The transition to pairs is only part of Doherty's new life. She is living in Irvine, Calif., . with Christine Fowler-Binder, her skating choreographer who is originally from Baltimore, and Fowler-Binder's husband and children. Doherty trains at a rink about 20 minutes away in Aliso Viejo, a much easier commute than the one she had in high school.

"The weather is great every day and the skating environment is very competitive," Doherty said. "It's been the best situation for me. I have my own little space in her house, so it allows me to have the support that I needed moving cross-country, just not being on my own all of a sudden."

But there are still plenty of connections back to Maryland and her skating roots, which began when took her first lessons in Columbia at age 6.

Doherty represents the University of Delaware club where she trained during high school, has her costumes designed by Terri Jackson of Born to Skate in Severna Park and has used Mike Cunningham of Skater's Paradise in Waldorf for her boots and blades since she was 8.

"As much as she loves the training environment in CA, in many ways she is still a hometown girl," Kathy Doherty, who Skypes with her daughter amost every night, wrote in an email.

Brenna Doherty has not put away her dream of becoming an aerospace engineer. She said she has finished online college courses in macroeconomics as well as calculus I and II, and is about to start a chemistry course.

"I always prefer to be really busy than to have too much time on my hands," Doherty said. "After I'm done with my workouts, I study from about 3 to 6 p.m. It kind of balances me out a little bit so I don't have to just focus on my skating. It makes me do better in both of them because I want to succeed in both. It works really well."

Ultimately, after her skating career is over, Doherty said she would like to work for NASA because "it's very exciting for me to learn about the unknown in space, anything with space shuttles — the constructing and the designing and the unknown of what NASA has."

For now, there's a different kind of unknown — trying to refocus her long-standing dream of becoming an Olympic figure skater. The transition, however easy it has been so far, will likely have its own bumps along the way. But given what she has gone through in recent years, Doherty is prepared.

"It was hard in one sense, but in another was it was also very encouraging because it gave me something to strive for to see how far I've come in eight months," Doherty said of the transition. "To have qualified for the nationals, it's a very exciting time."

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