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Hughes blog: Gracious Heiss goes into NYU hall

1960 Olympic champion, mentor to many receives long-overdue honor

Sarah Hughes and Carol Heiss display Heiss' NYU hall of fame plaque.
Sarah Hughes and Carol Heiss display Heiss' NYU hall of fame plaque. (courtesy of Sarah Hughes)

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By Sarah Hughes, special to icenetwork.com
(05/08/2012) - Carol Heiss is a woman who needs no introduction within the skating community. The same rang true this past Saturday at NYU's Kimmel Center University for Life as she was inducted into the NYU Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2012.

Surrounded by friends, family, students, fans and many admirers, the reception for the 1960 Olympic champion could not have been warmer. NYU's all-male a capella group, The Vocaholics, debuted their new sweaters as they sang two songs to open the ceremony -- one, surprisingly, to Adele's "I'll Be Waiting."

Christopher Bledsoe, assistant vice president for student affairs and the director of athletics, hosted the event along with Janice Quinn, the senior associate director of athletics.

"We're delighted to have Carol's husband, 1956 Olympic gold medal winner Hayes Alan Jenkins, joining us today, as well as Carol's daughter Karen, grandson Travis ... Travis, apparently, does not miss a Carol Heiss Hall of Fame induction," Ms. Quinn remarked as the room laughed. "He's been at a few of them."

Indeed, it was Travis who inspired his mom, Karen, and both of his paternal grandparents to fly to New York from Cleveland to join Carol on this special day.

"Before we ask you to come forward for the formal induction, please allow me to highlight, briefly, a few of your very exceptional achievements," Ms. Quinn continued, as a moving montage of photos and video clips from Heiss' career -- set to "One Moment in Time" -- was shown to a mesmerized room.

It's easy to forget just how much Heiss has accomplished in her career -- especially for someone like me, who has known her mainly as a coach and mentor. Jesse Berman, a New York native, has been working with her since he was 7 years old. He used to travel to Ohio for a week or two at a time, several times a year, before moving to Cleveland three years ago to work with Heiss full time.

He came to the induction ceremony to support his coach along with his mom, Gayle Berman.

"Not only has she taught me the mechanics of skating," Jesse said, "But she taught me about what kind of person I want to be and present to the world. She had been an incredible role model for me. I feel like she is a part of my family and will always be grateful for the lessons she has taught me both on and off the ice."

After meeting Heiss for the first time at the Goodwill Games when they were held in Long Island in 1998, Mrs. Berman said she "knew immediately Carol was one of a kind. She stood out from all the other coaches, not only in terms of her skating and coaching credentials but, more importantly for me, how she interacted with all the young impressionable 'non-elite' skaters in the arena."

That much was clear when Heiss went up to the microphone to accept her induction into yet another hall of fame, one many people felt was "long overdue." Current NYU students who had been awarded outstanding student-athlete awards earlier in the evening listened in awe as Heiss spoke.

Going to school while competing internationally proved to be a Herculean task for a young Heiss, especially considering she came into college as the reigning Olympic silver medalist. But it was a challenge she was able to take on with NYU by her side.

When Heiss spoke with the dean upon her enrollment and told him of her skating demands, "He said, 'We will work with you.' He said, 'What do you need?' I said, 'I just need to be able to train all morning -- and possibly an hour and a half to two hours later in the day,' " she said of her predicament.

"And he said, 'Fine, you can be a day student and a night student,' and that's what I did."

After a morning full of on-ice training at the old Madison Square Garden -- so early it was not even a point of contention with the New York Rangers when they would come in after her to practice -- she would go to class. After class, she would practice some more before returning to NYU a few nights a week.

In order to be the skater she wanted to be, and achieve the dream of winning the Olympics that she had since she was 8, she had more to ask of the university.

"I said to the dean, 'What about time off for competitions?' He said, 'Don't worry about that.' "

True to his words, Heiss said, she was able to fulfill her goal of getting a college education while pursuing her skating dream of winning an Olympic gold medal.

"The professors that were here, the faculty at the time -- they were wonderful. If I had to take an exam, they would wait until I got back from the competition. I can't tell you," she beamed as she reminisced, "I have so many fond memories."

A student in the College of Arts & Sciences, she went to the 1960 Games in Squaw Valley, Calif., representing both NYU and the United States. After winning one of just three gold medals the United States took home in those Games (the others were David Jenkins in men's singles and the men's hockey team), she was given a hero's welcome upon her return to New York.

There was a cocktail reception following the presentation that I'm sure lasted much longer than the organizers for the event anticipated. Heiss' display included both of her Olympic medals as well as her five gold medals from the world championships, a commemorative charm bracelet NYU presented her with in 1960, a medal from the mayor of New York and assorted pictures and posters throughout her career.

Karin Hepp Ludlow, who skated with Heiss at the Skating Club of New York and threw her wedding shower in New York just weeks after she won in 1960, came to celebrate the day with her friend as did Amy Rosewater, a longtime figure skating reporter who brought Katie, her own 10-year-old daughter -- and skated in Ohio not long after Heiss began her illustrious coaching career.

"Being able to attend her induction into the NYU Hall of Fame and acknowledge her achievements was important to me," Mrs. Berman said, "Because I want her to know how many people's lives she has touched in such a positive way."

After the cocktail hour, Heiss' family, along with some of mine, went to dinner -- a treat we don't get to enjoy enough. As such, we wanted a picture to remember the day before we all went our separate ways. We asked one of the ladies from the incoming group, a very large one at that, if she would be so kind as to snap a picture of all of us.

The woman obliged, and after some reorganizing of the tables in the restaurant to accommodate the photo, she took the photo and asked where we were from. Their group turned out to be from Cleveland, not far from where Carol and Hayes live. They were in New York as part of a high school music competition. Carol, gracious as always, then took out her array of medals much to the delight and amusement of a whole new crowd of people.

By now it was 9:00 p.m., seven hours after her first ceremony of the day had commenced -- but time is no issue for Heiss. The palpable excitement in the room as she spoke to the group and took out her medals had everyone taking out their own phones to snap photos. She had the attention of an entirely new (and different) crowd of people -- no doubt leaving an indelible mark on this high school's trip to New York City.

"She is someone who extends herself for others, and I have seen that over and over again," Mrs. Berman told me afterward. "In addition to what Carol has given to my son in terms of skating, I am forever grateful to her for what she has taught him about what it means to live a successful life."

Congratulations, Carol, on your induction to the NYU Sports Hall of Fame. Your grandson is correct: A Carol Heiss hall of fame induction is not an event to be missed. I look forward to the next one.

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