Episode #76: Ryan Bradley

May 2014
An interview with Ryan Bradley, the 2011 US Figure Skating Champion, 3 time Collegiate Champion, coach and one of the favorites on the show circuit for his charisma on ice. Ryan talks about how he’s been able to develop that charisma and work with it, how he always wanted to be a “conversational skater,” and the real reason why he decided to compete in the Collegiate Championships. 52 minutes, 08 seconds

Ryan Bradley and Allison Manley









Thanks to Fiona McQuarrie for transcribing these interview highlights:

On his most embarrassing skating moment: I have a ton of embarrassing moments throughout life, like with the parents I have, they love to embarrass me, as well as skating things. My father prides himself on embarrassing me, and has ever since I was a child [laughs]. The moment he realized I hated he, he just really went for it. But I would say probably the worst skating moment I had, we were at a competition in Denver. I had just started doing triple axel, and I opened with my triple axel and fell, but then came back with my second one and skated clean for the rest of the program. But what I didn’t realize is that I’d fallen over a hole that had an ice chip sticking up, and it sliced the entire seat out of my pants. You get that adrenaline and you don’t realize — I was getting really weird reactions, and in my skating I get laughter a lot when I skate, so I didn’t think that part was weird. But when people were shaking their hands and saying, like, noooo! Don’t bow! — I was getting weird reactions and didn’t catch it at all. So I got off the ice and my coach gave me a hug and was like, all right, you need to go fix your pants right now [laughs]. And I was like, but I want to see my marks. And he was, no. Go right now [laughs]. During the event I was so excited, and having a great program, and hamming it up because I was getting this reaction. So I was a little oblivious to the fact that I had no more secrets left [laughs].

On starting skating: I don’t remember skating not being a big part of my life. I actually got started because when my parents got married, the wedding gift from my grandmother was a year’s worth of skating lessons and coaching and ice time in Kansas City, so they could go do something together, a bonding thing. And my dad went so he could be with my mom, and they both just fell in love with it, and it became a part of their lives. So as soon as my sister was born she was on the ice. When I was born — I was supposed to play tennis, but I would go and break things at the rink, so my mom put me on the ice so she could keep an eye on me and watch me. I was kind of a safety hazard so I ended up being put on the ice. But now I break things on the ice [laughs], I don’t think it’s a safe place for me there.

On his father giving up his medical practice so the family could move to Colorado for Ryan to train: I like to think that they more made that decision for my sister. At the time I was an intermediate man, moving up to novice, so I was still like 11 or 12. My sister was just on the cusp of making it to Nationals as a junior lady, she was the top dog at our rink, and we really loved Tom [Zakrajsek], our coach. They really wanted my sister to have that opportunity. At the time, I still played baseball, I still played basketball — I skated, I wasn’t a skater. So right after we moved my sister had a knee injury and stopped skating three or four months later. We had just picked up and moved, my dad had sold his practice, so I think they just kind of looked at me and were like, all right, the ball’s in your court, don’t make this for nothing [laughs]. But I was excited about it. I was from a small town in Missouri where, maybe with the exception of my sister, I was the best skater in the rink, maybe the best skater that they’d had at that point. And now I go to the Broadmoor and I was easily the worst skater there. Every session I’d get on, I’d see 20 boy skaters that were better than me, and I loved it. I thought that was so cool. I was so competitive that I wanted to be the best skater at that rink someday, especially at an illustrious rink like that with such a history. I thought if I could be the face of the Broadmoor skating club at some point, that would be great. Which is such a hard task. Not only the kids that are there, but new kids coming in that are so talented. It was really great that my parents gave up as much as they did. And they’re very happy, they love Colorado Springs, so it all worked out for the best. And now my dad is the director of a series of emergency clinics.

