Balancing life in the pool, on the ice, and in school

Balancing life in the pool, on the ice, and in school
Caroline and Brendan Mullen on ice

Photo credit © Melanie Heaney / U.S. Figure Skating


By Maura Sullivan Hill

Every year, more than 1,000 figure skaters across the U.S. participate in qualifying competitions with the hopes of earning a spot at the national championships. In 2024, just 180 of those athletes qualified to compete at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Columbus, Ohio.

One of those skaters was Bishop O’Connell senior Caroline Mullen, who competes in ice dance with her brother, Brendan Mullen ’22. Earning a spot at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships is a huge accomplishment for any figure skater, but Mullen did it while also competing on O’Connell’s swim team, a virtual rarity in figure skating.

Most skaters who compete at the national level forego other sports to specialize in skating, and many also enroll in online or homeschool programs to focus on training. But not the Mullens, who have found success in two sports while also attending O’Connell.

“I love the community that going to a Catholic, in-person high school gives me, and O’Connell’s community is extra special, as it is a caring and supportive environment,” Caroline says. “Swimming fits in because I do it in the morning, before school, and then I skate in the afternoon. I’ve always loved it, even as I’ve kept skating.”

She’s in the pool by 5:45 am each day, then off to school, where Brendan picks her up in the afternoons for their skating training. He is a sophomore at George Mason University, studying computer science.

“Being in regular school and college, you can really be part of the community, and it’s good to have in-person classes,” says Brendan, who was also on the swim team when he was at O’Connell. “The college experience is nice so far.”

All the Mullen siblings have graduated from or attend O’Connell.

Caroline and Brendan have two brothers, and all four siblings have done both sports. Swimming came first, then skating. Their older brother, William, is a college swimmer and younger brother Paul also swims for O’Connell and qualified for this year’s national club swimming championships.

Both Caroline and Brendan say that swimming is good cross-training for their skating, especially since the competition seasons run almost parallel.

Ice dance competitions start in late summer, culminating in the qualifying events for the national championships in late November or December, which is when the high school swimming season starts. The 2024 U.S. Figure Skating Championships took place in Columbus from Jan. 22-28. Just a few days later, on Feb. 3, Caroline was in the pool for the annual Washington Metropolitan Prep School Swim Dive League championships.

At the league championships, she swam in the 200 and 500 freestyle events, as well as relays, and led her teammates with two seventh place finishes. O’Connell finished sixth as a team at the meet.

At the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Caroline and Brendan placed fifth in the junior ice dance event, one level below senior, which is the Olympic level. It was the culmination of a comeback season for the duo, who competed at the national championships in 2022 but missed the 2023 event when Brendan had ankle injuries that required surgery.

Ice dance is a discipline of figure skating akin to ballroom dancing, with skaters interpreting different dance styles on the ice, while also performing spins and acrobatic lifts. Both Caroline and Brendan say they enjoy ice dance because of the musicality and ability to tell a story through their performances.

They competed internationally for Team USA this past fall, traveling to Austria and Japan for competitions. And their fifth-place finish at the U.S. Championships puts them in the running for more international competitions next year.

All this success in the pool and on the ice is bolstered by the support the Mullen siblings have found at O’Connell. “The interest my teammates and classmates show in my skating truly means so much,” Caroline added.

Julie Mullen, Caroline and Brendan’s mom, is also grateful for the community at O’Connell: “It’s such a nice, Christ-centered education. It truly is wonderful,” she says.

And now Caroline wants to give back to the school that has supported her. She was named to the 2024 U.S. Figure Skating Scholastic Honors Team, an award that includes a donation of $1,000 to a charity of her choice. So Mullen chose her school.

“I know how much they do for the community. They do Superdance, to raise money for a cure for cystic fibrosis, and then they do the canned soup drive every fall and the turkey blitz [to support the Missionaries of Charity],” Caroline says. “Seeing how they give to the community and how much they help all of us students, they were the first charity that came to mind.”

The Scholastic Honors Team award is a U.S. Figure Skating scholarship that recognizes athletes who have dedicated themselves to academics, community involvement, and figure skating. Caroline was one of 10 recipients in 2024 and received a $3,000 scholarship, in addition to the donation for O’Connell. She hopes the donation can support campus ministry or the expanded services program.

As her senior year at O’Connell comes to an end, she’s deciding where she’ll go to school next year. It will be nearby, so she and Brendan can keep up their skating training. She might join Brendan at Mason, and is also considering Marymount University. Wherever she ends up, she’ll stay connected to O’Connell.

“Something they always emphasize [at school] is to bring the joy,” Caroline says. “There’s always someone smiling when you walk in; there’s always somebody to say hi; there’s always a teacher in the hallway. They really care about your well-being, and it makes such a difference. It makes you want to be part of the school."


Media - Get an on-ice perspective of Caroline and Brendan's 2024 Free Dance program performed earlier at Bryant Park in New York at the link below:

Image from Youtube video of Mullens