Tenley Albright is the sort of high achiever who reminds the
rest of us what slackers we are. In the midst of her
undergraduate studies at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Mass.,
she lived up to SI's forecast for the 1956 Winter Olympics in
Cortina, Italy, by becoming the first American woman to win a
figure skating gold medal. Albright, who as a child conquered
polio, graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1961 and spent
much of the next three decades performing general surgery. As
her medical career progressed, she grew more interested in the
early detection and prevention of disease, which led her to
administrative work and fund-raising for human-genome research.
"I've turned from taking out tumors and cancers to seeing how we
can prevent them from developing," says Albright, 66. Although
she spends the bulk of her time at Harvard Medical School and the
MIT-affiliated Whitehead Institute--which has helped map the
approximately 30,000 genes in human DNA and is a leader in
stem-cell research--Albright is also involved in fostering
research on new drug-delivery systems, advises medical students
at Harvard and is helping plan an exhibit on women in medicine at
the National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine.
"It's hard for athletes to think they could find anything that
consumes their interest as much as the sport they love," says
Albright, who holds eight honorary degrees. "Medicine is that for
me. I'm fascinated by the miracle of the human body."
The link between skating and surgery started when young Tenley
would sit on the floor of her bedroom and use a razor blade to
cut classical music tapes to skate to, carefully hand-splicing
passages of Offenbach with Strauss and Vivaldi. "What attracted
me to skating was that I wanted to fly," Albright says. "I broke
umbrellas trying to jump off the garage roof when I was little."
Although she didn't actually take wing on Cortina's outdoor rink,
10 of the 11 judges felt she had flown sufficiently to give their
first-place votes to Albright's routine, during which thousands
of spectators hummed along to the barcarole from Offenbach's The
Tales of Hoffmann. The lone dissenter, the American judge, voted
for Albright's teammate Carol Heiss, who got the silver and went
on to marry men's gold medalist Hayes Jenkins (at left on cover
Once in a while Albright still skates at a rink near her home in
Boston. She has been married to her second husband, Jerry
Blakeley Jr., for nearly 20 years and has three daughters, two
granddaughters and five stepchildren. "Life is still filling up,"
she says. "I'm enjoying the amazing, unexpected things it
can prevent them," says Albright.