On first meeting Tom Zakrajsek: When I was really little, like about three, I got some private lessons, and my coach got off the ice in the middle of my lesson, and walked up to my mom in the lobby, and said, Barb, if Ryan’s ever going to be a success in our sport, it’s going to be as a clown in the circus, you should probably cut your losses and keep him off the ice. So my mom takes me off the ice, I was oblivious, I was happy doing whatever I was doing. Then Tom came to town, and they were, shall we say, trying to swoon Tom into coaching at this rink. So they wanted to put as many people on the ice as possible, to make it seem as if we had a bigger program than we had. So we had a patch session, and they put me on the ice, and I hadn’t done patch maybe ever [laughs], and it had been a few years now since I skated. So Tom looks over, he says he heard this huge crash, and he sees me sprawled out on the ice, trying to jump in patch skates, which as you might remember don’t have toepicks [laughs]. So I’m just flying into things, making a huge mess, with no figures on my patch. So Tom gets off the ice, walks up to my mom — who has been his only contact at the rink thus far — and my mom’s like, oh no, not this again. And he goes, who is that little boy out there? And she goes, oh, I’m so sorry, that’s my son, that’s Ryan. And he goes, I want to teach him. And my mom was just like, what?? And he said, there’s just something about him. I want to teach this boy. And from then it, it really became part of my life. I was skating every day for several hours. He saw something in me that we didn’t see.

On skating pairs: I tried it a few times, and there were mixed results. Tiffany [Vise] and I had some success when we were younger, but we were both really young. She went on to have a really great successful long career in pairs, but when we were skating together we were like 12 and 10. And we were still doing okay, we were third in intermediate, we were sixth and seventh in novice, and the year we were seventh coincided with the year I won junior men. And let’s say I got some pressure to focus on singles. And then I quit pairs and ended up coming back after my knee surgery in 2001 — I did pairs for one more year, just to get back in shape more than anything because I remembered how strong I was when I was doing two different disciplines, on the ice six hours a day. And then, no one really knows about this because I didn’t make it to Nationals in pairs that year, at Sectionals I put up the second lift and hit a hole in the ice and fell and knocked myself out [laughs]. I got carried off in a stretcher, and it was my 18th event, and I had won the short in senior men’s but I didn’t get to do the long, I couldn’t get it cleared by the doctors. So I was basically told that if I wanted to go to Nationals with a medical bye, I had to tell them I wouldn’t do pairs again. Which is probably for the better, because I wasn’t a great pairs skater. I mean, I hit my head in front of a lot of people [laughs]. I have the build for a pairs skater, I’m a little stockier than some of the singles skaters and I’m six feet tall. But I don’t know, I like jumping, and if I went out and did my personal best and my partner screwed up, that would be pretty hard for me to swallow, like if it kept me off an Olympic team. Maybe I’m not trusting enough to do pairs.

You know, it blows my mind that these kids switch partners so much, because if you’re going to trust your partner, you kind of have to go through the gritty with them. You need to have the bad years and the good years and the time to really be able to trust somebody, to put your Olympic dreams on the line with them. I can’t really fathom the, okay, yeah, this girl and I match up a little bit better, so I’m going to skate with her. You still don’t have that time to understand them. I think that’s kind of a rough part in birthday so it was a pretty great day [laughs]. So obviously we didn’t get to complete that our sport in our country, that these teams don’t stick together.

On his performance at the 2000 Keri Lotion Classic team competition: I was just 16, in my second year as a senior man. At the time, you have to remember, Michelle Kwan didn’t lose at anything. So all of a sudden, she was stuck with me [laughs]. They put international juniors with elite seniors, so I was lucky and I got Michelle. And yeah, that was a big cross to bear for sure. Luckily I had a good skate and Michelle was great, so we won by quite a bit, and that was pretty exciting.

On participating in the US Collegiate Championships: I was coming off my second knee surgery in 2005. I missed the US championships, that was the year of injury. I broke my arm playing dodgeball, and then the first day back on the ice after that I decided I would jump. I couldn’t move my right arm through because it was so weak, so I decided that if I held onto my t-shirt I could just keep my right arm still and still jump. So I was just going through my doubles, and actually was having some success with it, and then I slipped on a takeoff and put my blade through my foot and damaged my foot, I actually put my heel [of the blade] right through my foot. So, boom boom boom, three big injuries, I didn’t skate for another few months. And I kind of thought, maybe this is it, maybe I’m not supposed to be doing this. I didn’t really know what to do at that point.

