand the sight of blood?" And I thought, well, I can't. I don't like the sight of blood any more than anybody else. But I feel I have to do something about it.

I think I was motivated to do surgery because I had some feeling inside me that maybe I could do it a little bit gentler spare a little bit more blood loss, be conscious that explaining to a patient beforehand what it would be like afterwards might help them recover a little faster. I wanted to have an influence. I wanted to have an effect. And that motivated me to go ahead and see what I could do. And try my hardest at it.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Tenley Albright Interview Photo
You seem to indicate that by skating as you did at the age of fifteen, you were not only expressing yourself but you were contributing to something. I mean, fifteen year-olds skate, they don't do surgery. But in a sense of contributing to something, what do you think it was that you contributed to?

Tenley Albright: When I had learned to do certain things skating, and did well in a few competitions, I found that I might be asked to show some of the other children some jumps. Or sometimes at a skating rink, children would come to me and say, "Tenley, will you show me how to do this or that?" And that was really fun, I liked that. And also, a number of things happened that I could never have anticipated. When I won the Junior National Competition at the age of fifteen, I was invited to do all sorts of things that I wouldn't have had a chance to do otherwise. I was invited to do things like pass out athletic awards for children, and one thing I remember very clearly was the first time I ever visited a reform school for girls. It was quite a moving experience for me.

Tenley Albright Interview Photo
Because I saw children younger than I was, and my own age too, who had terrible situations, bad luck. Whatever the cause, they had been in all sorts of trouble. But yet, in speaking to them absolutely normally, you could see that there was a common bond. They were just as interested in some of the things I was, and afterwards I was very touched when some of the people who had taken me there told me that some of the girls I had talked to had refused to speak to anybody before that. And I suddenly thought, you know, things like sport are a common language.

Tenley Albright Interview Photo
And I later saw that at the Olympics, where all the competitors from all over the world were there for the same purpose; you feel as if you know each other. You don't pay attention to different political backgrounds, or even to language barriers. You feel as if you know each other, and there is a very healthy bond through your sport. So things that you do that have to do with your sport can affect all other parts of your life too.

You told us earlier what it felt like to stand in the spotlight at Cortina. If that was the highest point, if that was the most memorable moment in your skating career, tell us a little more about what that felt like. If it wasn't, what was the most intense experience you ever had as a skater?

Tenley Albright: You may not like to hear this, but when I was standing on the podium, and they were just about to hand me my Olympic gold medal, I thought, "This feels just like that first Eastern Juvenile Championship." Because the emotions were pretty strong at that very first one -- no matter how local or how little that competition was.

One of the most intense experiences that I had skating also occurred at the Olympics, and that was when, outdoors, in the middle of the championship, in the finals, when I was in the middle of my program, doing the free skating, in Italy, one part of my music was the Barcarole from Tales of Hoffman by Offenbach. The entire audience started humming my music. And it was just an overwhelming feeling of being close to everybody, whether you knew them or not. And it really spurred me on for the last tiring minute and a half of my program.

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This page last revised on Feb 06, 2008 15:45 EDT
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