U.S. Figure Skating Online will feature a different club-related story every couple weeks in the Club Spotlight.
In February 1999, Carolyn Bongirno was preparing and training for the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships in Ann Arbor, Mich. That same year, she began fighting the fight of her life. Bongirno was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Six surgeries and three months of grueling chemotherapy followed, but during it all, Bongirno found solace and strength from skating. Although she could not physically step on the ice, skating remained part of her daily routine. Talking and emailing with her skating friends kept her from becoming depressed.
"Skating always gave me the gift of feeling beautiful and strong so I clung to it even when I could not step on the ice," Bongirno said.
When she finally did step on the ice she stepped on in a big way and created the project of her heart, a special not for profit organization called "Skate for Hope". The first production premiered at the practice facility of the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets. The building and all the rehearsal ice was donated by the Ohio Health Chiller Rinks and sixty seven skaters participated including ladies bronze medalist Jennifer Kirk and Olympic Champions Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin. That first show raised 20,000.
Fast forward to June 15, 2013 when "Skate for Hope" will proudly celebrate its 10th Anniversary. All proceeds are donated to the Stefanie Spielman Fund at the James Cancer Center as well as the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Research. The show will be held at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. At 5:00 p.m.
To date, "Skate for Hope" raised more than $430,000 for breast cancer research and hopes to reach $500,000 with the 10th Anniversary production.
"I created "Skate for Hope" in 2004 to help empower young people to better cope with friend or family member's diagnosis and to teach the importance of giving back to one's community," Bongirno said. "Patients get to do all there is to do, and family and friends have to sit back and helplessly watch. They are both equally and emotionally impacted and I wanted to make something that would empower young people to make a contribution to help a loved one."
This year's cast includes U.S. champion Rachael Flatt, current U.S. champions Ashley Wagner and Max Aaron, three time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, Olympian Emily Hughes, World Junior dance Champion and Olympic skater Emily Samuelson, U.S. silver medalist Adam Rippon, Skate America silver medalist Christina Gao, U.S. junior pairs champion Lee Harris, Canadian competitors Alexe Gilles and silver dance medalists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier. U.S. bronze medalist Dan Hollander recently joined the cast which has grown by leaps and bounds over the years.
Headliners will also be joined this year by 130 skaters from all over the country.
"Every skater earns their spot in the cast by making a contribution that will help the lives of future generations of women," Bongirno said. "Cast members are a part of the show not because of auditions but because of their contribution to the "Skate for Hope" cause and mission."
The elite athletes interact with the young participants throughout the entire show experience. "Several of the headliners have mothers that are cancer survivors and they bring their moms to "Skate for Hope" and honor them with dedication performances," Bongirno said.
"Skate for Hope" is hands down one of my favorite shows to do which is I come back every year," Flatt said. " It holds a special place in my heart as I know many people who have been affected by breast cancer. I think it is so important to actively participate and raise money and awareness alongside Carolyn who is one of the most inspiring and determined people around."
The young skaters take pride in being a part of the show and feel as though they are doing something positive for someone. Many of which have moms who are also survivors.
"It's a vehicle to do something for someone they love," Bongirno said.
Samuelson's reason to return to the show each year is simple.
"It is a show that is special in many ways," Samuelson said. "Not only it is an amazing group of people raising money for a special cause but there is an atmosphere at "Skate for Hope" that is unlike any other show I've been to. Everyone is supportive of one another and clearly loves what they are doing, skating to give back to something bigger than ourselves. I think that this unites all of us in a very special and significant way."
As "Skate for Hope" begins its next ten years the show will grow to two shows in 2014. One in Columbus and one on June 14, 2014 in their new location at the Germain Arena in Estero, Fl. Bongirno is proud the show has touched so many lives.
"The most special part of this journey has been that we have been able to empower young people to better cope when they have someone they love affected by cancer," Bongirno said. Anyone wishing to support "Skate for Hope" may do so by purchasing a ticket on line or at any Ticketmaster location or by making a donation at www.skateforhope.org.
Photo: Three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott at last year's show. Photo Courtesy Leah Adams.
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