A Multi-Sport Star, McKenzie Browne Feels Like She Found Her Home On The Ice
by Nicole Haase
Growing up in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, McKenzie Browne was a gifted, natural athlete.
She started as an inline skater, winning 13 U.S. titles and competing in multiple World Championships. Later, when she took up track cycling as a high school senior, she went on to win Collegiate National Titles for Penn State Lehigh Valley.
Despite her success in those sports, Browne said she struggled with motivation, focus and the pressure that comes with being an individual athlete. So when she saw some childhood friends from the inline circuit competing as long track speed skaters at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, Browne decided to give it a shot.
Following a wheels-to-ice camp, Browne made the switch and hasn’t looked back since.
“I thrive in a team atmosphere because I don’t put as much pressure on myself being out there and people only looking at me,” said Browne, 27. “It’s a team effort, so we all want to help each other instead of just a personal accomplishment. I’m having more fun and am more relaxed because I’m with two of my really good friends. It makes me more comfortable, especially knowing I have two incredible athletes behind me that aren’t going to be mad at me if I do mess up.
“It’s a very cool feeling. They’re my friends but also some of the best skaters in the world.”
There is a freedom in their friendship that leaves room for compassion about mistakes, while the camaraderie gives them additional motivation, Browne said. She knows she’s not as fast as her Olympian teammates, but being paired with two of the best in the world pushes Browne to keep getting better and gives her the cushion of knowing that any growing pains she might experience can easily be overcome by her teammates’ experience.
“I’ve known them for so long, even though I did switch sports, I never really felt like I didn’t belong there with them,” Browne said. “Even though one of them skating behind me (Jackson) has an Olympic Gold medal. She’s just Erin.”
That chemistry has translated to on-ice success. The trio won Bronze at the November World Cup in Heerenveen, Netherlands, before claiming Gold at the World Cups in Calgary, Alberta, and Tomaszów Mazowiecki, Poland, to secure the World Cup season Title. Then, at the World Championships in Heerenveen, the trio claimed a Silver medal, finishing just 0.29 behind the team from Canada.
That close finish is what will drive the team this offseason, said Browne.
“I would love to win world championships in team sprint with the girls next year if we’re able to,” she said. “That would be a good comeback after we just barely lost it this year.”
That’s a long way from where she was at this time last year, when she didn’t expect to make the World Cup team based on her times from the season before. The Bronze medal she won with Jackson and Goetz was her first World Championships medal in any of the sports she’s competed in.
“That was the moment when I knew I could really do it with them,” Browne said. “I learned a lot from that first fall World Cup trip, which really dialed me in for the rest of the season. Just having the motivation of knowing that I was actually able to compete at World Cups and go for medals with two of my teammates really kicked me into gear a bit more. It’s hard to keep going and believing in yourself through a long season.”
In addition to the team sprint, Browne also skated individually this past season, namely in the 500m. The long season gave her a chance to become accustomed to racing more, traveling every week and finding the balance in her routine.
With Jackson and Goetz, the focus was on having fun instead of winning, and Browne credits that with why they were able to be successful. Browne said being with them helps her enjoy every day — even the toughest days of training — and that, more than anything, has been a revelation. She carries a sign with her that says “Find the joy in the journey” to help remind herself to be in the moments between races.
“I think that’s a really big part of my success, just enjoying every day, no matter what. Being happier off the ice makes a really big difference in how I perform on the ice,” said Browne. “I have love for all three sports that I’ve competed in, but I’ve never felt that drive as I have with ice speedskating. I really, really enjoy being out there on the ice and getting to push myself every day. I put a bunch of different pieces together to actually be my very best. This was by far the best year I could ask for, and I am very excited to build on it now that I know what to expect.”
Nicole Haase is a freelancer for USSpeedskating.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.