You're back again. What a lucky day!" a little boy came up to say to Dr. Tenley Albright Gardiner last December at the Skating Club of Boston. Tenley had found half an hour, as she manages to perhaps three times a week, to satisfy the need "just to get my feet on the ice," and she sat lacing up her skates at the rink where for years she had come to practice at 4 in the morning. Necessity dictated odd hours then and necessity dictates odd hours now. Ten-ley, with the responsibilities of wife, mother and surgeon, has to skate when the responsibilities permit, and she is likely to be practicing her camel spins during children's hours—Tenley and the 5-year-olds. Children approached her now to ask where her daughter Lilla was, to ask for advice, to tell Tenley how they were doing, to look.
"One of the boys said to me the other day, 'Tenley, do you know that Sjoukje Dijkstra is 22 years old and she's still skating?' Oof," Tenley said. She tied her laces and swept off, skating with her old grace, impeccable, and fitting very neatly, at 29, into a skating dress her grandmother had made for her some 10 years ago.
It was, in fact, 10 years ago this month that Tenley Albright of Newton Centre, Mass. won the world figure-skating championship in Vienna for the second time. She won it with a first from all nine judges in both phases of the competition (only those familiar with the mad individuality of figure-skating judges will appreciate this), and the following year she won the Olympic gold medal at Cortina. She had spent that summer taking extra courses, in order to get leave from Radcliffe for the 1956 Olympics, and in the fall she put in every hour she could on the ice. She suspected it would be her last Olympics and she was not planning to botch it. She didn't.
Tenley remains in the minds of many people our most accomplished and impressive champion. A well-bred young lady, she was nevertheless a real competitor, as steely as she was gracious. Her style was distinguished, a technical proficiency rounded by a dancer's training and sensitivity and marked by taste and intellect. "Tenley skates with her head," her old coach, Willie Frick, once said, which was true, even if it failed to convey Tenley's charm upon the ice.
"It's hard for me to remember when some things were," Tenley mused recently, trying to recall a particular date. "It all seems like yesterday." It seems like yesterday to many Americans older than 20, and time, in this case, will probably continue to be telescoped. With the loss of the entire U.S. skating team in a 1961 airplane crash in Belgium, American figure skating virtually ceased to exist. The American youngsters who will supersede Tenley in people's minds have not appeared, possibly have not been born, even yet.
If Tenley had cared to she could have continued to compete, turned professional or simply retired with her laurels. She chose instead to go to Harvard Medical School, and Harvard chose to admit her in 1957 after only three years of pre-medical work at Radcliffe—three years punctuated by long absences—instead of the customary four. Harvard was right in assuming her capable and ready. It is probably true to some extent that the remarkable habits of discipline acquired during her years of competitive skating stood Tenley in good stead at Harvard; all medical students could use a capacity for seven or eight hours of intense concentration and a habit of getting up at 4 in the morning.
A first-grade teacher, Marion Proctor, remembers Tenley at 6 coming to her in tears. "I said, 'What's the matter, Tenley?' and Tenley said, 'I made a mistake.' She held out a paper, perfect except that she had forgotten to capitalize the A in Albright. I told her that it wasn't the end of the world, that we could throw the paper away, and she said, 'No, it's wartime.' So I said, 'Well, let's turn the paper over.' 'But the mistake will still be on the other side.' Finally I said that we could erase it, and that seemed to be the most acceptable solution, but she said, 'I still would have made a mistake.' " Obviously, Tenley—uncompromising in her demands upon herself—was born and not made. Harvard could have admitted her when she was 9.
Tenley graduated from medical school in 1961 and is now in practice with her father, Dr. Hollis Albright, who is also a surgeon. She begins the day by getting her baby Lilla up, and then is off five mornings a week to operate, with office hours all the rest of Mondays and Fridays, and hospital rounds every other weekend. These take most of Saturday and Sunday, depending on the number of hospitals—there may be as many as four. In addition to the routine duty, there will be a paper to read at an AMA convention in Miami, a Biodynamics Luncheon at Harvard, a radio or television interview for the Christmas Seal Fund and her spare time she now devotes to work on a sports medicine project for Arthur D. Little Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. The results will be incorporated in a report to the Olympic Committee. It is an unwieldy task involving masses of uncoordinated material and research around the world. "My husband says," Tenley observes, 'When you have a normal day, will you let me know?' "
Tenley's surgery routinely involves such operations as appendectomies and cholecystectomies (removals of the gall bladder), and she has done amputations, subtotal thryoidectomies and, with a senior surgeon in attendance, a subtotal gastrectomy—the partial removal of the stomach, graduate work by any medical standards.
"There isn't any real exercise or practicing you do, apart from operating," Tenley says, "except perhaps cutting with your left hand or tying knots. You begin by holding a retractor for five hours. My first operation I held a retractor, and I was so far back I couldn't even see the operating field. Then they let you sponge, and then they let you put in one skin stitch, and by the time they let you really do something you can't wait to get in there. Surgery, I think, is all of medicine, plus a little bit more, and I love the idea of being able to do something well technically. Like working on a jump and then doing it higher."