Friday, September 7, 2012

A Bayou gal on blades? Liz Brown passes the test

Figure skating novice comes a long way

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum’s Liz Brown cuts a very respectable figure skating pose at Sun Valley Outdoor Rink last week, about 14 months after the Louisiana lady stepped on skates for the first time. Just two weeks ago, she passed a Dutch Waltz skating test and is now aiming to master another Preliminary-level dance. Photo by Willy Cook

    Figure skating and the state of Louisiana don’t have a lot in common, so it’s not surprising that Louisiana native Liz Brown had never been on skates before last summer.
    “We don’t have ice in New Orleans other than the ice in our cocktails,” said Brown, a west Ketchum resident for 17 years with husband Rufus.
    Nevertheless, and to the constant amazement of Brown, she was on figure skates performing before 3,500 spectators last September during the inaugural Battle of the Blades skating competition at Sun Valley Outdoor Ice Rink.
    Skating pairs with Andre Khvalko, Brown was one of nine local “celebrities” matched with nine world-class skating pros in a fundraising show for the Sun Valley Figure Skating Club. It was a huge hit.
    “The event was such a huge success, really unbelievable,” Brown recalled Wednesday. “Skating is something I had wanted to do all my life. Who knew! Who knew! Such a thrill. It still blows my mind.”
    Brown will return to Sun Valley ice Saturday, Sept. 8, along with her fellow local skaters in last year’s show to perform an Olympics-focused opening number for the 2012 version of Battle of the Blades.
    This year’s nine brave and determined local skaters are Kaitlyn Farrington, Miles Fink-Debray, Lara McLean, Billy Olson, Keith Perry, Erin Rheinschild, Bob Rosso, Hannes Thum and Cortney Vanderburgh. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show is at 8 p.m.
    None have shown more determination than Brown, who came from nowhere on ice skates and just recently, on Aug. 26, passed her first U.S. Figure Skating Ice Dance test with partner Ty Cockrum.
    Brown, 50, said, “I grew up adoring ice skating and watching people like Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill on TV. I always wanted to skate but grew up in the wrong place.
    “When Trina Peters called me a year ago April and said she’d love me to be a contestant, she told me not to worry—you’ll be fine and you’ll be paired with a pro. I thought, this was my opportunity.”
    Raised playing tennis, skiing, cycling and doing three-day evening and dressage, Brown had an athletic background and willingness to learn. Last year’s two-month timeframe from her first lesson to the big show turned into a crash course in skating.
    “Starting at the beginning of July, we had less time to train,” said Brown, comparing the build-up to last year’s inaugural event to what contestants have faced in 2012.
    First off, she started training every day with Sun Valley pro Darlin J. Baker on the basics of skating. She immediately got together with her pairs pro, Khvalko, whom she called, “a big, strapping Russian young man who loves to lift.”
    “I remember my first lesson with Darlin,” Brown said, laughing. “My friend sat in the bleachers and took pictures. There I was, clinging to Darlin, wearing my knee pads and butt pad. We laugh about it now.”
    She felt comfortable with the strength of former Disney on Ice showman Khvalko, 44, who won world professional championships with his wife, Elena Leonova, in 1999 and 2000, and has been performing with Leonova as a pairs/adagio partnership for the past 17 years.

“I grew up adoring ice skating and watching
people like Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill
on TV. I always wanted to skate but grew up in the wrong place.”

Liz Brown

    “We chose our music, from the Phantom of the Opera, and started putting together our routine,” she said. “I was very apprehensive at the start because we had to do these particular lifts. As we practiced I had to develop total trust and the belief that he really had me.
    “We needed to do this one element that no one else in the program was able to do—when he lifted me over his head. We finally got it the week of the event. I think the fact that we would be the only ones to do it was what motivated me.”
    At the time, Brown explained, “I have all of a sudden become a daredevil, because I will do anything for charity.”
    She competed last year to raise funds for Company of Fools and Sagebrush Equine Training Center for the Handicapped.
    Think a little, though, when you watch the contestants Saturday night about the stage fright they must be battling.
    Nothing could have prepared last year’s contestants for the huge crowd that showed up. She said, “We would be going back and forth from the ice house to the indoor rink, and we’d hear, oh my gosh, you should see the line of people, it’s crazy. We looked, and it was just packed with people.
    “We didn’t know whether to be completely excited or scared out of our minds. When it was time for our number, they escorted us onto the ice and it was so loud, there was almost a calming effect on me. I settled my nerves, focused and just got into my zone. It was really nice to have a partner out there.”
    Brown and husband Rufus have become big-time benefactors of local causes, including the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation. They like a party, and enjoyed what happened after last September’s show. “Mat Gershater’s pro, Kim Selby, hosted a fabulous, big after-party,” she said.
    And there was an afterglow.
    She said, “After Battle of the Blades, I had a lot of energy for skating. Darlin encouraged me to keep it up. I had to decide if this was a passing moment, or something I wanted to stick to. What helped was I had gotten to know the ice world at Sun Valley. What a great family!”
    This summer, Brown started training with Sun Valley teaching pro Ty Cockrum. He suggested that Liz pursue and undergo testing at the Preliminary level for ice dancing. She said, “At this level you can do the Dutch Waltz, Canasta Tango and Rhythm and Blues. Ty got me ready and we did it.”
    She added, “Now my goal is to accomplish the Rhythm and Blues dance. That testing is in February. Ty comes from Washington state, but hopefully he will come back a couple of times to help me.”
    Darlin Baker is one of Liz’s biggest boosters.
    Baker said, “She is a shining example of how much fun someone can have when she embraces the challenges of something new. I’m proud to have been her coach since the very first day she laced up her skates and took that big step onto the ice.
    “Liz’s dedication and joyful approach to figure skating has driven her continued success in the sport.”

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