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The Inside Edge with Sarah and Drew - July 1

Skate for Hope, mystery of the missing skates and on-ice drama

Caroline Zhang hangs out on the exercise equipment at the Colonial FSC's <i>Ice Crystals</i> show.
Caroline Zhang hangs out on the exercise equipment at the Colonial FSC's Ice Crystals show. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(07/01/2009) - Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins cover all the bases in the latest version of The Inside Edge, from Caroline Zhang's stolen skates to Skate for Hope and more!

Stolen skates!
We were both in Boston last week, where it even stopped raining for a day or two! Last Friday and Saturday we spent a little time with Caroline Zhang. Caroline skated in the Colonial Figure Skating Club's Ice Crystals show, but not without some drama.

"First of all, I got to the airport [in LA]," Caroline told us, "and they said, 'Sorry, we already sold your seat to a standby.' I'm like, 'How can you sell my seat? I checked in last night.' So I was standing at the counter to check in for another flight, and I turned around, and my bag was gone."

The airport police were called in, Caroline's mother made a dash for home to fetch a pair of stock boots, and Caroline flew to Boston with her mother following on the next flight.

"The bag had my costumes and my skates in it," said Caroline, holding up the bladeless, brand new boots backstage. "So I would have gotten some blades mounted on these and worn a practice outfit."

As it happened, all was well. The police located Caroline's bag. The airline put it on a flight to Boston and couriered it to the rink, and it arrived just over an hour before showtime. Phew!

By the way, Caroline is originally from the Boston area. She was born in Brighton, Mass., and lived there until she was four. This was her first visit back.

She pulled out two pretty costumes, a pink-and-lavender dress and a pale blue one sprinkled with crystals.

"Which one should I wear for 'On My Own?'" she asked us. We debated the merits of both, and she settled on the pink.

We asked her about next year's programs.

"For my short program I'm skating to Zigeunerweisen," she said, "by the Spanish composer Sarasate. I can spell it!"

She demonstrated, spelling perfectly. "I just got my long; I'm skating to The Nutcracker. Lori Nichol did both programs, and I really like them."

As was reported here earlier, Caroline switched coaches three weeks ago to Charlene Wong.

"It's been going really well," she said. "This is a very important year for me, so I wanted to have every shot possible of making the Olympic team. I felt like a change was needed... last year was kind of rough at the start. Hopefully this will work out nicely."

Caroline told us she practices seven days a week in Los Angeles, although the rink is very crowded on weekends.

"On the weekends, every rink in Southern California has like fifty people on it. Unless you plan on skating at 5:30 a.m., you're going to be skating with 40 or 50 people. I probably skate four or five sessions Monday through Friday, Saturday probably I'm down to three, Sundays about the same. Probably, after this season, I'll take more time off, but I want to have enough time to do everything this year."

We wondered about Caroline's first Olympic memories.

"I remember '98. It was just after I started skating. I'm sure every little skater dreams about going to the Olympics. The first skater I ever watched was probably Oksana [Baiul]or Lu Chen. Even at the age of three, I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics someday."

And with that, it was time for the show to begin. This year, the annual club show was a benefit for Why Me & Sherry's House, a non-profit organization providing crisis support to children with cancer and their families. Caroline wowed the crowd with a bunch of combination jumps, including a triple loop-double toe-double loop-double loop. Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, Brittney Rizo, Yasmin Siraj, Colin Grafton, Una Donegan and Andrew Korda, Christopher Fernandes and John McKenna also skated.

Wheelbarrow race
Emily Samuelson was nice enough to send us updates from the Skate for Hope benefit in Columbus, Ohio, on June 20. As we mentioned in an earlier blog, adult skater Carolyn Bongirno created Skate for Hope after her own successful battle with breast cancer. Emily and her partner Evan Bates joined Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski on the three-hour drive from Detroit, "packed into my little Honda Accord," Emily told us.

"Rachael Flatt and her parents were supposed to get in earlier but ended up sitting at least seven hours in the airport!" she added. "To add to the travel troubles, Rachael lost her bag."

Emily Hughes also suffered from the travel problems that afflicted the nation throughout June and got stuck in the airport overnight on her way to the show.

