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Sarah Hughes' blog: Women, charity and Bieber

Olympic gold-medalist shares variety of fun-filled adventures

Sarah Hughes has met Justin Bieber only once, a low number according to his fervent fans.
Sarah Hughes has met Justin Bieber only once, a low number according to his fervent fans. (Sarah Hughes)

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By Sarah Hughes, special to icenetwork.com
(11/09/2011) - I have indulged in skating, women's sports and charity events over the past few weeks without sending anything in for you... so here are a few of those events, all in one. My take follows, sprinkled with a little Bieber Fever.

October 19th: Women's Sports Foundation
First up was a two-day extravaganza applauding the work of the Women's Sports Foundation. Luminaries from the past, present and future were honored at the 32nd Annual Salute to Women in Sports held at Cipriani Wall Street.

"The extraordinary women featured at this event serve as role models for future female athletes," Kathryn Olson, the CEO of the WSF said, "and that is something that truly deserves a celebration."

A celebration it was: Seventy World Champion and Olympic athletes, former Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees manager Joe Torre and an Academy Award-winning actress braved the rain to show their support. 1998 WSF Sportswoman of the Year Michelle Kwan came to support the foundation as well, looking beautiful in a long strapless blue chiffon dress.

Founded in 1974 by Billie Jean King, the Women's Sports Foundation is the leader in promoting sports, health and education for girls and women.

"It is remarkable to have this many influential, powerful and strong women in one room. There is really no other event that compares to the Annual Salute," Billie Jean said. "I am so proud of every single one of these women and the great success they have accomplished thus far."

Much of this year's Annual Salute emphasized one of its earliest successes: passing Title IX, the law that certifies equal access to both girls and boys in federally funded educational programs. Next year, the WSF will celebrate the 40th anniversary of that accomplishment.

Tennis player Venus Williams and WSF President (and boxer) Laila Ali added star power by presenting awards to a slew of accomplished athletes, teams and sponsors. However, it was twelve-year-old triathlete Winter Vinecki who captured the heart of the room. Vinecki, honored with the ANNIKA Inspiration Award, started running at five years old and began participating in triathlons at six. When she was nine, her 40-year-old father was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of prostate cancer. He didn't live to see 41. In honor of her late father who lost his life to prostate cancer, Team Winter, her non-profit foundation, is dedicated to funding prostate cancer research and raising awareness for the dreadful disease. Her original goal was to raise $10,000. Thus far, Team Winter has raised more than $300,000.

After accepting the award from golfer Annika Sorenstam, the tiny 12-year-old stepped atop a box to reach the microphone.

"I race for my dad," Winter told the packed room after sharing her story. "Who do you race for?"

Her next goal is to run a marathon on all seven continents while continuing to compete in triathlons, all while raising funds for cancer research.

Other recipients included the Visa Women's Ski Jumping Team. This past April, the IOC added a women's ski jumping event to the Olympic Games following a twelve-year effort by female ski jumpers to be allowed to compete in the Olympics. They eagerly await Sochi -- me too. It's always exciting to bring new energy to the Games.

In the Team Sport category, the United States' all-time leading scorer in Women's World Cup history, Abby Wambach, took home the Sportswoman of the Year award. Many of her teammates were in attendance as well.

Yani Tseng, currently ranked number one in the Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings won the Sportswoman of the Year Award, Individual Sport, beating out 2007 and 2011 world champion Miki Ando.

While figure skating will have to be content with winning three Sportswoman of the Year awards in the Annual Salute's 32-year history for now, we have much to be proud of: This year's Salute raised over $1 million to help further the WSF's mission of advancing the lives of girls and women through sports. After all, both Michelle Kwan and Rachael Flatt received training funds from the WSF long before they won National titles.

October 24th: Ice Theatre of New York
Highlights of this year's performance included Johnny Weir bringing out a full head-to-toe rhinestone, sparkle-city outfit for his "Bad Romance" program that he has previously only worn in Asia. That's how you know he considers it a special night.

This year, I managed to successfully avoid Dick Button's "bunny ears," but he did pinch me on the behind during cocktail hour so signs of his sprightliness are still alive and well for those of you wondering how he is doing. I, for one, am missing his commentary on the Grand Prix series.

Tom Collins and Richard "Mr. Debonair" Dwyer, two of figure skating's most influential people in show skating, were two of the most popular people at the reception. (If you haven't seen the number Dwyer did with Brian Boitano and Tenley Albright last year in Atlantic City, you need to find it. One of the most entertaining pieces you'll watch.)

"Ice Theatre, thank you so much," Weir said, kicking off a brief acceptance speech during the seated dinner. "I'm so touched that you keep inviting me back to sparkle for you."

"The theme of this show is 'Dare To Be Different,'" he continued. "And I've never dared to be different. I've always dared to be myself. And that's something that I hope that all of you can take away from this performance tonight."

