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Lang returns home to accept hall of fame honors

Five-time U.S. champion ice dancer thanks fans for her induction

Ice dancing great Naomi Lang poses beside the banner commemorating her induction into the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame.
Ice dancing great Naomi Lang poses beside the banner commemorating her induction into the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame. (Leslie Dixon)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(11/01/2012) - When five-time U.S. ice dance champion Naomi Lang sat down on stage to be interviewed at the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Sports Hall of Fame (GRSHOF) induction ceremony on Oct. 24, she was in for a surprise. GRSHOF president Mark Kimball pulled out a petition that had been sent to him encouraging the organization to induct Lang.

"He put it in my lap. There were all these signatures of people that had petitioned for me. It was the coolest feeling ever," said Lang, 33, who continues to skate in shows with longtime partner Peter Tchernyshev.

"There were signatures from all over the country," she added. "It went through Facebook, Twitter, through my old stomping grounds in Michigan. Even my grandmother in Florida voted for me."

Lang grew up in Allegan, Mich., and studied ballet in Grand Rapids. She performed with the Grand Rapids Ballet, dancing children's roles in The Nutcracker. She was also part of the Grand Rapids Skating Club before she began training in Detroit, where she was one of Igor Shpilband's early students.

The GRSHOF was originally founded in 1972 by the Grand Rapids City Commission to honor athletes, owners and coaches from West Michigan who have achieved prominence in their sports on a local, state or national level. After a hiatus, it was reestablished in 1995 and now has more than 100 inductees, among them former Major League pitcher Jim Kaat and former University of Michigan football great -- and 38th President of the United States -- Gerald R. Ford.

During the on-stage interview, Kimball asked Lang a lot about how she got started in skating and how she became an ice dancer. He also asked her about her fans who helped her achieve this honor as well as about being the first woman of Native American heritage to compete in the Olympic Winter Games.

"I was a bit nervous; I felt like I was going out to compete," said Lang, who now lives in Arizona."You don't know what someone's going to ask you. Mark Kimball was great. He kept the conversation flowing."

Sharing her story with the audience made Lang reflect on how much of a journey her life has been since she was inspired by an ice show to take up skating.

"To go from watching Smurfs on Ice to where I am today is pretty amazing," she said. "To go through the struggles and the happiness, it really does put perspective on how much I've done in my life at 33.

"I'm so happy that my mom (Leslie Dixon) worked as hard as she did to get me to this place. She's the reason why I'm here and why I'm able to come back to Michigan and be in the hall of fame."

In addition to skating in shows with Tchernyshev, who couldn't make it to the ceremony (he lives in Russia), Lang is now coaching. Her student, Karina Manta, recently became the U.S. novice solo free dance champion, the first skater from Arizona to win a solo dance title.

True to her skating roots, Lang wore a red-carpet-worthy gown that she bought on a whim last year without knowing when or where she'd get to wear it.

"I'm a figure skater; I have to sparkle at all times," Lang said with a laugh. "If I'm going to be in the hall of fame, I'm going to go full out -- sparkle, red, the works."