Saturday, June 15

Skate for Hope 10th Anniversary Show

My lovely town of Columbus, Ohio plays host to Skate for Hope, one of the premiere figure skating exhibitions each off-season. Over the past ten years, an amazing $500,000 has been raised for the Stefanie Spielman Fund at the Ohio State University James Cancer Center and The Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer. I had the opportunity to attend the show on Saturday night, and it featured an amazing cast including both of the current US National singles Champions, a former Olympic Champion, several other Olympic and World competitors, and over 130 young skaters and adults!

The nice thing about exhibition skating is that the quarter-turn cheats, the changes of edge at the last minute, the number of revolutions in spins, and all of that other nit-picking is thrown out the window. Falls here aren't going to get you a mandatory one-point deduction on top of the -3 grade of execution; instead, the skaters get up with smiles on their faces.

With that said, every single skater in the show really delivered amazing performances. Alexe Gilles, an Canadian ladies competitor, started off the headliners with a graceful, beautiful performance complete with a double Axel and triple toe. Adam Rippon was next, and he continues to improve the quality of his overall skating tremendously. He now has a great combination of power behind his skating to go with the softer elegance. Naturally, he included the Rippon triple Lutz here!

One of the most consistent American ladies over the last year has been Christina Gao. She is an Ohio native, and this is her first time at Skate for Hope. She landed two triple toe loops in an exquisite program, skating to 'You Raise Me Up'. Rachael Flatt skated a fun number to 'Catch My Breath' performed live by Columbus resident Jenny Alu. Even though she has decided to focus on college, Rachael still easily managed a double Axel and triple loop here and there is always such freedom and happiness in her skating.

Emily Hughes has been a long-time performer in the show, and she and sister Sarah dedicate each of their performances to their mother Amy, a breast cancer survivor. There was a nice video montage of the family leading into her gorgeous performance to 'Hallelujah'. Another touching performance was from Emily Samuelson and Lee Harris. Samuelson competed in the 2010 Olympics as an ice dancer, and Harris is a former US Junior Pairs Champion. Lee dedicated the performance to his mother who was in attendance, and the program was beautifully constructed. At one point, Harris skated over to his mother and drew a heart with his hands.

Dan Hollander competed at the World Championships in the mid-90's, and has been a staple in exhibition skating for many years. He was a late addition to this show, and he brought the house down with a performance that included the Nutcracker Suite in a tutu and Beyonce's 'Single Ladies' in, yes-- a leotard. Jeremy Abbott skated to 'Bring Him Home' from Les Miserables and landed a perfect triple Axel. Jeremy's skating skills are remarkable, and he listens to every single note of the music with his entire body.

Current US Mens Champion Max Aaron skated to a medley of popular songs and had the audience in the palm of his hand, complete with a kiss for a lady in the front row. That same fearless attack he shows in competition was also evident here, and it adds to the excitement of his skating. Ashley Wagner, two time and reigning US Ladies Champion, skated to the haunting 'Young and Beautiful' by Lana del Ray and the program had a great tension that commanded the audience. 2002 Olympic Champion Sarah Hughes, who was originally not scheduled to perform, closed the night as a surprise skating beautifully to 'What I Did for Love'. She still has a perfect spiral and I witnessed a sweet moment after the show where a young skater in the crowd was visibly awe-struck and told Sarah that she was such an inspiration.

The local and visiting skaters were part of group performances that included an energetic synchronized skating program to 'Scream & Shout', and a fun Justin Bieber medley. Every single one of the skaters looked so happy to be on the ice in front of the large crowd and with some of the biggest stars in the sport.

Special thanks to Doug Mattis for spending much of his free time around the arena with me and to Carolyn Bongirno, President of Skate for Hope, Kristen Izzie, Mel Shilling, and everyone else involved in the show that were so kind to me the last few days!

Next year, Skate for Hope will feature two shows! It will remain in Columbus, and will also be held in Estero, Florida. If you are near either of these areas, I highly recommend attending and seeing some great skating during the quiet months of the year.

Until then.. :-)

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