by Anne Calder
Caroline and Brendan Mullen are very competitive athletes from a very competitive family. Caroline and younger brother Paul are high school swimmers. Brendan has competed in multiple 5k open water swims and William, the oldest Mullen, swims for West Virginia University. The brothers also played hockey together until high school.
Both the junior ice dancers have December birthdays. Last month Caroline turned 18; Brendan turned 20. Both were born in Annapolis, Maryland and call Fairfax Station, Virginia their hometown. The siblings live with their parents, two brothers, two cats and two rabbits.
“My earliest skating memories are very special to me,” Caroline shared. “My parents would take my three brothers and me to the rink, and we would take group classes when we were first learning to skate.
“I remember skating in Christmas and Spring shows. Family and friends would come to watch all four of us. That was where my love of skating began.”
“We took freestyle lessons, and then our coach started working with us as a young pairs team,” Brendan added. ”When we began training at the Ashburn Ice House, Ruslan Goncharov introduced us to ice dance”
“We also saw how much our mom enjoyed it when she began ice dancing,” Caroline remembered. “She encouraged Brendan and me to try it.”
Having already done pairs, the siblings were used to skating and working together. It was an easy transition to ice dance.
By 2017, the duo was skating on the juvenile level for the Washington FSC. The next season, they competed at the 2019 Nationals in Detroit. As intermediates the following season, the siblings were fifth at the 2020 Ice Dance Final where their placement got them an invitation to the first National High-Performance Development Camp. The event was held for juvenile, intermediate, and novice skaters in lieu of competing at the National Figure Skating Championships.
Team Mullen worked with Elena Novak and Alexei Kuliakov at the ION International Training Center in Leesburg, Virginia. Due to the impact of Covid-19, the 2021 Championship Series used a virtual format. Caroline and Brendan submitted their novice free dance video and a panel of judges scored them fourth. The next season the team made its Junior debut at the 2022 U.S. National Championships in Nashville, Tennessee.
In the spring, Brendan injured his ankle while skating and in a short span of time suffered two more injuries to the same ankle. He had surgery in the summer and was off skating for about four months.
“It was an extremely difficult and stressful time for not only me but for Caroline as well. She had to practice by herself while my ankle was healing,” Brendan explained. “I had to be patient with rehabilitation and work hard at physical therapy while Caroline was at the rink.
“We learned to persevere from this experience and were determined to come back better. The challenges of that season made our partnership stronger, and we were both grateful when we were finally back on the ice training together.”
Caroline shared her personal challenges trying to work on partner skills by herself.
“During the time that Brendan was off the ice, I never missed a day of training. It was a difficult transition for me to skate by myself. I had to continue to work on our program alone which was challenging and troublesome at times. I found it difficult to do run-throughs alone as many of the elements and moves are done while in a particular hold. Trying to mimic the move without a partner is almost impossible.
“We knew we were out for the season with his injury. I just had to do the best I could and focus on skating skills while waiting for Brendan to come back to the rink.”
Due to the timing of his injury, Caroline and Brendan had not competed at any of the qualifying series events. Therefore, the team could not participate at the 2023 Nationals.
When the team began training for the 2023-2024 season, it was with new coaches Dmytri Ilin in Rockville, Maryland and Ruslan Goncharov in Arlington, Virginia. Ilin also works with Greg Zuerlein, who coaches at the Michigan Ice Dance Academy (MIDA) with Charlie White and Tanith White.
“We enjoy traveling to Michigan and working on our choreography with Charlie and Greg. They are creative and their lessons are fun,” Caroline smiled. “We love skating at MIDA and always feel so inspired when we are there. Ruslan Goncharov also worked with us on the choreography for our new programs.“
Prior to Brendan’s injury, the siblings had already chosen their free dance music for the next season but opted to change it to something completely different. Coach Ilin recommended “Survivor” by 2WEI.
“We found this music spoke to us personally because it tells the story about how we are survivors through a major setback and are still reaching for our goals throughout all the challenges we faced,” Brendan noted. “Because this program is a personal story, we feel that it helps our performance and our ability to portray the true emotions that we experienced through this time.”
“Caroline and I have always skated together,” Brendan said. “We think that skating as siblings offers great advantages because we know each other so well. It is easier to communicate, and we are always accessible to each other. We get along well which makes skating together easier and ice time more productive. We also have the same support network and a similar schedule.”
Brendan is a sophomore at George Mason University in Fairfax County, Virginia and carries a full class load in Computer Science. After his skating career, he would like to do software engineering at a tech company.
“Time management is key with my workload for college classes and training,” Brendan said. “I have scheduled my college classes to either be during the day when Caroline is in school or in the evening. This allows for training in the afternoon. When I need extra time to study to prepare for a test or complete a project, I sacrifice sleep. I will stay up late and wake up earlier to finish everything. That way time at the rink is not impacted.”
Caroline is a National Honor Society member and has maintained a 4.0 GPA her four years at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. She shared her daily schedule.
“It starts with swim practice before school. Some days I skate in the morning instead of swimming. I go to school right after practice and then go to the rink in the early afternoon and stay until the ice ends. When I come home, I eat dinner with my family and then work on my homework which usually takes me until late in the evening to finish.
“It is a challenge fitting everything in and trying to do well. I try to study in between things such as in the car on the way to the rink and on the way home. I also have an amazing and supportive family, so I always look to my parents and siblings for inspiration.”
In their first full season back on the ice, Team Mullen was invited to compete at two of the 2023 Junior Grand Prix events.
“There were so many amazing moments at each competition,” Caroline said. “We met so many wonderful people in Austria. When we first took the ice, the crowd cheered. It was an incredible feeling to be at an international competition with so many competitors from so many different countries. In Japan, there was such a welcoming atmosphere. So many people came to watch us skate. It was a great feeling to be on the ice and see so much support for Team USA.”
Brendan added, “Our JGP events this season were so memorable, and we appreciated everyone who was with us. One of the most memorable events from the JGP in Austria was the Team USA dinner on the last night we were in Linz. At the Japan JGP, I thought it was very special that so many Japanese citizens were holding up American flags when we skated. I felt so proud to be on Team USA.”
“We both loved competing internationally. It was very exciting. Being able to be in a different country and represent Team USA was amazing, and we are looking forward to future experiences.
The partners each shared a favorite skating memory of their own plus one with their sibling.
“One of my favorite experiences will always be competing at Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships for the first time and being able to experience the magical place of Lake Placid, N.Y.
“A special memory shared with Caroline is competing at our first JGP and international competition. This experience is such a memorable one because it has always been our dream to represent Team USA overseas.”
“The day Brendan was able to get back on the ice after his injury was a special day. It seemed like everything was going to be okay. Another special moment was when we found out we had JGP assignments to Austria and Japan. It was such a happy moment for both of us and my family that it filled me with so much gratitude.”
Team Mullen shared its skating goals for the 2024 U.S. National Championships and the future.
“For the upcoming US Nationals, it is our goal to finish in the top three in Junior ice dance. This would help us to possibly be selected for Junior Worlds. Our shorter term skating goals are to be Junior U.S. National Champions and to medal at Junior Worlds. When we compete as seniors, our goal is to qualify for the World Championships and Olympics.”
Caroline Mullen is one of the ten dedicated student-athletes recently named to the 2024 Scholastic Honors Team who will be recognized at the Prevagen U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Columbus, Ohio. Those named twill receive a $3,000 scholarship and an additional $1,000 to be donated to a charity of their choice.