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Figure Skating in Harlem builds foundation of ice

'Skating with the Stars' spreads message of opportunity, empowerment

Honoree Andrea Joyce with husband Harry Smith at the Figure Skating in Harlem gala.
Honoree Andrea Joyce with husband Harry Smith at the Figure Skating in Harlem gala. (Adam Spunberg)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(04/10/2013) - It's fitting that the Figure Skating in Harlem (FSH) annual "Skating with the Stars" gala, presented by Amway and held earlier this week at Central Park's Trump Wollman Rink, honored NBC sportscaster Andrea Joyce; after more than two decades of covering figure skating, including five Olympics, her favorite day of each event is the exhibition gala.

"Some people may groan and say, 'Oh, the competition is done,' but I love it because it's a chance to get to know the skaters a little better," said Joyce, who attended the FSH gala with her husband, journalist Harry Smith.

"You get to know the skaters a little bit better, see the kids the way they really are," she continued. "Watching Ashley Wagner and Agnes Zawadzki hugging each other and goofing around back stage (at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships), to be able to see that and to feel a part of that family, is a gift."

Joyce, along with co-honoree fashion designer b michael and more then 650 guests, got the chance to meet and skate under the stars with some of the sport's greats, including Dick Button, Scott Hamilton, Tara Lipinski, Sarah Hughes, Sasha Cohen, Paul Wylie, Tanith Belbin, Tim Goebel, Kimmie Meissner, JoJo Starbuck, Nicole Bobek and Emily Hughes, as well as current competitive stars Evan Lysacek, Javier Fernández, Johnny Weir, Alissa Czisny, Ross Miner, Adam Rippon, Zawadzki and Christina Gao.

All were on hand to encourage and congratulate the girls enrolled in Figure Skating in Harlem's athletic and academic program. Cohen, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist, donated a dozen pairs of skates from her Klingbeil line. FSH students took to the ice to perform synchronized routines to Palladio and Alicia Keys' "Girl on Fire," and several high school seniors addressed the crowd.

"They started in the program when they were 6 years old, and now they're graduating and going off to college," said honorary event co-chair Tamara Tunie, the Law and Order: Special Victims Unit actress and longtime FSH supporter. "I'm thrilled and proud and delighted. It makes my heart full of joy."

Since it was founded by executive director Sharon Cohen in 1997, FSH has grown from serving 25 students with five seasonal instructors to a year-round organization providing fitness and educational opportunities for 225 New York City girls. Supporting them are nine full-time and 53 seasonal tutors, educators and coaches, as well as more than 80 volunteers.

By any measure, FSH is a success. A large majority of girls who participate in the program for several years graduate high school and attend college. Nearly a quarter are straight-A students. Ninety-five percent have passed at least one USFS basic skill level, and FSH students comprise three synchronized skating teams, including Harlem Ice, an open juvenile team that competes throughout the east.

In 2011, FSH moved into its new Leading Edge Academic Center, a 2,400 square-foot space located in Central Harlem, and launched a summer extension program that last year served 60 new and returning students. The following year, Sharon Cohen received the prestigious Community Leadership Award from the President's Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

"[FSH] has helped more than a thousand girls through the discipline and grace of figure skating," said Cohen, a USFSA double gold medalist and former journalist and documentary filmmaker. "All of them in turn have helped to shape Figure Skating in Harlem and prove what you can build on a foundation of ice."

The list of FSH supporters is a "who's who" of the New York business and philanthropic community. It includes gala event chairs Kenneth Chenault, CEO and chairman of American Express, and his wife Kathryn; Candace Matthews, chief marketing officer at Amway; and Terry Lundgren, CEO and chairman of Macy's, Inc., and his wife Tina, an international skating judge.

Years ago, Joyce asked Sharon Cohen how she managed to gain the interest and support of such an impressive group. Cohen's answer: "I asked."

"Sharon is just one of those forces of nature; she will not be denied," Joyce said. "She was determined to make this work, and then you see these young women blossoming and it's spectacular.

"The discipline, the hard work and all of the things you get from this sport can really take you a long way in your life," Joyce continued. "You might not go to an Olympics, you might not go to a world championship, but there are so many life lessons. You take that and combine it with the nurturing qualities in the skating community and it's a perfect equation to help these young ladies."