Uh oh! I immediately panic upon his pointed clarification, thinking of ways to retract what I said in my Oct. 12th blog about the ITNY cocktail party where I wrote, of Johnny and the theme of this year's show: "Fittingly, three-time National Champion Johnny Weir, this year's honoree, is someone who has branded his entire persona on daring to be different."

I wish I had used Johnny's eloquent description of daring to be yourself, which is accurate, even when he is pushing the limits of the social norm. Which is often.

His speech at the podium followed a highly unusual and eclectic montage featuring highlights of Johnny "daring to be himself." The montage commenced with snippets from his reality show, Be Good Johnny Weir, with Weir making declarations such as, "I walk on water... frozen water," and, "When I'm good, I'm good. But when I'm bad, I'm better," while flashy images and pounding disco music added background dimension.

There was footage of him on a cornfield in Quarryville, Pa., where he grew up and started skating, and then a picture of him embracing Elton John. There were cameos by award-winning journalist Christine Brennan, sportswriter Phil Hersh and television personalities Larry King, Joy Behar, Regis & Kelly, Jay Leno and Matt Lauer, all seeming to wait for one thing: what Weir would say next.

No matter what thoughts run through your head when Oksana Baiul (her gold medal performance was the reason he started skating) says, "Johnny is my favorite... because he is a rebellious person and I love that," there is no denying his passion for skating, his talent or his contribution to the sport when portions of the programs that won him three National Championships play on the screens. Or when you see him skating on his way to a World Bronze Medal or becoming a two-time Olympic team member.

"I mean," he said of the evening's sold-out skating performance, "somehow in this crazy, twisted mind of mine, I went from a beautiful Massenet piece, "Mediation," to slapping my [behind] for all to see to Lady Gaga -- within about fifteen minutes with full hair and makeup changes. So that's me, that's who I am. This show tonight is who I am from start to finish, from classical to... not."

Johnny dares to be different by daring to be himself. But, from the performance, to the video, to the speech, no matter how much of a detour the night took, it always came back to the skating.

Other honorees included Margarita Sears and Ice Rink Events. Sears has given much back to the sport following the sudden death of her 20-year-old son Will just months after winning the 2002 Novice National pair title. She founded the Will Sears Foundation in his memory. The foundation helps develop pair skating in the U.S. through critiques and seminars with ISU officials and National, World and Olympic judges.

In a touching moment, Mrs. Sears shared a story of how her son Will cut a tape for a skater he affectionately called "Little Johnny" three days before his death. That skater, of course, was Weir. The connection of the honorees added an unexpected symmetry to evening.

All proceeds from the evening will benefit ITNY's Education and Outreach programs and all its artistic programming for the next season.

November 4th: Today Show
I bring this into the blog because I met the pint-sized phenomenon Justin Bieber in the green room. I was originally scheduled to open the rink two weeks beforehand to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Rink in Rock Center -- hence the picture of me opening the rink in 1992 when I was seven years old -- but the rink's compressor was broken, so there was no ice. (The producer liked the picture so she kept it into the segment.) But the story of the Today Show appearance is really all about the Biebs. Even my mom was excited, although I'm fairly certain she does not know one of his songs. She likened the crowd of screaming girls lined up outside to catch a glimpse of him to how she felt about the Beatles, a band of which she knows every song.

I was actually on the Today Show to promote the first of the Pandora NBC Skating Series that aired on this past Sunday: RAIN, A Tribute to the Beatles on Ice. This upcoming weekend I'll also be in the second show of the series: Paul Mitchell's Fashion On Ice. You can check out my blog about Fashion On Ice's live show before it airs this Sunday.

Anyway, the Beatles and the Biebs. The following evening I met a girl who has met him eight times. Eight times! All the other girls at her table acted like that was normal, so if that doesn't give you an idea of how fanatical his fans are, I don't know what does. I can tell he cares about his fans too, because it was very important for him to find a sink to brush his teeth before he went outside for the interview. And of course, before our picture together. My mom loves the Beatles, but mostly just their music. She's never met any of them, not even once, although I'm fairly certain she wouldn't turn down a chance to meet Paul McCartney.

I encourage everyone who visits New York over the holiday season to check out the Rink at Rock Center or at least come and admire the big tree that gets put up around that time as well. It's a beautiful sight to take in. You can check out times here.

November 5th: Don Monti Memorial Cancer Research Foundation's Ball of the Year
My mom, the Beatles lover, was honored along with 39 other cancer survivors this past Saturday evening. The 39 survivors, including men, women and a young boy, presented their doctor with a lifetime achievement award. Dr. Vinciguerra has been with the foundation for over 40 years.

Congratulations to my younger sister Emily, who came to New York from Boston for the event. Emily handed in her thesis this past Thursday and will officially be a Harvard graduate by the end of the year. Congratulations Emily!

Thanks to everyone who sent in questions on twitter and Facebook. I read them and will do my best to address the Grand Prix Series and other inquiries in the next blog.

You can follow Sarah on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SarahHughesNY and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SarahHughesNY.