January 21, 2011

Skating star inspires on and off ice

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Entertainment, Health at 7:00 pm by dinaheng

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Smucker’s Stars on Ice show, co-founded by legendary figure skater Scott Hamilton. If you ask him what he’s proudest of achieving, his answer is both simple and profound.

“Longevity,” says Hamilton, winner of four U.S. Championships, four World Championships and a Gold Medal in the 1984 Olympics. “When I was competing, it was about winning. When you’ve won, how do you stay there? How do you grow, and make your career as long-lasting as you can? You make great decisions and work hard.”

Hamilton clearly made great decisions after turning professional and touring with Ice Capades for two years. When the show changed hands, the new owner didn’t want a male figure skater as a star, and Hamilton was out of work.

So he decided to start his own ice show, making it more of an artistic production, rather than an exhibition tour. The show started with eight to 12 champion skaters, playing in college ice rinks in the northeast to audiences of about 2,500.

The show grew in popularity, corporate sponsors came on board, and in 1992, Stars on Ice toured 72 cities in the United States and Canada to huge audiences.

“In 1994, there were a lot of current Olympic skaters who could turn pro,” Hamilton recalls. “The Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding incident caught people’s eyes and brought a lot of attention to the sport. From the mid-’90s to 2001, it was booming.”

Run by International Management Group, the show has had Discover and Target as corporate sponsors in the past, maintaining charity affiliations with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Today, Smucker’s is the title sponsor, with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America benefitting from the affiliation.

This year, Smucker’s Stars on Ice tour will go to 25 U.S. cities to celebrate its 25th anniversary. “We pride ourselves as being the place to skate and deliver to an audience,” says Hamilton, who stopped touring with the show in 2001 to become a consultant and producer.

The anniversary tour will feature 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist Evan Lysacek and Olympic Silver Medalist Sasha Cohen, along with a cast of champions, including Olympic Gold Medalists for pairs skating, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier (Canada), four-time World Champion and four-time Canadian National Champion Kurt Browning, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Ekaterina Gordeeva (Russia), World Champion and six-time U.S. Champion Todd Eldredge and others.

Hamilton’s career longevity goes hand in hand with an even greater achievement, for the skater, TV commentator and producer who won a battle against testicular cancer in 1997 and a benign brain tumor in 2004 is now recovering from the removal of another benign brain tumor.

“Last May, my peripheral vision had gone blurry again, and I knew it was back,” Hamilton says. “This time, it was self-contained, and the doctors felt the surgical approach would be best. Over time, after the surgery, it turned into an aneurysm.”

Another procedure dealt with the aneurism, but Hamilton woke up nearly blind in his right eye. He’s been able to regain some of the vision, and credits the “never quit” attitude of  Boston neurosurgeon, Dr. Edward Laws, with guiding him to recovery.

“It’s a benign tumor, but it’s a mischievous kind of guy, and we’re keeping an eye on it,” Hamilton says. “After several months of dealing with it, I know I’m a little stronger, tougher, and resilient than I was before. I have a wife and a young family, and I need to be here. I want to be active, and an important part of this family.”

Hamilton, who established the Scott Hamilton CARES (Cancer Alliance for Research, Education and Survivorship) Initiative in partnership with the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute, is a cheerleader for cancer survivors, reminding people that they can beat the illness.

“It’s amazing how fragile the human body is, but also how resilient it is,” he says. “When I underwent chemotherapy for testicular cancer, I saw dramatic changes. Whenever people hear the word chemotherapy, they immediately fear the side effects of hair loss, fatigue. I say, how about this? It kills cancer.

“One day, I hope we look back on chemotherapy as being in the Stone Age of cancer treatment. But the main thing is to keep your eye on the ultimate prize of beating cancer. What’s great is more battles are being won, and more research is being done. I’m grateful for each morning.”

Inspirational words from a champion on and off the ice.

A “Smucker’s Stars on Ice 25th Anniversary Tour’ one-hour special, hosted by Scott Hamilton, will air on NBC on Saturday, Jan. 22, at 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

The tour schedule is available at www.starsonice.com.




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