I carried my own phonograph and my skates, and it was snowing, and I unlocked the back door of the rink.
One of your skating coaches, Maribel Vinson Owen, said that when you were starting out, you were very much like all the other little girls skating in Boston.
What did that feel like? Some of them had done a number of other things before they even started medical school. Tenley Albright: I’d like to talk about the range in medicine. She began medical training in 1957, one of only five women students, and graduated in 1961. If you think you are interested in what makes human beings tick, or how bodies work, go ahead and explore it. And again and again we keep on seeing there isn’t one person in the whole Academy of Achievement who has ever escaped hard knocks, failures. And I starting working with him, began to think immediately, when I heard him speak, of the clinical applications, and the things that it could help if we could say yes, there is cancer, or no, there isn’t.
Maybe what we are talking about is training ourselves to focus on what we need to. A lot of them have to do with visions and dreams and daring to dream. I’ll check.” So, he checked, and he said, “Well, you know, it’s not written down anyplace.” So I applied to medical school after three years.
How old were you when you contracted polio? And it wasn’t just to be creative, and it wasn’t just to skate. In skating, you respond to the music, you forget yourself.
Was there ever a time when you were uncertain as to your destiny as a physician? Yes, we were pioneering in a sense.
We don’t have to think of things like: can you swallow standing on your head? I wish I could remember where I read it, but I read a study of figure skating champions who went into medicine. State Street Inno-talk Series Inaugural presentation: Tenley E. Albright, MD, Director MIT Collaborative Initiatives; James S. Phalen, Executive Vice President and head of Global Operations, Technology & Product Development, State Street and Madge Meyers, …
If you didn’t qualify or come out really high on the compulsory figures, you didn’t have a chance. I was invited to do things like pass out athletic awards for children, and one thing I remember very clearly was the first time I ever visited a reform school for girls. You can.
So it’s important to be keyed up for something in order to do your best. Tenley Albright: I was always motivated to be involved with medicine; I was fascinated. But it was just about two years ago that something occurred to me that hadn’t until then. Which muscles are doing what?” And I almost tripped.
I can remember very clearly after our physiology class running up a whole series of stairs outside the main building at Harvard Medical School and thinking, “Whoops! At 11, she was suddenly stricken with poliomyelitis and was confined to her hospital bed, unable to walk. We have to realize that. Within a year of her Olympic triumph, Albright retired from competitive skating. She has served on several corporate boards including State Street and West Pharmaceutical Services. Her father, Hollis Albright, was a prominent surgeon in Boston. Can you recall a certain thing you did? But certainly you do that in taking off on a double axel. You’re seeing how close you can come, whether you can, in your mind’s eye, draw a pattern on a totally clean, unmarked piece of ice.
And obviously, there wasn’t any time to say, “What shall I do first?” Immediately, you just have to put things in motion and handle things — the most acute first: to be sure she was breathing, stop the bleeding, get intravenous in, get the blood pressure back, then splint her legs and so on. And there are all sorts of people who have done it.
Tenley Albright: There is a very interesting balance, because sometimes when we are intensely concentrating, we also need to have our other antenna up. It’s within us. She turned down lucrative offers to skate professionally and entered Harvard Medical School as one of five women in a class of 135. Tenley Albright: I have three daughters. You have to concentrate on what you are doing, but obviously, if somebody is coming down the ice about to bump into you, you’ve got to be aware of that. In fact, they took the sign “polio” off my door, hoping I wouldn’t realize how sick I was. Thank you for talking with us. You seem to indicate that by skating as you did at the age of fifteen, you were not only expressing yourself but you were contributing to something. You have to think of yourself as being like a race horse.
Our brains can think of many things at once. Looking back, I don’t think I ever knew how sick I was because it never occurred to me that I couldn’t and wouldn’t get better. I was a beginner.
One of the most intense experiences that I had skating also occurred at the Olympics, and that was when, outdoors, in the middle of the championship, in the finals, when I was in the middle of my program, doing the free skating, in Italy, one part of my music was the Barcarole from Tales of Hoffman by Offenbach. Tenley graduated from Harvard Medical School, one of 5 women in a class of 135, after attending Radcliffe College and has received eight honorary degrees. What is the surgical mind like? You can! You are testing yourself.
And I kept on doing some sort of swirling, swirly things. She was formerly chairman of the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, served as a delegate to the World Health Assembly for four years, and was the first woman on the Executive Committee of the U.S. Olympic Committee. She was formerly chairman of the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, served as a delegate to the World Health Assembly, and was the first woman on the Executive Committee of the U.S. Olympic Committee. When you stop and think of the greats who are honored at these things, the Nobel Prize winners meeting each other, the people in different fields, the musicians meeting people in the fields of science, the artists, the historians, the poets, it’s wonderful to see all these people coming together and having a chance to talk about common threads.
Could you tell us something about your cancer research? Can you talk about the roots of your dedication to master the art of skating, or the art, if you call it that, of surgery?
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