So I remember hearing that Collegiates were in Hawaii [laughs], but at the time I wasn’t taking a full load in school, I was only taking a couple of classes, and you have to take a full load to go to Collegiates. So I decided to pick up a full load and register for Collegiates and go do a competition in Hawaii. My girlfriend right now, she was going to be doing that competition as well, and she was not my girlfriend at that time, so that was a bit more incentive [laughs]. So yeah, I went and it was such a great experience, such a bonding experience with so many different skaters that were kind of at a crossroads in their lives, where they’re competitive and they’re in school, and they don’t know quite what they want to do. And at the time there weren’t a lot of super-competitive skaters that went to Collegiates, and I feel like after I went it started becoming more common. Alyssa [Csizny] went, Jason Wong went — we had a lot more national competitors that went to the event. And it was a great way for me to start the season every year. That first year I went I was well-prepared, but the second two years I went, I wasn’t particularly well-prepared, so it was more like a “scare me into getting ready” competition. And it also kept me in school full-time. So there were a lot of reasons that we did it every year. It was fun, it was a really great experience, and I was really fortunate to be able to be part of it. And I actually have one year of eligibility left and I haven’t finished my degree [laughs]. It’s nice to have that option, but I don’t think I would be relevant anymore. The boys are getting too good now, and if I don’t win it’s not fun. [laughs]

On his injuries: There’s definitely a lot of wear or tear on our bodies. But I think the reason I used to get injured pretty regularly is that I’m pretty reckless. I don’t really have that fear of new things. I’m starting to kind of understand it now, but growing up — I remember when I first learned my triple toe, Tom is like, oh, go try a quad, just kind of half-heartedly, and I just went and tried a quad toe. There’s just nothing in my brain that was, that’s probably not a good idea, Ryan. In skating that’s great because it kept me pushing. It’s why I learned a quad, it’s why I learned a backflip. But in life, I don’t have the skill set that I have in skating, so I try to do things as I would do in skating, and that’s where I get most of these injuries. Like the dodgeball incident, or when I shattered the fifth metatarsal and had to have it all screwed back together, I was in dance class trying to show off for all the cute girls [laughs]. We make mistakes. It really comes back to [the girls], I think that’s the source of most of the horrible things that have happened in my life [laughs].

On playing to the crowd in his skating: You know what’s funny, my mother is very introverted, and I have that part in me. I get very introverted at times, and so there’s a shyness when I step on the ice. I don’t know if people are going to accept what I’m about to do, and there’s always a moment when I realize, yes, they are going to, and that’s when I lose all that inhibition. Or I don’t think I ever get that, and then I skate very flat and do more of a training program, which is not a good thing. You always want to perform no matter what. But it’s an insecurity I had. I needed to get that first chuckle or that first smile or that first roar – something to basically give me the green light, to let me know things are OK. In a lot of my programs I get into character before I start my program, to get people to laugh, to say, hey, it’s OK to laugh at me, because this is going to be entertaining. So it was always really important to get them on my side, and once I heard the laughter and the applause, it relaxed me. And then I would go faster and it was easier for me to jump. And the programs that I sold the best, I jumped well. If I was a little hesitant and didn’t tend to have as much fun with the program, I tended to make mistakes.

You mentioned Chris Bowman, and I feel like him and I were great performers in the reaction, like we could react to the crowd. I think there’s a lot of other great performers that would just sell a program so spectacularly that you couldn’t help but love them, where I think that the thing Christopher and I shared was kind of based on what we got back, interacting with the crowd. It was like a give and take. I wanted to be a conversational skater, so you felt like you were part of it. That was always really fun for me, and I realized that if the crowd was invested in what I did, they would pull for me. And it was fun. You’re not out there alone any more. It’s a very lonely sport. I know there’s a lot of solo sports, but we’re on such a huge stage and we’re the only person out there. And there’s no more vulnerable moment when you’re laying on your back in front of thousands of people, and you’re the only one out there. It’s scary.

