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The Inside Edge: Brubaker pops the question

Former U.S. pairs champ gets 'yes' from Italian skater Berton; Campbell, Cassar bid skating goodbye

Rockne Brubaker completely surprised Stefania Berton with his marriage proposal.
Rockne Brubaker completely surprised Stefania Berton with his marriage proposal. (courtesy of Rockne Brubaker)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(02/13/2013) - Rockne Brubaker is engaged to Italian pairs skater Stefania Berton, who just won the bronze medal at the European championships with Ondrej Hotarek. The two first met in 2004 at an international competition in Slovenia, and they maintained a slight acquaintance for several years.

"The first time we really starting interacting and spending some time with one another was in October of 2011 at Coupe de Nice," Brubaker told us. "Last year after worlds, we began to seriously date."

Brubaker popped the question Feb. 2 at a big dinner for family and friends. He managed to set the scene and even video the proposal without Berton suspecting a thing.

"I knew that I wanted to spend my life with Rockne, but I never expected that this would happen right now," Berton told us. "Earlier that day, Rockne had told me that he wanted to give a small birthday speech for his brother and sister, and asked me to help him with it. When we got up in front of everyone for this 'birthday speech,' he gave me a kiss, wished Collin and Shauna a happy birthday, and then got down on one knee.

"I barely heard what he said to me before I heard the words, 'Stefy, will you marry me?' This was mostly because I could barely breathe and my heart was beating so fast."

"Neither of us have ever been happier than we are now," Brubaker said.

The couple has not yet set a date for the wedding.

Campbell goes out on high note

More than one free skate at the 2013 U.S. Championships represented a swan song. Jonathan Cassar and Wesley Campbell have both decided to retire, and their performances in Omaha were their last as competitors. Campbell couldn't have asked for a nicer farewell, as he skated a perfectly clean program and received a rapturous standing ovation.

"After last season, I was so disappointed with the way I finished the year," he said. "I wanted to come back with my whole heart poured into what I was doing. To go out the way that I did made it so clear that we had done everything we wanted to do and it was time to move on."

Campbell said that the whole day of his last competitive program was serene.

"I felt in my heart that this was going to be it," he said. "The whole morning of the free skate, there was kind of a peace about me. I wanted to soak up every single second of that day.

"I looked at myself in the mirror and just said, 'This is your time.' From the moment I started, this peace just carried me through every moment, every breath."

The program, to "Ave Maria," was smooth and calm, punctuated by elegant jumps and spins. Campbell skated with a big smile on his face all the way through, and he burst into joyful tears at the end.

"I looked up and lost it when I saw everyone standing up," he said. "It was probably the coolest experience of my life so far. Just to feel understood and appreciated for what it is that I do and have that connection with people was everything I ever wanted."

As for what's next, Campbell is still pondering the future. He coaches in the Boston area and plans to continue. He says he's interested in choreography and, possibly, pairs. At 6-foot-3, he has the height, although he's a clockwise jumper, which limits his options a little.

"I would consider some tryouts," he said. "If I do that, it would have to be a really great situation. I love the idea of taking the competitive experience in a new direction, but it would have to be really ideal."

For now, Campbell hopes to continue performing, in shows or on tour.

"When you're competing, all you ever think about from the age of 5 is becoming an Olympian," he said. "I'm 27 now, and my goals have changed so much as a result of my experiences. It's time to find a new goal."

Campbell expressed heartfelt gratitude to his coach, Julie Graham Eavzen, and choreographer, Sheryl Franks.

"Those two are a dream team, and I couldn't be more thankful," he said. "And my friend Robert Mauti, for all of his constant support and choreography, to inspire me and keep me going. And U.S. Figure Skating, and all the judges who supported me and watched me since 1997. I'm going to miss it so much."

Another farewell

Fan favorite Cassar has also decided to call it a career. Although he never won a medal at the U.S. championships, he won a dedicated following for his exquisite style, wonderful choreography and jaw-dropping spread eagles.

Cassar decided last November that the 2013 U.S. Championships would be his last competition. His parents, brother and grandparents were in the stands in Omaha, Neb., to watch him.

