In Honor of Tenley Albright’s Birthday

Today, July 18, marks the 84th birthday of Tenley Albright. Born in 1935, Tenley Albright was a trailblazer in U.S. figure skating, becoming the first American lady to win an Olympic title (1956), as well as the first to win a World championship (1953, 1955). Albright captured a total of six World and Olympic medals in her career, as well as five National titles. Albright’s success–together with that of her contemporary, Dick Button–signaled the United States’ coming of age as a competitive force in the figure skating world.

Albright-in-competition
Tenley Albright in her competitive days

After her Olympic victory, Albright left competitive figure skating to focus on her education. Here again she was a trailblazer, graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1961 and becoming a surgeon during an era when women represented only 6% or less of the average medical school class. She practiced surgery for 23 years, raising three daughters along the way.

Today, Tenley Albright continues to live in the Boston area, as she has for most of her life, and remains connected to the figure skating world and to her home club, the Skating Club of Boston. Recently, I heard Albright speak at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Skating Club’s new facility. As I listened to Albright and saw her chatting with others at the event, I was struck by her joy and vitality. Still lovely and radiant, more than 60 years after her Olympic victory, it seems she was destined to brighten our world in multiple ways. 

In honor of Tenley Albright’s 84th birthday, I thought I’d share some of the text of her speech at the Skating Club groundbreaking event. Although the speech was short, she shared some great memories from her early skating days.

 

Teny Albright’s speech:  Skating Club of Boston groundbreaking event

I just couldn’t picture the Skating Club not being on Soldiers Field Road. It just didn’t seem … possible. But today, I’ve changed my mind. (Laughter from crowd.) Just think–Ice Chips could be here! And Ice Chips was what got me interested in skating. 

During World War II, my mother took me over to see Ice Chips at the Skating Club. And I remember watching Jane and Sally McGonagle, and Gretchen Merrill, who was our National champion. And she was having so much fun on the ice, and it looked like flying. I said to my mother, “I’d like to try that.” Well, there was gas rationing, so I could only go rarely at that time. But of course, the more I did it, the more I went, the more I wanted to. 

And not only Ice Chips, but after I had polio, skating was my rehab. The doctors had told my parents that parents wouldn’t let their children play with me. Because at that time, we didn’t know what caused polio, how it was contracted, what was the treatment, and so on. And I clearly remember that front right corner of the ice, that seemed so big, and I remember going hand over hand along the rail of the ice. And I loved it. And it was so special to me. 

SCOB-pic-albright-hamilton
Tenley Albright at the Skating Club groundbreaking event, with Scott Hamilton and Benjamin T. Wright

And then there was another National champion at the Club, Joan Tozzer. When I was 11, I got the Joan Tozzer award for most improvement. Well, my parents told me years later that they’d looked at each other and said: “How will Tenley ever spend $400 on skating lessons?” (More laughs.) 

And during the competitive years, just the support you felt from your friends–from everybody at the Skating Club–was terrific. I remember at the send-offs … at that time, we had to sit upstairs and have our dinner, and then run down and put our skates on and do our competitive programs. That was a little hard. I know that’s changed now:  You skate before you eat. (Laughter.) 

Those early mornings … I’d call the Skating Club after ten o’clock at night. And if [the ice] wasn’t sold at four o’clock, five o’clock, or six o’clock in the morning, for hockey, they’d let me go skate. And watch the sun rise. We’d do all sorts of silly things. We’d put on music and try things I would never want anybody to see. And that was very special. 

It’s always been so special.  But it’s not just for the skating. The Skating Club has been a real community. A community of mothers and fathers. A community for all the skaters, and the coaches, and anybody interested in skating. Sometimes we forget that part, but it’s not just the skaters themselves. And of course, that brings to mind the families we lost. Maribel Vinson and her family, and our other precious families, in 1961 [in the Sabena Air plane crash]. 

The Skating Club of Boston has always been known for its excellence and for the specialness of skating. At a National Championships, there was a complaint against me from the coaches and parents of one of my competitors, because they said my name was announced louder than theirs … “The Skating Club of Boston!” So it’s always been recognized, not just by us, but all over the world. And it’s very hard not to go through every memory that we have here, while we’re all together. I know we’ve been doing that today.  

You can visit this page for a short biography of Tenley Albright:  https://mynameistenley.com/about-tenley-albright/.

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