So having the crowd on your side, you can feel them pushing you through. That’s the one thing about competing that I really miss is that momentum and that cohesiveness that you get with an audience that just…I don’t know, it’s an adrenaline rush that you don’t get anywhere else in life. That was kind of the source behind performing for me, was to get that rush and have them help me, and I wanted them to remember me. I didn’t know if I would ever get a title, but I wanted people to remember how I made them feel.

For a long time, I would be the boy that would get a standing ovation in the short, and then in the long program I would be like seventh or eighth. And people didn’t quite get it, they didn’t understand why I was so low. I had a lot of energy but I didn’t have the skating skills, my spins weren’t quite up to snuff. So I understood why I was getting the placements I was getting, and it wasn’t really until later in my career that I was like, maybe I should do something about those little details [laughs]. And I realize that I’ll never have the edge quality of Jeremy Abbott, I’ll never be able to spin like Jason Brown. But I could spin better than how Ryan Bradley was spinning, and I could skate better than how Ryan Bradley was skating. So we did everything we could to close the gap a little bit with the other guys, and all of a sudden in 2007 that was the difference that got me from between fifth and ninth my entire career to the podium. And then all of a sudden I was between fifth and first for the last five years of my career.

On his silver medal at the 2007 US Nationals: I was flabbergasted to get second. After practices that whole week, I was skating really hot, I’d been training all the programs and I felt really confident. I thought I — I expected to be on the world team, I really did. And when you make your first world team, whether you expect it or not, it’s still overwhelming. It’s still one of those things where for years, I had taken myself for what I was, and I was never going to be on the world team, I was never going to make that jump. But then all of a sudden, that year, a lot of those legends of the sport retired, and it was very open door, and now the top two guys were Evan [Lysacek] and Johnny [Weir] who I came up with. And I realized that I could be competitive with those guys. I didn’t necessarily think I would be able to beat Johnny, who was the defending champion at the time, but I realized, especially after practices, that I was skating the third best in our country that year. So I expected to be going to worlds. I did not expect — actually, right before I skated, I remember stepping out and I saw Johnny pop a triple loop. And I hate watching other people skate in case that pops into my head while I’m skating. So I remember seeing that, and instantly I’m like, oh my gosh, if he’s making mistakes on easy things, maybe I can beat him. And then I’m like, get that out of your head! So I finally got that cleared out of my head, and went on and had a pretty good skate. It wasn’t my best skate but at the time it was probably close. But yeah, it was pretty great to be in that position. I kind of wish I’d built on it more in the next couple of years. I feel like I kind of stayed stagnant for a little bit after that, but it was great to make that breakthrough. It just took me a little more time to break through again [laughs].

I didn’t want to know how everyone had skated, but the minute I stepped on the ice, I could tell how everyone had skated. You can just get a feel if they’re skating well or not, based on the crowd, and it was electric for a couple of reasons. Evan had just put down one of the most memorable performances in skating history, and Johnny had just left the door open. He just made two mistakes, he didn’t skate poorly, but he was vulnerable. So we already have a new champion, and now we have one skater up who’s never made the world team, never been on the podium. So it’s just kind of that perfect storm. Obviously I wish that I had won [laughs] and that could have been my legacy there, but everything just worked together. I remember getting in there and all of a sudden all of the hair on my arms stood up. It was palpable, the tension and the electricity in there. I’ll never forget that. With the exception of the second time we went to Spokane [2010 US Nationals], it was probably the most memorable skate I’ll ever have. Just the energy in that building was unbelievable.

