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The Inside Edge: Third annual 'An Evening on Ice'

Plethora of active, retired skaters relish LaRoche siblings' benefit

Hosts Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner (right) pose with Drew Meekins.
Hosts Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner (right) pose with Drew Meekins. (courtesy of Drew Meekins)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(07/25/2013) - This edition of The Inside Edge will be devoted entirely to the US Athletic Foundation's third annual "An Evening on Ice" benefit, which Drew attended July 20. Siblings Nick LaRoche and Tricia LaRoche created the foundation and also organized and directed the show. Proceeds help provide financial assistance to competitive skaters in need.

"This year's show was by far our most successful yet," Nick LaRoche said. "We are honored by not only the support of the people who come and watch but all the endless hours the skaters, volunteers and stagehands put into making this event be as successful as it is."

"Nick's show is such an important fundraiser for skating families," Rachael Flatt said. "I jump at the chance to do his show each year. Giving more skaters the opportunity to further their career creates variety and allows the sport's boundaries to be pushed.

"Nick and Tricia are amazing and wonderful people, and they do a wonderful job with the show each year," Flatt continued. "It's impossible to say no to helping out in any way that I can!"

"Skating in Nick's show means so much to be me because it is always an amazing feeling to be a part of a charity show," Douglas Razzano said. "I have become very close to Nick and Tricia and think that what they're doing for the young skaters is so remarkable. They are such wonderful people and good friends."

Many of the athletes who skated have done the show all three years, and it had a reunion feel this year. LaRoche went all out to take good care of the skaters, their parents and the media. Everyone was transported in a limo from the airport to the hotel, and another stretch limo took everyone to the welcome dinner Friday night at Il Fornaio in Los Angeles. The huge ride was complete with an open end covered by a canopy.

All the skaters sat in the back and enjoyed feeling like movie stars, while many people on the street took pictures. The wind wreaked havoc with everyone's hair, which resulted in a lot of drama.

Razzano has been sporting a new 'do lately, much shorter and upswept than in the past.

"My decision to change my hairstyle has been a long time coming," he said. "I really enjoyed having longer, more dramatic-looking hair, but after last season, I decided that everything needed to change. I said 'YOLO' and got it cut!"

On a more serious note, Razzano told us what he'll be skating to next season.

"I am skating to 'Clair de Lune' for my short program," he said. "I skated to it four years ago, but this time I am using the piano version. I like this version better because you can feel the emotion coming through the single person playing as opposed to the whole orchestra.

"My free skate is Turandot. I have wanted to use this music for a very long time, and I think part of me was saving it for this season. I love it so much."

Everyone was treated to a fabulous dinner, despite various allergy restrictions, which we will get to in a bit. Feeling left out without an allergy was Adam Rippon.

"No carbs," he said. "I'm allergic to carbs, but I'd like extra gluten. I'll have his gluten," he said, pointing to Jonathan Cassar.

Joshua Farris, as you probably know, is extremely allergic to dairy, and despite extreme caution, he inadvertently ate something that got to him. Within an hour, he was having an allergic reaction and had to go to the emergency room, where the doctor noted that it was the worst reaction to dairy she had ever seen. He was at the hospital for a couple of hours and improved rapidly after medication, but he wasn't able to skate the next day, much to his disappointment.

He was fully recovered by the weekend's end, thankfully.

Saturday was a long day for the skaters. They started with a long rehearsal of the opening and closing numbers, choreographed by Karen Kwan-Oppegard. After having their own practices, it was time for the first show.

Kwan was anxious as she waited to see how the opening would turn out. She looked amazing, as always, in a midnight blue shirt-dress with arrowhead patterns in blue and pink, brown woven belt and matching pumps -- very chic and summery. She mentioned that one of her daughters is training in contemporary dance.

Shotaro Omori, who is about as nice and as cute as they come, also talked about dance as he was warming up. He said he only takes ballet but that he wants to try some other forms.

In the locker room, everyone started talking about graceful retirements, since a number of skaters in the show have recently retired from competition. Emily Hughes said, "I'm technically not retired!"

Vincent Zhou's mother called him from outside the locker room, and he jumped on his Zuca bag and rolled out at high speed as everyone watched him in amazement. Rippon, without missing a beat, promptly sat on his (wheel-less) backpack and pretended to roll out after him.

