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Champions gather for US Athletic Foundation

Meissner, Abbott, Czisny and others travel to L.A. for benefit

Nicholas LaRoche and his sister Tricia started the US Athletic Foundation.
Nicholas LaRoche and his sister Tricia started the US Athletic Foundation. (courtesy of Nicholas LaRoche)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(07/19/2011) - After tragedy befell Nicholas LaRoche and his sister Tricia, they resolved to move forward and build a positive legacy.

Nicholas, a ten-time U.S. national competitor, had struggled to pay ever-increasing expenses during his skating career. So the siblings founded US Athletic Foundation, dedicated to helping athletes manage the financial aspects of their training.

"Everyone thinks the "US" stands for "United States" but actually it's "us" -- my sister and I," he said. "It was very important that we do something together. Tricia is not involved in the skating aspect but she is very involved in the organization and accounting work."

In the summer of 2008, LaRoche was training for an expected tenth trip to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, where he had won the 2002 U.S. junior title and placed eighth in seniors in 2003 and 2005.

That routine was shattered when the unspeakable happened: LaRoche's father, William, murdered LaRoche's mother, Bernadette, before killing himself. Still, Nicholas was not ready to call it quits.

"After my parents' tragedy, I wanted to compete one last time at nationals, but it wasn't financially possible," he said. "Then a generous person came forward to help. "Our 501(c) (3) was started, but I knew the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships would be my final competition, so we started focusing the foundation to help others."

Since then, US Athletic Foundation's athlete membership has grown to include two-time U.S. champion Alissa Czisny, 2011 world junior bronze medalist Agnes Zawadzki, reigning U.S. junior champion Courtney Hicks, ice dancers Lynn Kriengrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt and Junior Grand Prix competitor Josh Farris.

All of these skaters, save Zawadzki -- who had a prior commitment -- will join LaRoche for the foundation's first annual benefit gala, "An Evening on Ice," at the Pickwick Ice Arena in Burbank, CA on August 12th.

Also on hand will be 2006 world champion Kimmie Meissner, two-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, 2010 U.S. champion Rachael Flatt, two-time U.S. pair silver medalists Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, two-time world junior champion Adam Rippon, eight-time British champion Seven Cousins, U.S. silver medalist Richard Dornbush, 1998 world junior champion Derrick Delmore, 2009 U.S. junior champion Alexe Gilles, 2010 U.S. novice champion Leah Keiser and former U.S. and international competitor Beatrisa Liang.

New U.S. pair Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, who recently made their competitive debut at the Liberty Summer Competition, will take part.

Nicholas and Tricia are grateful that each and every one of these skaters is donating their time, making the benefit possible.

"Everyone is coming together so we can use as much of the money we raise as possible for skaters," Nicholas said.

""Braden Overett and Danelle Cole are choreographing the opening and closing numbers. The Los Angeles Ice Theater is also performing. Pickwick is their training center and they have been essential helping us work on the layout of the show and the logistics. It helps that they are familiar with this venue."

Ticket information appears on http://www.usathleticfoundation.org

Giulietti-Schmitt, 25, knows firsthand how much a helping hand from the Foundation means.

"Nicholas and Tricia approached me two years ago and right away we received a grant, and other skaters did, too," he said. "They have extended us several grants over the years and it's a huge deal, whether we use the money for a costume or to pay coaches' fees.

"Nicholas, I think, struggled a bit financially when he competed and he wants to help alleviate that stress for others. I've been supporting myself without the help of my parents for the last few years. I coach at the rink [in Ann Arbor, Mich.] and run the Learn-to-Skate program in the summer. I think I'm at the rink 11-13 hours a day in the summer. The work is great but every bit of support we can get helps tremendously."

The US Athletic Foundation doesn't limit itself to figure skating competitors; it also supports Team Fusion, a competitive synchronized skating team training at the Toyota Sports Center, where Nicholas is thriving as a teacher.

"We gave a grant to the team's head coach, Jenny Rose Hendrickson, and she disbursed it for team outfits and other needs," he said. "The grant is unrestricted, but it must be used for the team effort, not for a solo athlete."

LaRoche, who is cramming training into his busy schedule, will perform at "An Evening on Ice" to live accompaniment by singer Meghan Knight in a tribute to his late mother.

"I wanted to skate to it after my mother passed away, but the timing didn't work out," he said. "I'm not telling anyone the song yet...I want it to be in the moment."

Hopefully, the Aug. 12 show is the start of something big.

"This is our first show and we've been very, very lucky to have an amazing support team around us," Nicholas said. "I looked at the cast and I counted seven Olympians and 12 national champions. I'm so honored they are coming together for my Foundation.

"We want to help as many skaters as we can. We'd like to have an event every year, maybe not always a big show like this one, but something."