On the 2008 and 2009 US Nationals: We made a decision in my camp that I needed to be better than I was in 2007 for the rest of my career. I couldn’t go out and not do a quad any more, because in 2007 I could do a quad. I flipped out of it in 2006, I landed it in 2003 — I was capable of doing a quad but I wasn’t capable of doing a clean program. So that was that step, that was the check mark. So from then out, it was about getting the quad out and being prepared in 2010 to make an Olympic team with two quads. We made that decision in 2007. So in 2008 I put out the quad in the short and in the long in every competition. And there were periods where I was hitting maybe 10% of my quads, and there was no reason on earth why I should have been doing it in the short, except for, it would build toward giving me confidence later. And I would go out and I would pop the quad, I would fall on the quad, and I would be in ninth place after the short — it killed my season, not only in the Grand Prix [events] but even at Liberty [Open] I went out and I was something like 18th , something terrible as the defending silver medalist. It gave me a little gumption, I think is a good way to put it. It was humbling as well, but I just knew what it took to do the quad, and that was going to become my identity, I was going to be the guy that was doing the quad. And you could see the trend in the sport at the time, that everyone was pulling away from the quad. It’s flip-flopped a bit, now it’s back to where it should be. But everyone was realizing that there was a flaw in the system and that the quad was not worth the risk. The risk-reward was very much weighed toward the risk, so there was no point in doing it. So I was going to be the guy that could do the quad and would do the quad at every event. And like I was saying earlier, I realized that I could close the gap on my skating skills and my spinning, but I wasn’t going to be the best. So I had to be the best jumper. I had to be doing more technically than everyone else.

2008 was a rough year. I didn’t skate well the entire season. At Nationals I had a good short, but you skate like that at the Grand Prix events, you do a clean short, the writing’s on the wall. And I remember being devastated at being fourth, Stephen Carriere had put his hand down on his triple axel and he beat me in the short. And I remember thinking at the time that the judges were basically telling me to move on. I tend to take everything personally, and I was like, this boy is junior world champion, he’s a great skater, but he came up and he should be slotted behind me. When we both do the same short program I should be beating him. And since I didn’t, I took it very personally and I was very upset. And I thought about retiring then. I was pretty insecure, I thought about retiring pretty much every year [laughs].

So then in 2009 I came back, and I was really hungry. I was off the podium in Minneapolis, and I was sitting fifth — I don’t know which is worse, fourth or fifth, but at least in fourth you get some hardware. That year it came down to a triple salchow. I popped my triple salchow and it was really close between Jeremy [Abbott] and I in fourth and fifth. And then Jeremy got to go to Worlds because someone withdrew. And I didn’t get to go to worlds because I blew my triple salchow, and that started the bugaboo of the triple salchow which would haunt me the rest of my career [laughs]. Which is ironic because I started landing it when I was nine years old, so to still be missing it when I was 26, that was a little hard on me. So in 2009, I had confidence on this quad that I had missed for the entire season, because I knew what it was like to put it out there. I actually had a really good season in 2009, I didn’t make the world team but I got second at Skate Canada, I lost to Patrick Chan by, like, a point and I had left out the third jump in my three-jump combo. So it was one of those things where I could have won a Grand Prix if I hadn’t been an idiot [laughs]. But even at my second Grand Prix I skated pretty darn well. I just made some mistakes and got out of it fifth or sixth, and then skated pretty darn well at Nationals as well. That was the year that I missed the lutz in the short, and the second bugaboo of my career became the triple lutz [laughs]. So I’d built up all this momentum for 2010, but unfortunately I also built up a ton of pressure. I wanted to make the Olympic team so badly that I built up this perfect season that I had to do in order to make that team.

On the 2010 season: I was a realist, I understand that the Olympic team was set. I knew that it was going to be Evan, Johnny and Jeremy. They’d established themselves as the best three skaters in the country, and I knew I would have to do something very special to beat them. And that special thing needed to be all season long. I needed to go out and medal in both Grand Prix events, try to make the final, and then I needed to do something there. And I remember going out in Paris and I blew the short, two major mistakes. And I stepped off the ice and I remember thinking in that moment — and this was, what, November — that I was off the Olympic team. And to some degree, Tom agreed with that. I think he knew. That was the other thing, Tom and I had a very love-hate relationship. So there were some battles there as well. But I think he knew. He didn’t tell me necessarily, I think I might have blocked some of those things out [laughs]. But, yeah, we knew that was kind of the end right there. And that was pretty hard.

