Within days of winning the women’s national title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships this month — earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in the process — Bradie Tennell returned home to the suburbs and Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion in Buffalo Grove, where she has trained for the last 10 years.
The 19-year-old from Carpentersville says coming home allows her to concentrate on her training and not be distracted by the national spotlight.
“I’m very shy, so this is so hard for me,” Tennell says of all the attention she’s received since her surprise victory at the U.S. championships. “I just like being back here, where it’s low-key.”
Which isn’t to say there hasn’t been some fanfare for Tennell, who begins her quest for a medal Feb. 11 in Gangneung, South Korea.
One of the first things she saw when she returned to Twin Rinks was a poster hanging in the lobby wishing her good luck. It was signed by all of the young skaters who train there, including 8-year old Rebecca Lichtman of Highland Park.
“I love Bradie. She’s really good,” said Rebecca, who occasionally shares private ice time with Tennell. “I want to be like her and skate on TV someday.”
Just four years ago, Tennell was one of those youngsters signing a poster for the elite skaters she had watched during practice, such as 2014 Olympians Gracie Gold, formerly of Elk Grove Village, and Jason Brown of Highland Park.
Tennell was a little older than Rebecca when she began training at Twin Rinks with Denise Myers, who remains her head coach.
“Her goal was to be on the podium, so that’s what we aimed for,” Myers said of Tennell’s stunning performance at nationals. “She is very consistent. That’s one of her strengths. And she’s very coachable.”
As her mother, Jean, recalls, Tennell was just 2½ when she announced she wanted to ice skate. The family started her in group lessons at the Crystal Ice House in Crystal Lake.
When she demonstrated natural talent, they sought private training, first at Seven Bridges Ice Arena in Woodridge. The commute proved to be too much for Jean Tennell, who works nights as a nurse and home-schooled Bradie and her two younger brothers during the day. Ultimately, they learned of Myers and landed at Twin Rinks.
Now, Bradie Tennell considers the facility her home base and visualizes herself on one of its familiar rinks every time she takes the ice during competition.
“I just try and go out there and do what I do during practice every day,” she said. “That’s always my goal.”
At the national championships this month in San Jose, Tennell skated nearly flawless short and free skate programs to win the title, seemingly coming out of nowhere, according to many analysts.
Those who’ve watched her at Twin Rinks know better.
“That’s what they all said, that she came out of nowhere,” said Laura Kaplan, skating director at Twin Rinks. “But not really, when you look at all of the titles she has earned.”
Those titles figure prominently in a display at Twin Rinks showcasing the rink’s medal winners. Tennell dominates, with her 2015 national junior title, the bronze medal she earned at the 2017 Skate America competition and, now, her 2018 national championship.
She spends up to four hours a day on the ice, running through all her jumps multiple times, including her most difficult, the triple-Lutz triple-toe combination.
Last week, she ratcheted up the artistry in her short program with help from choreographer Benôit Richaud, who flew in from France. Later this week, she will work with Scott Brown, the choreographer for her free skate, appropriately set to a medley of music from the 2015 film “Cinderella.”
She leaves Feb. 5 for South Korea, and her mother and two younger brothers will be in the stands when she competes.
Back home at Twin Rinks, Kaplan is planning a viewing party for the young skaters who look up to Tennell.
“This is a moment I’ve dreamed of for a very long time,” Tennell said. “I may not have talked about it, but I’ve dreamed about it for years.”