"I kept skating because it's something I loved to do," he said in a long, emotional phone conversation. "I knew my dreams of the Olympics were over, but I could still make an impact on the sport. I have no regrets, and that's how I wanted to leave it. I feel like [my career] had some really special moments."

Cassar felt, for a time, that if he could master the triple Axel, he had a chance at the podium. He relocated to California a couple of years ago to work with Frank Carroll, partly in hopes of adding the jump to his arsenal.

"As the season progressed, I hit some struggles along the road," he said. "I was working on triple Axel, I started to do better, and then I started to get tendinitis in my right ankle, and it got pretty bad to the point where I wasn't jumping."

Cassar improved enough to take second place at the 2013 Pacific Coast Sectional Championships, but he felt that his time had come.

"I remember stepping into the rink and going, 'I'm not going to compete anymore. This is it,'" he said. "It was the feeling inside that I've gone as far as I could."

Cassar says his 2009-11 program to Schindler's List is a cherished memory.

"I remember when I did Schindler's List the second time and got a standing ovation. Those are the memories that I'll hold onto," he said. "Coming into this nationals, I was thinking how badly I wanted to skate as well as I could and create another special moment, and I feel like that happened in the short. I loved every minute of being out there."

The reality of the decision sank in as soon as Cassar finished his free program in Omaha.

"The second I took my final bow, I was going, 'Oh, it's over. My competitive career is over now.' Skating has defined my life, everything I've done.

"I was thinking about what I had learned in these past 18 or 19 years. I was thinking how comfortable it feels to be out on that ice, whether there's a crowd, or the lights are off and you're the only one there. I think every skater feels that."

Cassar plans to stay in the sport, as a coach and choreographer; he would also like to skate in shows.

"I've started to choreograph quite a bit," he said. "I feel almost more comfortable in these shoes than I do as a skater. The more that I teach, the more programs I've done; I feel really excited every time I do it.

"Sometimes, you know exactly what you're going to do, and I feel like this is what I'll spend the rest of my skating life doing: teaching and choreographing."

First on the list of people Cassar wanted to thank for his career was choreographer David Wilson.

"I'm truly blessed to have gotten to work with David for the past seven or eight seasons," he said. "He has really nurtured my talent as an artist, and I cannot thank him enough. I hope that he and I will continue to work together in the future.

"I have to thank every coach I've ever worked with, and the list is very long. They've all taught me something unique. I've gotten along with all of them, and they've all been very supportive of me."

Cassar mentioned with gratitude his first coach, Linda Johns, as well as Mitch Moyer, Julie Berlin, Todd Sand, Frank Carroll, and his trainer, Debbie Pitsos.

"They've all had a huge impact on me as a skater and as a person," he said. "They teach you more than technique; they teach you about life.

"Frank has had the largest impact on my skating," he continued. "Every lesson I've taken from him, I've learned something. He said to me one time, 'Jonathan, life takes a lot of courage, so why don't we use some of that courage right now and skate a good program!'

"I have to thank U.S. Figure Skating; they've given me so many great opportunities to go to internationals and compete for Team USA. And I have to thank the fans! They have helped me so much.

"For me, someone who has never been at the top, it's really special to me. Maybe they won't remember your name, but they'll remember how your skating made them feel."

Mickey

Mickey Mouse, Tinkerbell and Princess Tiana showed up recently at the Colonial Figure Skating Club to skate with kids and promote Disney on Ice, which has a run in Boston coming up next week. Maria Simoni plays Tinkerbell in the show, and Perri Faulk plays Princess Tiana.

Incidentally, Faulk's prince is played by Nathan Miller, who is current U.S. junior pairs champion Britney Simpson's former partner.

Coach Sarah Rosenfield, who toured with Disney for four years, said with great enthusiasm that she would recommend a stint with Disney for any skater who doesn't have their sights firmly set on the Olympics. She said that more than 30 club members have skated with Disney over the years.

"You get to travel all over the world," she said. "I went to Japan, Europe and South America. It was life-changing. I went from a shy skater to a performer."

That's all, folks,
Sarah and Drew
Follow us on Twitter @SarahandDrew