She overcame polio to win Olympic Gold. So it is no surprise that Tenley Albright conquered Harvard en route to a career as a surgeon and blood plasma researcher.
As a student at Radcliffe in the early 1950s, Tenley Albright would rise at four o’clock each morning to practice figure skating before classes.
A premed major, Albright would not compromise her studies, but she was also dedicated to her sport, which meant skating seven hours a day. Albright had loved skating from the age of eight; stricken with a mild form of polio when she was twelve, she was encouraged to continue skating to minimize atrophy in her leg muscles.
She credits returning to sport, after being in a hospital bed for so long, with helping her appreciate her muscles more. This awareness, along with Albright’s dedication and talent, brought her numerous regional and national titles in the years after her recovery and then, at 17, the silver medal at the 1952 Olympic Winter Games in Oslo. She was also the world figure skating champion in 1953 and 1955. After her sophomore year at Radcliffe, Albright took a leave of absence to prepare for the 1956 Olympics in Cortina, where she became the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in figure skating.
Now a general surgeon in Boston and a blood plasma researcher at Harvard Medical School, as well as a member of the U.S. Figure Skating Association Hall of Fame, Albright sees connections between surgery and skating in the "mental preparation, trying to do your best, expecting a lot of yourself, and learning to expect the unexpected. You have to be prepared, but you still don’t know everything that's going to happen."
Both skating and medicine are learned step-by-step, she says, and "the feeling of when you finally do manage not to fall down, when you are trying something new, is such a wonderful feeling that you want that feeling again ... It's a very good feeling to try hard and see that you’ve done it. And that applies to whatever you do."