After the show, the skaters signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans before heading to a cast party in the hospitality suite at the hotel. It was Flatts's 21st birthday on July 21, her "golden birthday" no less, so everyone waited up until midnight and sang "Happy Birthday" to her.

Flatt is spending the summer in Colorado Springs, Colo., doing an internship in the sports medicine clinic at the Olympic Training Center as well as skating and coaching.

"I am shadowing the doctors, learning everything I can about sports medicine from the opposite side of things -- I'm tired of being the hurt athlete!" Flatt said. "In addition, I've been shadowing and observing surgeries at Memorial Hospital and their therapy centers. It's been a blast so far, and I am learning some incredible things!"

Flatt is looking forward to going back to Stanford in the fall, where she'll be taking a heavy courseload of required classes for her biology major.

"We are planning some great events as junior class presidents, so I'm definitely looking forward to that as well," she said. "It will be a very busy quarter per the norm, but I can't wait to get back."

The Show

The Toyota Sports Center had a good crowd for both the matinee and evening show Saturday.

Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner hosted the show, and the crowd loved them; they have such a casual, effortless rapport together. Even the way they skated onto the ice -- pointed toes, shoulders back, beautiful posture -- showed that they've still got it.

Kwan-Oppegard choreographed the opening number to "Amazing Grace," and she did it in just two hours, which is remarkably fast for an opening number. She said she loved the event.

"This is the fun part for the skaters," she said.

Flatt skated a lovely program to "Clair de Lune," which she choreographed herself. She has reached the point in her career where she really knows who she is as a skater, and it shows. Every movement is spot on, and her skating is so polished. She flawlessly performed a triple flip, triple loop and a double Axel.

Kimmie Meissner included a triple toe in her "In Your Eyes" program.

It was good to see Alissa Czisny back on the ice after two hip surgeries, and even better to see that her superlative skating skills have not suffered. She skated a beautiful program to The Notebook -- so tranquil, it was like watching a woodland stream. Her skating is so soft and delicate, it takes your breath away.

Cassar's program to "Love Reign o'er Me," sung by Bettye LaVette, was another highlight. He knows his strengths so well, and it's a joy just to watch him move. Of course, he timed his spread eagle gorgeously, skating into it as the music was silent and hitting the climax of the edge as the music came back in. He's such a dynamic skater, going from soft, silky curves to powerful direct movement, that it keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Rippon showed off his organic, natural style in "A Song for You" and owned it. It's interesting to see how he used gravity, dropping low and rebounding from his core. He also had a very intense focus, gazing down the center of the rink several times and mesmerizing all. He showed off a great Rippon Lutz, triple Salchow and double Axel.

Lovely ladies Bebe Liang and Leah Keiser interpreted Alicia Keys' "Unthinkable" and Rihanna's "Stay," respectively. After all the slow, lyrical programs, Razzano got the audience revved up with his program to Pit Bull's "Don't Stop the Party." He did push-ups, slid on the ice, wiggled his hips and shook his ... we'll say "hips." His program made everyone laugh and smile all the way through and included a double Axel-double Axel, a triple loop and triple toe, all spot on.

Razzano told us that he has a special warm-up to get ready for his program.

"To be honest, I literally ask myself, 'Are you really about to do this right now?' I do some major hip rolls, walk through a jump or two and I'm good to go!"

Team Fusion did a very cute wolf medley program to "She Wolf," "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf," dressed like Little Red Riding Hood. Alexe Gilles looked regal, an ice princess in a gorgeous fuschia dress, skating to "Reach for Me" from Smash, choreographed by Damon Allen.

Zhou skated a charming program to "Seize the Day" from the Broadway show Newsies, including what must have been a million triples. Omori skated a program he and a friend choreographed to "Que Rico El Mambo." The number included a triple Lutz, triple loop and lots of smiles, head rolls and hands!

Hicks showed off her powerful skating in a program choreographed in part by Cassar to "Hope Will Lead Us On." Derrick Delmore skated to Bruno Mars' "When I Was Your Man," and Hughes looked to be having a great time in her "Hallelujah" program.

Several young up-and-comers also performed: 2013 U.S. junior champion Polina Edmunds, who did a different number each show; Dyllan McIntee; Starr Andrews; 2013 U.S. novice champion Tyler Pierce; and 2012 U.S. novice pairs champions Chelsea Liu and Devin Perini.

LaRoche confirmed that plans are underway for a fourth edition of the show in 2014. We can't wait for it.

Sarah and Drew
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