Grace, Tenacity, Humor (Meeting Tenley Albright)

On Friday, July 18, Tenley and I left for Tampa to fly up to Boston. In addition to Boston, the trip would take us to Connecticut to spend time with dear friends, then to New York City where we indulged our love of NYC and saw more friends. The reason for going to Boston deserves its own post, though.

The library was my sanctuary as a relatively bright yet awkward, athletically challenged, overweight elementary school kid at W.E. Cherry Elementary in Orange Park, Florida. Then (as now) I would pretty much read anything. I gravitated to a biography of champion figure skaters. I am not sure how many times I checked that book out over my elementary school years, but I have to have been one of its most frequent readers. That book was the first time I was introduced to the name “Tenley,” because it covered the career and eventual gold medal Olympic championship of Tenley Albright. I can’t say that at that moment I said “if I have a daughter someday I will name her Tenley” but the name was always on my short list.

My fascination with figure skating was a constant throughout my life. I got to attend the National Championships in Detroit in 1994 (yes, the year of “the Kerrigan/Harding incident) and in Providence, RI, in 1995.

1996 rolled around, with a due date in July for our daughter, and the naming process began in earnest. Wayne wanted to indulge his love of Russian history with “Anastasia.” Several options that would honor his recently deceased sister Ann Elizabeth were contenders: Eliza, Liza. I had a “J” category: Josie, Jocelyn. I wanted to honor my Aunt Grace, who was a favorite, but I have a superstition that naming a kid Grace dooms her to a lifetime of clutziness! The more we tossed around the “Tenley” idea, the more it stuck. That’s how Tenley Anastasia came to be.

And thus started 18 years of:

Is that a family name?

Tinsley, Tensley, Other Variations

And 18 years of me trying to convey to Tenley Albright, after whom our Tenley was named, how much her story had inspired me and that I wanted her to know how we had made the choice to name our daughter Tenley.

I wrote letters, sent emails, tried every way I possibly could to share this information with her. Selfishly, I felt like I was the only one with the brilliant idea to use this name but as it turns out I was most definitely not alone! In an October 2011 blog post, “get a response from Tenley Albright” was #1 on my list of “22 Things I Haven’t Done.”

Lo and behold, I eventually did get a response (her wonderful daughter Elee found my blog and communicated with me and facilitated a response) but that blog, and the power of social media, coalesced into this moment on July 19, 2014:

Tenley Albright

Meeting Tenley Albright at the Skating Club of Boston/”My Name is Tenley” Party

Eight days later, it is still difficult to talk about this evening without gushing. About how well organized the event was. About how gracious Tenley Albright and her daughters were (this picture was taken almost as soon as we walked in … she agreed to as many private pictures as we wanted to take, and a professional photographer took a picture of Tenley Albright with each of the 66 Tenleys present). About the relief for this prosopagnosic of everyone being named the same thing. About ice skating (yes these two Floridians laced up!).

ice skating

About the ice skating demonstration, including a young Tenley (Rutledge). About the video, the dinner, the testimonials almost every Tenley gave about living with the name (apparently I need to visit a certain well-named watering hole in DC next time I’m there!). About the utter classiness of the event (classy yet welcoming). (For the Boston Globe article about the event, click here.)

tenley photo session

(My shot from afar of the Albright/Kiger photo moment.)

Right before the picture of Tenley Albright and me was taken I tried to stumble through the “I read a book about you in 4th grade and that’s what inspired me to name my daughter after you” story. What my statement lacked in finesse, I know it made up for in sincere gratitude.

Tenley Albright is an individual with many accomplishments, including overcoming polio, winning an Olympic Silver Medal (1952), winning an Olympic Gold Medal (1956), becoming a physician, raising three daughters, and (currently) directing the MIT Collaborative Initiatives. All of those things are very, very big deals, and make me happy that I named my daughter after someone so successful.

But after spending an evening with her (and the 66 other Tenleys), there is something much more basic that speaks to me. As I wrote that evening before turning in for the night, she demonstrates grace, tenacity, and humor.

And she was real and kind.

Those are the kinds of attributes that blaze even brighter than the Olympic flame.

I am grateful.

Assembling all the Tenleys for a group photo (note each one has a flower in her hair!).

Assembling all the Tenleys for a group photo (note each one has a flower in her hair!).

This brief video provides a glimpse into Tenley Albright’s life:

***Lastly, this blog is about my experience. Ultimately this was intended to be for my Tenley. And although she shared with me many of her impressions, and the conversation she had with Tenley Albright during their private moment together, I can’t speak for her. Her story is hers to share if and when she wants to.

12 thoughts on “Grace, Tenacity, Humor (Meeting Tenley Albright)

  1. I’m sure that after this event, your daughter never wondered about your wisdom in giving her the name Tenley.

  2. Oh, you captured the evening perfectly!! It was the most exciting, fun, heart-warming party I’ve ever attended. It was a dream-come-true for me, too, as I tried many times to contact Tenley Albright & longed to meet her. Your 3 words: grace, tenacity & humor sum it all up!!!

  3. That’s a great story. It crossed my mind as I was reading this whether Tenley Albright was partly the inspiration for English author Noel Streatfeild’s White Boots (Skating Shoes) published in 1951? Maybe it was common to suggest skating for children to build up their strength after illness in the 1940s and 50s but skating rinks were not that common.

    • Tom, that’s a good question (that I don’t have the answer to — re the book). I have frequently misstated Tenley Albright’s situation, saying she “took up” figure skating to overcome polio but if the attached article is correct, she had already been skating and was encouraged to return to it (on a flooded/iced back yard “rink”!). Whatever the case, the story is just one of the many reasons I am happy with that choice of a name for my Tenley — a woman who didn’t give up despite adversity!

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