Bradie Tennell vaulted herself into Olympic contention when she took bronze at Skate America in November — her first-ever Grand Prix event. In January, she stunned the skating world as she captured the U.S. national champion title and a spot on the Olympic team. Her score at nationals was high enough to set a new U.S. record. Tennell won the 2018 U.S. national title ahead of Mirai Nagasu (silver medalist) and Karen Chen (bronze medalist)
Here’s more about the 20-year-old’s background, skating career and life.
1. Tennell Has Been Skating Since 2 Years Old
Tennell began learning to skate as a two-year-old after asking her mother to let her try the sport. She remembers wanting to skate, but has no idea what sparked her interest.
“I don’t even know how I figured out what skating was,” she told People. “My parents were in between houses at the time and I just kept begging my mom to go ice skating. She looked it up in the yellow pages, for the closest rink. And she took me to go skating.”
Tennell soon connected with her coach of 10 years, Denise Myers. Her breakout moment came in 2015 when she won the junior national title after finishing fourth the year prior. However, Tennell’s career has had its ups and downs. A few months after winning gold, she suffered a back injury and spent the summer in a back brace. Tennell returned in the late summer of 2015, but the injury reoccurred the following year.
“I really just hung onto the fact I knew it wasn’t a career-ending injury, and people come back from far worse, and I’m not one to shy away from a challenge,” she told Chicago Tonight.
Tennell focused on her off-ice recovery efforts, taking up Pilates and intense physical therapy, in order to come back the next season. Tennell stayed off the ice until early September 2016.
2. Tennell Trains in Chicago With Coach Denise Myers
Tennell was born on January 31, 1998 in Winfield, Illinois. While many competitive skaters move across the country for elite training, Tennell has remained in Chicago with her longtime coach Denise Myers.
“My philosophy has kind of been ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it,’” Tennell told NBC. “I have great people surrounding me here [in the Chicago area] and I like being here. All my friends are here. I didn’t really see the point of moving and changing my entire lifestyle when what I’m doing here is working. I never felt the need to move somewhere else.”
Tennell explained to GOLD athlete magazine that her longstanding relationship with Myers adds to her comfort and ease during a competition:
When you stick with one person they get to know you and know what works for you. I feel like that’s important in a competitive setting because everybody has his or her own way of prepping for a competition. You’re in this big and highly competitive setting and you’re obviously going to be nervous, but you don’t have to worry about what your coach is thinking of you. Your coach is used to how you prepare because you’ve been with them for so long. The comfort level is there. We’re familiar with each other.
Tennell, like many competitive skaters, has a 501(c) tax deductible fund for receiving public donations to offset the cost of her Olympic training and travel costs.
3. Tennell Won Bronze at Skate America in 2017
Karen Chen or Ashley Wagner were expected to be the American skaters to land on the podium at this year’s Bridgestone Skate America. However, it was Tennell — the third U.S. entry — who was the lone U.S. woman to medal.
The event marked Tennell’s first appearance at a senior-level grand prix event.
“My goal was to soak up as much of the experience as I could and really put it all out there, and I think I accomplished that,” Tennell told the media.
No female skater had won a medal in their Grand Prix debut in 10 years. Tennell finished the competition with a score of 204.10, the highest score a United States ladies figure skater earned during the Grand Prix season.
4. Tennell Will Skate to ‘Cinderella’ in Her Free Skate
The 2018 PyeongChang Olympics will be Tennell’s first Winter Games. She’ll join Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen on the U.S. women’s team.
Tennell’s short program features music from the film “Taeguki” by Lee Dong-Jun and a free skate to a “Cinderella” medley by Patrick Doyle.
“Taegukgi” is a blockbuster Korean War film that tells the story of two brothers. The name “Taegukgi” is a nickname for the country’s flag.
“I’m hoping it’s received well,” Tennell told NBC Sports. “I certainly love the music and I hope it do it justice.”
She uses music from the 2015 live-action movie “Cinderella” for her free skate, which resembles her own unexpected rise in the world of figure skating. Tennell, who has loved Cinderella since childhood, wanted to skate to it for years, but wanted to perform to the piece at the right moment.
5. Tennell Is Enrolled At a Local Community College
Tennell’s mother, Jean, is a registered nurse and a single mother. Tennell has two younger brothers, Austin and Shane, both of whom are ice hockey players.
Tennell currently takes general education courses at a local community college — and is interested in science or medical fields.
“I really just want to help people and help improve their quality of life,” she told NBC. But she didn’t offer much detail about her long-term career plan. “I like to live in the moment,” Tennell told People, “and take things one thing at a time.”
Tennell tries to balance the pressure of rigorous training and competition by watching her favorite TV shows. During nationals, Tennell binge-watched “How to Get Away with Murder.” She told NBC she might add other shows to her computer before heading to PyeongChang to help her avoid distractions. She likes Supernatural in particular, and superheroes are her favorite.