BUFFALO GROVE – A couple U.S. Figure Skating officials dropped by Bradie Tennell’s practice a few days ago at Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion in Buffalo Grove, and afterward, they had someone on the phone who wished to speak with Tennell.
On the other end of the line was Peggy Fleming, 1968 Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion figure skater.
“She just wanted to wish me good luck and tell me that she likes my skating and to enjoy the experience,” Tennell said. “I thought that was very cool.”
It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks for the 19-year-old from Carpentersville.
After winning the U.S. Figure Skating Championship women’s title Jan. 5 in San Jose, California, Tennell earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team as one of three female skaters competing individually.
She leaves for Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Feb. 5 and plans to be a part of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony Feb. 9.
Tennell, who takes classes at McHenry County College, was home-schooled by her mother, Jean Tennell, a nurse. Bradie first started skating at age 2, and once she started, she never wanted to stop.
“My mom says that she came home from work one day and I asked her to take me skating, and then I kept asking and asking,” Bradie Tennell said.
‘Always been very driven’
The admittedly shy skater will turn 20 later this month and still is adjusting to all the attention her spot on the Olympic team has garnered. A self-described “homebody” who enjoys reading and family movie nights, Tennell and her coach at Twin Rinks, Denise Myers, have tried to stick to the status quo.
“We’re trying to keep things as normal as possible and take it one day at a time, one session,” Myers said. “We have our daily plan for each day, and we’re trying to stick with it.”
Myers has coached figure skating for 36 years. In all those years, Tennell is her first Olympian. Tennell started seeing Myers 10 years ago.
“She’s always been very driven,” Myers said. “She’s loved to skate, you could see that from an early age.”
Tennell won a U.S. junior women’s championship in 2015. Then she went through two difficult years when she dealt with stress fractures in her back. She spent back-to-back summers wearing a back brace and didn’t perform as well as she hoped.
She finished sixth at the 2016 U.S. Championships and ninth in 2017.
“I really just hung on to the fact that I knew it wasn’t a career-ending injury and people have come back from far worse,” Tennell said. “I’m not one to shy away from a challenge.”
The past year she has remained healthy, and it has made a difference.
“The turning point for [Tennell] was probably at the beginning of this season,” Myers said. “She was healthy. She was able to train.”
Tennell skates her short program to music from South Korean composer Lee Dong-Jun, which a friend recommended. Her free skate is to music from the 2015 movie “Cinderella.”
Tennell, who won the U.S. Championship skating in an ice-blue dress, always has loved “Cinderella.” The music suited her, and Myers said her program is “spot on.”
At this point, weeks away from the Olympics, Tennell is focused on fine-tuning things.
“We’ve done a lot of visualization,” Myers said. “Imagining the sounds of cameras and the noise and the lights, the atmosphere. I really do think she’s ready.”
‘It takes a village’
In the hallway at Twin Rinks hang two posters that say “Congratulations Bradie” and include signatures and messages from her fellow Twin Rinks skaters.
Tennell typically is awake by 4:30 a.m. and at the rink by 6 a.m. to help teach younger figure skaters.
“It’s funny, because when I hear her, sometimes I think, ‘Wow, she sounds like me,’ ” Myers said. “It takes a village. We have a great team of coaches that works together.”
Myers thinks someday, when Tennell’s skating career is over, she might make a good coach.
Twin Rinks, which opened in 1997, is spearheading an effort to raise money so Tennell’s mother and two brothers, Austin, 15, and Shane, 13, can attend the Olympics. There also is a GoFundMe page, where donations can be made.
Tennell said she can’t wait to experience South Korea, and she hopes to meet as many Olympians as she can.
“I’m just going to enjoy the experience and do the best I can,” Tennell said.
Tennell still feels chills when she watches her U.S. Championship performance. But she has no problem blocking out the pressure of the Olympics.
“When I’m on the ice, it’s me, my skates and the music,” Tennell said. “It’s easy for me to block all of that out.”