By Chris Kwiecinski
BUFFALO GROVE – Bradie Tennell has been living an almost fairy-tale-like life since for the past two months.
The Carpentersville-native figure skater catapulted herself into the international spotlight after she was named to the 2018 Olympic team on January 6.
That news came days after winning the 2018 U.S. Championship, and just weeks after surprising the figure-skating community with a third-place finish at 2017 Skate America in November.
The often-shy Tennell has yet to adjust to life as an Olympian, as a small swarm of reporters and TV cameras focused on her after an open practice at the Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion in Buffalo Grove.
As the timid 19 year old has now found out, this is part of the toll an Olympic athlete pays every four years.
Tennell’s shyness, however, disappears when she takes the ice and brings her fairy tale to life when she performs her 2017-2018 season free-skate routine to a compilation of melodies from the Disney classic “Cinderella,” while sporting a light blue leotard and a tiara.
“I’ve always loved ‘Cinderella,’” Tennell said during a media session. “When the movie came out in 2015, I was like, ‘I’m going to skate to this some day,’ and I thought this year was the right year to do that.”
Tennell’s love of the classic tale spans back to the beginning of her skating career, her coach, Denise Myers, said.
“I have a picture of her when she was 2-and-a-half, and she was in the ‘Cinderella’ dress, and the crown and the whole nine yards,” Myers said. “At about 5, she was sitting with her first pair of skates on and she has a ‘Cinderella’ crown on.”
Tennell’s quick rise to fame, however, almost was its own tragedy when she faced her biggest personal challenge a few years ago.
During Tennell’s time as a junior figure skater, she suffered a stress fracture in her back in 2015. She recovered, only to suffer another stress fracture in her back the next year.
Recovering from her two stress fractures stole two precious summers of practice, and put Tennell in a back brace. Soon after she returned to the ice, Tennell recorded an 11th-place finish at the 2016 Junior World Championships.
“I knew it wasn’t a career-ending injury,” Tennell said. “People have come back from far worse, and I’m not one to shy away from a challenge.”
Now fully healthy, Tennell has proven herself to be one of the future stars of U.S. figure skating alongside fellow 2018 Olympians Karen Chen and Mirai Nagasu.
With the 2018 Winter Games next for Tennell, the reigning U.S. champion can also establish herself as a top international figure skater, whose use of “Cinderella” in her free-skate routine now carries a symbolic weight.
“I think that happy ending is like a symbol of her story,” Myers said. “When you’re performing you want the music to take you, and she really connects with that.”
Although her short program and free skate have already been judged the best in the U.S., Tennell said she’s looking to improve her artistry, or choreography, on the ice.
The judges’ evaluations of skater’s artistic performance are often subjective, as artistry isn’t as concrete as a technical skill.
“It’s more a matter of fine-tuning things,” Tennell said.
Tennell’s technique is sound, Myers said, but it’s a matter of her projecting the interpretation and artistry of her routine to upcoming judges.
Tennell has a chance to write another chapter of her “Cinderella” story in Pyeongchang. Should she win a gold medal, she’ll be the first U.S. skater to take gold since Sara Hughes in 2002.
Following the Olympics, Tennell will finish her breakout year this June. Preferably, with her own happily ever after.