And then I had a good Skate America, I got third, and that led to the national championships, where I knew I had to be perfect. Jeremy was fantastic. Evan had a rough skate, but he was Grand Prix Final champion so he wasn’t going anywhere. And then all of a sudden Johnny became the question mark. Because Johnny was never bad, that was the thing with Johnny. He would either be great, or he would be OK. And in 2009 he didn’t make the world team. He didn’t implode, but other boys skated better. So you knew he was going to be hungry. And I gave myself a ten-point gap that I had to make up in the long, because I missed the axel and I popped the lutz. If I hadn’t popped the lutz I think I would have made the team, which is what’s so crazy. Even at my age now where I just do shows, if you told me to go do a triple lutz and I’d make the Olympic team, I’d hit it ten times out of ten. So it’s kind of bittersweet, I suppose. But there was a lot of pressure and suddenly all that pressure was released when I went into the long program, I had nothing to lose. I remember thinking to myself, I can’t make the Olympic team, but I can put pressure on these guys to realize if they’re not good they’re not going to be on the Olympic team. So that’s kind of where my standpoint was. That was a fun program. It’s bittersweet because it’s probably one of my more memorable programs that people bring up all the time, but it’s also career defining in a negative way because my Olympic dream was over in that moment. I realized I couldn’t stick around another four years, and I actually didn’t think I’d stick around another year.

On winning 2011 US Nationals: I basically went along with my life as if I was going to retire. I was doing shows, I was teaching seminars — I never stopped skating because it was such a pattern, it was something I liked to do, so I’d be training show programs rather than competition programs — but it kept me trained. But I’d get so many messages on Facebook where people would just elbow me and nudge me toward competing again. And at first I remember thinking that was really sweet, and then you run into people at shows, and people who watched me do these shows all the time would just kind of bring that up. And it just started to creep into my head. At first it was very much like, yeah, right [laughs] — like I would respond now if someone asked me to compete, I would be like, you bet, see you out there [laughs]. But that’s how it started. And then my foot started feeling better, I started getting healthy again, and I started getting on the ice and doing long programs — I was not retired but out of it, so I started doing programs and I didn’t feel as bad as I thought I would. My mom, I’m so grateful for her, she signed me up for Nationals, because there’s a deadline of September 1. And if you had asked me September 2 if I was going to compete at Nationals, I would have said there was a 95% chance that I wouldn’t. Maybe that 5% just because you never know with things. But I had no intention. I didn’t know if I’d be relevant, and our boys had a good year that year. I was in a different world, I was doing shows and so on.

And then a light switched. I went to Scotty [Hamilton]’s show in Cleveland, which was mid-November, and I’d just started thinking about competing again. And Michael Weiss and I had this conversation, and he was like, why would you do that? And I was like, unfinished business. And I went to Brian Boitano’s show, which was early December. And Brian is one of my mentors, and so is his coach, Linda Leaver. And I didn’t want to do one of my show programs, I wanted to do my short to help me prepare, because at that point I was pretty sure I was going to go. And I went out and I did a quad on small ice, and Linda Leaver came up to me — and I’ll never let her forget this [laughs] — and she was like, you know, Ryan, you’re working really hard, you’ve had a great career, don’t go to Nationals. You’re going to embarrass yourself. And she was just being very frank with me, and I really honestly think she was trying to protect me. She said, if you go out there and you’re not relevant, you’re really going to hurt your career. And at the time I probably should have taken her more seriously, because here’s somebody who’s been through it and who understands, but I remember just laughing, like, why are you saying this to me, get out of here, it’s going to be great. And there was really no reason to think that other than I’d finally got my triple axel figured out and I’d started doing the quad again, but I wasn’t in good enough shape. And when Brian found out that I was definitely going, he told me he wasn’t going to be there for the long because he was presenting at the Sundance Film Festival, and he hoped it wasn’t a big deal. And I was like, of course it’s a big deal, you’re my mentor, and I want you to be there to see me win. And he was laughing about it, and I was like, I’m totally serious. But he had his commitments and he couldn’t be there, so now I think he was bad luck [laughs].