Emily, Evan, Brooke, Ben, Rachael, Ryan Bradley, Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker were taken to dinner at the Scioto Country Club. Emily said she sat with a second-grader and a fourth-grader, Katie and Emily Gold, who had raised over $6,000 for the cause, mostly through lemonade stand sales.

"If anything is inspiring, it's seeing such young philanthropists working so diligently and selflessly to give money away to a great cause," said Emily.

On the day of the show, the skaters attended a meet-and-greet session with kids who had raised money for the breast cancer cause in order to skate in the show.

"They were all so enthusiastic and actually very good skaters!" said Emily. "Some of them gave us flowers after our performance. While we were doing the practice before the show, they lined the front few rows of the rink and were extremely enthusiastic... especially about Ryan Bradley's backflips!"

Emily said the audience for the show itself was "supportive and excited and just happy to be there, enjoying great skating and helping such an amazing cause."

Backstage during the show, a "wheelbarrow" race broke out.

"There were two pillars in the room that we were using as our 'locker room,'" said Emily. "Rockne was the one pushing Evan and Ryan was pushing Keauna. They decided they would go in a giant oval, around both pillars, and see who went the fastest. In order for there to be unbiased judging, we set up two chairs with tape stretched between them at the start, then they'd go in a circle and whoever broke through the tape first would be the winner! Keauna and Ryan beat Evan and Rockne. Well, technically Keauna and Ryan broke through the tape first, but Evan and Rockne were definitely faster!"

After the show, Carolyn Bongirno organized a dinner at Buca di Beppo's for the headliners.

"If you've never eaten there, then you're definitely missing out," said Emily. "It's a family-style restaurant where you order a bunch of dishes that feed at least two or three people. Of course, the boys each eat as much as two or three people, so we ordered a lot! There was ravioli, spaghetti with meatballs, manicotti and stuffed shells, just to name a few.

"Rockne's family was there too, since it was Rockne's birthday the next day, so we all celebrated that together. And yes, they did bring out a cake as we all sang 'Happy Birthday'!"

Emily finished with a heartfelt tribute to the organizer.

"She is passionate about the breast cancer cause, and it shows in everything she does -- from organizing transportation and meals for all us skaters to overseeing the set-up of the venue and still having the time to personally have conversations with every single member of the staff, volunteers and skaters.

"Overall, it was a great experience that I really hope I am privileged to participate in again next year. Many of us have been touched by those with breast cancer, so being able to give back through our performances at Skate for Hope meant the world to us."

On-ice drama
The second annual Theater on Ice National Championships took place in Chicago last week. Hundreds of skaters aged six to 60 took part in introductory, novice, junior, senior and adult teams. For the second year in a row, Imagica won the adult division, and we talked to Imagica team member Carolyn Evert after the competition. Since it's skating, there was, of course, some drama.

"On Thursday afternoon, we were in the dressing room getting our skates on when the lights went out!" Carolyn told us. "Then we smelled fumes. One team member said it smelled like a generator was on fire somewhere. So they got us all out and put us in the lobby, and there were rumors that there might have been a fire in the locker room. They shut down the power and an hour later the ice started melting! The word was that they might not be able to fix it for 48 hours, and the competition was on Friday and Saturday. So they sent us to another rink, but then they must have fixed it in the wee hours."

The competition went off as scheduled. In the other divisions, L.A. Ice Theater won the senior title, the Space Coast Hurricanes won the junior, HITS won novice, and the Houston Starz won the introductory division.

Carolyn also told us that next year, for the first time ever, there will be a world championships of Theater on Ice in Toulouse, France.

"Theater on Ice is very big in France, Russia and Spain," she said. "Teams are getting better, and it's great to have so many people getting involved. The top three teams from the U.S. will go to worlds, including the adults; this is the first time adults will be included in any kind of world championship."

Imagica is in its 13th year as a team.

"It's a lot of fun and we're all like family," said Carolyn. "It doesn't matter if you've been skating since the age of two or 42, you'll be accepted. We do a lot of comedy, and it's a great feeling to know you've brought joy to people. I've been competing since I was 12 and it's made me love skating even more. We have a really good time."

Have a happy Fourth of July, everyone!

Sarah and Drew
sarahanddrewblog@gmail.com
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