Local, international skating stars unite for charity

Elegance and grace, showmanship and power, and dedicated volunteers and organizers combined to put on a memorable Sixth Annual Boot Skatin’ Benefit for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Rockford Health Systems Ronald McDonald Care Mobile March 13 at the Carlson Arctic Ice Arena in Rockford.

The benefit, which has raised more than $36,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., the past five years, featured Olympic gold medalist and former world champion figure skater Viktor Petrenko, five-time European Champion Surya Bonaly and former world champion pairs team Radka Kovarikova and Rene Novotny.

The champions were joined by local high school seniors Melissa Lind and Amanda Bruening, the Northern Illinois Skating Club (NISC), the Stellar Nova Synchronized Skating Team, the Revolution Teen and Senior synchronized skating teams, and country singer Ken Schenk.

Worth noting is that the benefit would not have been possible without the determination of organizers Cindy VanderWaal and John Lind, president of NISC, and Eric Lang of Skyeyes International to ensure that the show would go on after it was unable to reach an agreement with MetroCentre administration to bring the show back to the downtown venue for a third year. Carlson Arena, however, proved to be a more than satisfactory location as everyone in attendance had a good seat.

One of the more telling moments came at the end of the two-hour show when the international skating icons were joined on ice by all who participated in the show for a final farewell. A young boy, who appeared no older than 6, stood at the end of the line next to Petrenko while Bonaly slid in amongst a group of younger skaters to wave goodbye to the audience. As Petrenko said before the show: “We all just participate in one show. That’s what I think makes this event so unique. … We all do the same thing together—we’re like a team.”

Petrenko, ever the showman, unveiled his new program based on the Broadway show Burn the Floor in which he “strips” (down to a black undershirt) while playing along to music with lyrics including “would you sleep with me?”

Pairs team Kovarikova and Novotny demonstrated elegance and grace completing two performances. At one point, Novotny took Kovarikova by the legs and spun her around with her head hovering inches above the ice.

The powerful Bonaly performed to Moulin Rouge’s “One Day I’ll Fly Away” in the first half and completed a more disco-themed routine the second half. She, of course, wowed the audience during both performances with her signature backflip in which she lands on one foot.

While Bonaly and Kovarikova and Novotny performed twice, Petrenko only performed once, which disappointed many in the audience. Additionally, the lighting and music were slightly off.

Still, the local and international skating stars combined to put on an exciting and sometimes humorous show that demonstrated the spirit of those they were skating for—the children of St. Jude and the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile.

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