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Hughes displayed talent years before Olympics

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It was just after the 1994 Olympics, when interest in figure skating was ignited by the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding spectacle, that I took my 6-year-old son to a packed Iceland skating rink in New Hyde Park.

Unable to get in the door, I led a delegation of disgruntled dads and mumbling moms to the Parkwood Ice Rink in Great Neck. Parkwood, run by the Great Neck Park District, is a delightful place to skate, free of the crowds that sometimes gather at public rinks.

My son had completed his second turn around the rink holding onto Mom for dear life. In the center of the rink, where we were not allowed, there were several young girls spinning and twirling in their pretty skating outfits. These were the girls from Parkwood’s ice skating school or so I was told by one of the rink’s workers who stood next to me at the edge of the ice when my son tried going solo.

“See that girl there in the middle?” he said, pointing to the area in the center of the rink where the young girls were twirling. “Which one?” I asked a bit nonchalantly. “That one, there,” he pointed again.

I turned my focus to a 7- or 8-year-old gliding across the ice on one skate, while she gracefully held the other leg behind her in what is known as a spiral. “One day, she’s going to be in the Olympics,” he said with the pride that a father might show. “What’s her name?” I asked, turning to him with interest.

“Sarah Hughes,” he said with conviction, and he didn’t mince words when he added, “Remember that name. Sarah Hughes, future Olympic gold medalist.”

And so I remembered that young girl whose passion for skating was apparent even then.

I took note of the young Sarah Hughes and watched her skate across the rink, outside the circle and back in again, giggling with her classmates and friends. She had poise on the ice that belied her tender years, skating backwards and spiraling and spinning around the ice.

During her performance in the long portion of the 2002 Olympics Women's Figure Skating finals, a teenage Sarah Hughes skated with the abandon and joy of the child I’d seen eight years earlier on a rink in Great Neck.

When I was a young girl and way into my teens, my passion was ice skating. I bugged my folks to take me every Sunday to Iceland’s predecessor, Skateland, the place where the NY Rangers practiced. In my youthful dreams I, too, was an ice princess and Olympic hopeful.

I had skates with white and purple pompons that tinkled as the bells shook with each scrape across the ice. Without any formal lessons I learned to skate backwards and could do figure eights and even a spin or two without getting dizzy. As a teenager, it was fun to fall on purpose and have the hunky guys who worked the rinks offer strong arms to pick you up.

In 1976, this passion of mine for ice skating led me to the worst haircut of my life. Although Dorothy Hamill’s hair lay beautifully on her head even as she spun furiously yet gracefully in what was dubbed the “Hamill Camel,” my imitation “wedge” haircut looked ridiculous while I stood still.

Hughes’ haircut, carefree style and the pure joy with which she skates, remind me of Hamill.

In a year when hometown heroes are sorely needed, we’ve been given the opportunity to cheer one of our own.

On Sunday, the town of Great Neck will celebrate its homegrown champion and put on a parade of Olympian proportions beginning at 11 a.m. near the railroad station that will wind through the streets of this proud neighborhood, ending up at the Parkwood Ice Rink where a young girl’s heart was filled with golden dreams.

What goes around comes around, just like the intertwining Olympic circles. People will turn out to see this refreshingly honest, young woman who appears grounded on more than just the ice.

“Sweet 16” and kissed with Gold, Sarah Hughes is filled with promise and blessed with a family that have kept her on terre firma even as she skates off into the hearts of Americans and the attention of the world.

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