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Pennington comes up gold with "Skate for Life"

Benefit earns $20,000 in first year for muscular dystrophy

The Pennington family (from left to right): Colin, Parker, Larry and Andrea.
The Pennington family (from left to right): Colin, Parker, Larry and Andrea. (Liz Leamy)

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By Liz Leamy, special to icenetwork.com
(04/15/2008) - Parker Pennington seems to have a definite knack for doing things right, especially when it comes to putting on a show.

This past Saturday night, Pennington, the 11th-ranked men's singles skater in the U.S., knocked the ball out of the park with his first "Skate for Life" benefit in Newington, Conn., and helped raise more than $20,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).

Pennington, 23, had been inspired to do the show due to the fact that his dad, Larry, a Connecticut veterinarian, had been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a neuromuscular disease, back in 2001.

"I wanted to do this as a way to help people," he said. Pennington, who is from Connecticut, currently lives in Fairfax, Va., where he trains with his coach, Audrey Weisiger.

Needless to say, the show meant the world to Parker's dad.

"I am just so blown away by Parker's efforts and energy. Everyone has really rallied around him to make this show happen, and it's been incredible," said Larry Pennington, who was awarded the 2007 Connecticut Veterinarian of the Year citation.

"I'm hoping this will be the first of many more shows to come," Larry added.

Notably, "Skate for Life" marked the first U.S. Figure Skating-sanctioned event of its kind to solely benefit the MDA, which is a partnership between scientists and concerned citizens aimed at conquering neuromuscular disease.

By all accounts, the show was a major hit on all fronts.

More than 1,000 people attended the event, which was held at the Newington Arena, a suburb in the Hartford, Conn., area. The show featured a host of many former and current top U.S. competitors, including Parker, a longtime U.S. national competitor and U.S. novice and junior men's title holder; Emily Hughes, a two-time U.S. national medalist and Olympic and world team member; Dan Hollander, also a two-time U.S. national medalist and veteran Champions on Ice performer; Tommy Steenberg, the 2008 Eastern Sectional senior men's champion; Stephanie Rosenthal, a four-time U.S. championships competitor; and Colin Pennington, the 2003 U.S. novice men's champion, who is also Parker's younger brother.

The roster also included more than two dozen skaters from the New England area, whose competitive levels ranged all the way from the beginner through the senior ranks.

One of the performers, Sean Rabbitt, an 18-year old junior men's singles skater from Yorba Linda, Calif., even traveled across the country in order to participate in this show.

Rabbitt felt compelled to do this event since his mom, Helene, had been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy more than 20 years ago.

"This is a great cause, and I'm really proud to be part of it," said Rabbitt, who made the trip with his mom.

During the show, a silent auction was held. Items that were up for grabs included artwork by Pennington and his coach, Weisiger. There were also autographed photos, towels and other skating memorabilia from famous former U.S. world and Olympic skaters, such as Scott Hamilton and Michael Weiss.

"Everybody jumped in to help out. It's been terrific, and we've appreciated all of the support," Larry said.

The Show

Parker did two, solid, back-to-back routines that showcased his technical aptitude very well.

His first number to a Keane medley featured some nice jumps and other technical elements. His second program, to Michael Bublé's "I'm Feeling Good," contained two double Axels, a triple Lutz and a triple toe, along with some fast and well-streamlined spins.

Hughes' program to Beethoven's "Fur Elise" and "Flo Rida" by Low, was sophisticated and edgy. She did a nice double Axel, in which she lost her edge on the landing, and a lovely spiral sequence, among other things.

"I've been so busy at school and was happy to come down for the night and help Parker do the show. It means a lot to all of us to help him out," explained Hughes.

Dan Hollander had the crowd rolling with his hilarious take on the Styx tune, "Come Sail Away," in which he portrays Cartman from the Comedy Central show South Park. Midway through the program, he morphs into an 'old' woman and interprets the Aerosmith tune, "Dude Looks Like a Lady."

He did a soaring back flip and a triple toe with a step out of the landing.

"Parker and I were talking at a show last year, and I told him I would be happy to help him out. It's been fantastic to be part of this whole experience," said Hollander, who resides in Michigan.

Steenberg's program to "Bet on It," from the High School Musical 2 soundtrack was entertaining and fun. It featured a big triple Axel, in which Steenberg lost his edge on the landing.

"I was happy because it was a good attempt, and I did it for the first time with the spotlight and without any warm-up," said Steenberg, 18, who trains with Parker in Fairfax, Va.

Rosenthal further raised the show's energy level with her famous "Rock It" routine by Herbie Hancock, which won Best Performance of the Year by the Professional Skater's Association in 2006. She did a double Axel with a small slip on the landing and high-octane spirals, spins and footwork.

Rosenthal, a Yale sophomore, said it was great to be out on the ice skating again. Currently, she teaches part-time at the Newington Arena and is also part of a professional New Haven-based dance troupe.

"I knew Parker from when I competed, and he's a very nice guy. At the national level, it's a relatively small community, and you pretty much know everyone. Even though you might compete against one another, it's really all about friendship and building great relationships, and we're all here for one another," said Rosenthal.

Colin Pennington's program to a medley of Justin Timberlake tunes was also engaging. He did a double Axel with a step out on the landing and a giant double flip, among other things.

According to Colin, who helped his brother in putting this show together, the night was a big success. "The show was a real hit. Everybody who showed up was upbeat and seemed to be having a great time."

In fact, the whole Pennington family seemed thrilled with how the show turned out, especially Parker.

"I had a wonderful time, and I don't think that this could have gone any better. I hope we might have inspired some people as well," he said.