For Ryan Bradley, the 2006-07 season finally brought success at the U. S. Nationals with a hard-won silver medal, but he didn’t reach the podium until after he had suffered through a lot of physical trauma. After winning the junior men’s title in 1999, Bradley was expected to challenge for the podium much earlier in his career, but between 2000 and 2006, he languished in the middle of the pack, placing between sixth and ninth at Nationals, except for 2005 when he missed Nationals entirely.
“I broke my arm a week before Regionals,” he explained. “I was playing dodge ball with the other kids from the rink. I was worried about getting hit in the knees so I wasn’t moving around much. Then I threw a ball and heard my arm snap. It was poking out through the skin and everything. I ended up with a spiral fracture in the humerus of my right arm. I couldn’t even walk for a month because I had a huge cast from my wrist to my shoulder and around my back to keep the arm from moving. I was off the ice for six months. I still have a gap in the arm. The people at the emergency clinic know me pretty well. This season I put my blade through my shin three weeks before Nationals.”
After winning the U. S. junior title in 1999, Bradley was successful on the ISU Junior Grand Prix circuit, winning events in Mexico City and Gdansk, Poland the following year. He was fifth at both the 2001 ISU Junior Grand Prix Final and 2000 Junior Worlds, and won the Golden Spin of Zagreb in his first senior international in 2000. But his progress slowed in 2001 when he had knee surgery to repair damage to the knee on his landing leg. “I have bad knees,” he lamented. “That set me back.”
Bradley dropped to 15th at Junior Worlds in 2002 and after dropping to ninth at U. S. Nationals in 2003; his heart wasn’t in it anymore. He quit the sport for a few months after he enrolled in college, but continued to work at the World Ice Arena. After suffering a constant barrage of questions from the rink’s denizens about when he was going to return to the ice, Bradley gave in and went back to practicing. “I came back because I loved it,” he said. I love coming to the rink every day. And I enjoy entertaining people with my skating.”
After his return, Bradley only placed 11th at his first Four Continents Championships in 2004. But he came back to win the U. S. Collegiate Skating Championships in 2005 and 2006 before taking the bronze at Nationals in 2007. He was vastly improved in his second Four Continents Championship in his home town of Colorado Springs, Colorado in 2007, just missing the podium with a fourth place finish. He then finished 15th in his first World Championships in Tokyo, Japan.
Figure skating is a family tradition for Bradley. Both of his parents were recreational figure skaters and his sister, Becky, competed in ladies singles. She now coaches at the same rink. Bradley said he started when he was two because “my sister was a skater and my parents took me to the rink to keep me out of trouble. I wanted to play hockey, but my mom wouldn’t let me. But I did in-line hockey for a while. I love to play hockey.” A sports lover as a youth, Bradley also played soccer, baseball, and basketball until he was 12, making all-star teams in both baseball and basketball. He also competed in pairs from 1996 to 1998 with Tiffany Vise and in 2001 with Melissa Gallegos, reaching the Sectionals.
Tom Zakrajsek has coached Bradley at the World Arena Ice Hall for the past eleven years. He only works for about two hours a day, five days a week because he said, “I need to fix a torn meniscus in my right knee. It’s OK because now I have more time to work on easy things. I was losing a lot of points on spins and footwork and there’s still work to be done there. I’m training with the same intensity but I got a little smarter about things. It’s more than just the jumps. I got overwhelmed with the triple axel and then found out I had a lot of other gaps to plug.”
Bradley had landed a double axel, triple salchow and triple toe loop by the age of nine and picked up the other triples quickly, although the triple axel bedeviled him for years. Bradley has worked on three quads, the salchow, the loop and the toe loop. “I’m hoping to have the quad toe in the program,” he said, “but if I have to rest my body, I’ll do the program without the quad. I’ve held back a little this year because of my knee. There are so many things to work on that you don’t want to break your body down.” He’s also landed quad toe-triple toe and quad toe-triple loop combinations. Bradley went with a triple flip-triple toe combination in his short and triple axel-triple toe, triple lutz-triple toe-double loop, and double axel-double toe in the long this season.
Both of Bradley’s programs were new for the 2006-07 season. Nikolai Morozov choreographed his short program to “Polka” and “Happy Birthday Variations” by Gidon Kremer, while Catarina Lindgren choreographed his long program using Perez Prado medley – “Mambo en Sax,” “Historia De Un Amor” and “El Cumbanchero”. “That was my first time working with Nikolai,” Bradley said. “I thought that he’d be hard to work with, but he made it easy. He just watched me skate for a few sessions until he saw what my style was and then made it better. I don’t want to be someone else. I don’t want to be compared to other skaters. I am what I am and I want my programs to show that.”
“I like to have a lot of input into my own programs,” he continued. “I pride myself on skating to any kind of music, whether it’s graceful and slow or upbeat and funny.” For exhibitions, Bradley uses either “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” or a disco medley of Bee Gees hits from “Saturday Night Fever” in a white leisure suit. “Off ice, he listens to “anything with a good beat to it, especially hip-hop. I’m not too musically inclined. The rest of my family is, but I have no rhythm.”
Bradley’s main relaxation is reading. “I read religiously,” he said. “I read a novella a week to take my mind off of things. I usually take the same steps every day, skate, school, homework, reading.”
Bradley, 23, is a junior majoring in business and marketing at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. “There’s a lot of different fields I could go into with that degree,” he explained. Bradley also coaches for an hour or two every day. “I work with some of the pairs skaters on their jumps,” he said. “They’re fun to work with. I also have one student of my own, a sweet little girl that I’m proud of. I’m hoping to mold her into a great competitor.”
He plans to continue until 2010. “After the 2006 season, I sat down and set benchmarks for what I had to do to get to the Olympics,” he said, “every step of the way. I want to get my name in the forefront.”