Skater enlists Meissner to help Haiti

Like most people, Phyllis Friello watched in horror the events unfolding in Haiti after the devastating earthquake. She donated to UNICEF, the United Nations organization that's distributing water, food and medicine and registering children separated from their families by the disaster. But Friello, a competitive figure skater who lives in Baltimore, wanted to do more.

So she put on her skates. And she sent a Facebook message to former world and national figure skating champion Kimmie Meissner.

Within days Friello had enlisted the help of Meissner and Baltimore officials, and was planning the Ice to Water benefit for Haiti that took place Sunday at the Mount Pleasant Ice Arena - where Meissner started skating at age 6. Organizers had a bake sale and suggested a $5 donation at the door, but most attendees gave more. They raised nearly $2,000 for UNICEF.

"We watched what was happening in Haiti and wanted to do something," Friello said, noting that a skating show typically takes at least a month to organize. "Their lives changed in 10 seconds, so we figured we could do this in a week."

The show featured several dozen skaters, toddlers just learning to stand upright, teenage women who compete in the region, and Friello, 49, and her partner Dennis Glorioso, 53, who plan to compete at the international adult figure skating competition in Germany this spring.

But Meissner was the big draw. The announcer called her "our champion." She skated to Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl," laughing and running and skipping and jumping on the ice when the lyrics called for it. She got the crowd to clap along, and every difficult move elicited huge roars of approval.

"Baltimore rules," Meissner said after her performance. "It's always fun to come back to where you started."

Meissner also recalled feeling as Friello did, wanting to do more for the earthquake victims in Haiti but not knowing exactly what she could do. So she jumped at the chance to skate.

"With these kinds of disasters, you feel like there's nothing you can do," she said. "Everybody wanted to come out and help, and I'm glad we had this opportunity."

Julia Horwitz, 17, who traveled from Delaware to put on a skating routine to Chopin, also was glad to volunteer for Haiti. "It's really horrible that their homes are ruined and so many people are dying. It's really great to be able to help."

The skating benefit may become an annual event, allowing the community to stay involved in long-term recovery efforts in Haiti, said Bob Wall, division chief with the city Department of Recreation and Parks. Another Haiti fundraiser featuring ice bowling with inflatable pins is being planned for the Patterson Park ice rink in March, he said.

Several spectators said they were impressed by Sunday's nearly two-hour event, which featured more than a dozen individual routines in addition to group performances.

"To see the whole spectrum of skaters from the beginners to one of the best, to me it's inspirational," said Becky Bridger of Oakenshawe in Baltimore.

Her three young daughters, Miriam, Rose and Naomi, also were impressed - or rather star-struck - by Meissner. They waited with a surging crowd of girls, carrying a Sharpie permanent marker for Meissner to sign their skates. "Let's just say no matter how cold our feet get, we're not leaving until she signs them," Bridger said.

They didn't wait too long. The girls were soon led into a locker room to form a long line before Meissner, who sat on a bench to donate some more of her time.

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