So about three weeks out — one of the big things I wanted to do when I came back was a backflip in competition. So I was training really hard, I was training two quads, I was training two triple axels, and I’d never done both. But my last jumping pass, which became a triple flip, was a backflip. All the way up until maybe one week before Nationals, when all of a sudden everything started going clean. I started hitting both quads, hitting both triple axels, and then I’m like, wait a minute, if I do all this, I could be on the world team. I could win. So if I do all this and then I do a backflip at the end of it, I’m definitely going to win the crowd, but I’m not going to win the event. I’m not going to make a lot of friends at US Figure Skating [laughs]. So that backflip became a triple flip, and that suddenly became the way I was training. I had all this confidence because I was doing clean run-throughs, and doing things well. And that was the big thing. I used to always be able to do clean programs, but I would have sloppy landings. And that season I really kind of figured some things out. I remember just thinking to myself, holy crap, I’m skating better than everybody else, we’re going to see how this event goes.

[When he won] it was like, finally, OK, get out of here, go, move on with your life [laughs]. That’s how I felt like people perceived me. Like, we’re so happy for you, don’t come back. Take this and leave. Run. Don’t look back. [laughs] But I was very fortunate.

On his music choices: The banjos, that was 100% me. You know, that’s funny, it was 2003 and that was the first year I quit [laughs]. I had competed at Regionals that year, done two triple axels and a quad, and I remember thinking, this is the year I’m finally going to break through, I’m going to make the podium. And at Nationals I self-destructed in the short and ended up skating first in the long, and I remember thinking I was done, there was no way I was going to compete again. So I enrolled in school full-time, and then I was under some pressure to come back. And I was only going to do it if it was on my terms, and I was going to do what I wanted to do. And I worked with Damon Allen on my programs that year, and Damon was so cool about letting me have that input. And it was just such a fun program. The problem was, it was really fast, a lot of energy, and endurance-wise it’s really important for me to pace my programs. So I didn’t really ever skate that program cleanly, because it wasn’t well paced. But that was my own fault, I cut the music, so I made it the way it was. It obviously didn’t work to my endurance needs, but for performing — gosh, that was a lot of fun.

I’d say every successful program I ever had, I was told I shouldn’t do – by a number of people, not just one or two. And there were a couple of programs you never saw, because they tried so hard. I did a cowboy program one year, just a straight-up spoof. I did it one time at Liberty and fell apart, and unfortunately I listened. I think it would have been a program at Nationals that would have brought the house down. And that was 2009 when I went back to my samba program. But I got a lot of flack about the Mozart program, about skating to Elvis in the short — Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy I never did until Nationals, so nobody had the chance to talk me out of it, but I’m sure they would have. I skated around like a little intermediate lady [laughs] so I think that probably would have been the most-resisted program that I’ve done. You guys saw it when I skated it clean, but if I had made mistakes, it would have been ridiculous. You can’t be skating around winking at people and wagging your finger when you’re popping the triple axel and falling on a quad. It just doesn’t work. When you take that risk, you have to skate well. Otherwise, everything you’re doing is not sincere, and you look ridiculous. And that puts a lot of pressure on you. It relaxed me because I was having fun and laughing about things, but there’s that fine line when you have that pressure as well. So trying to find that balance with these programs was always pretty brutal. Literally, I was watching an intermediate lady skate to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and laughing to myself, and thinking, this is where I’m going to choreograph my own short and give myself a chance. And I thought, that would be hilarious if a six-foot-tall guy went out and skated to this to get the crowd on their feet. That was very important to me, and that’s how that program was born. I only did it two times, at Nationals and Worlds, and I regret that because I think it could have been a really big program for me for a longer period of time. But with show skating, I can bring it back if I want to.

About the Author
Yup, I’m a skating fan. But I’m a skater too. I compete nearly every year in the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships, and am always thrilled to see my other skating buddies there. In my real life I work in marketing for brands that make positive changes in the world, and a mom of two rambunctious boys.

1 comment on “Episode #76: Ryan Bradley

  1. Nick Pilgrim says:

    Hi Allison,

    What a fantastic interview. He has many, many fans in Australia.
    Ryan is as much fun to listen to off the ice as he is to watch on it.

    Nick Pilgrim

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