Walking with the aid of crutches, Cara Cooper arrived at the Mimi DiPietro Family Skating Center in Patterson Park yesterday anxious to see an Olympic performance and hoping to show off her prowess on the ice.
Unfortunately, she could not get a skate over the soft ankle cast. But she did land a front-row seat just before Dorothy Hamill took to the ice.
"I came to see Dorothy Hamill skate," said Cooper, a 12-year-old newcomer to the sport who recently sprained her ankle on the ice. "She is really good. She has won gold medals."
Nearly three decades have passed since Hamill took Olympic gold in Austria, but hometown fans cheered every leap and spin yesterday as if the skater were competing all over again.
"Her lay-back spin was the hardest part, but she made it look easy," Cara said.
A beaming Hamill, clad in lilac and sequins, glided onto the rink waving to a crowd of about 250 who came to the benefit performance.
She danced gracefully across the ice to a soft James Taylor tune. Her program included several difficult maneuvers that elicited thunderous applause, but it was her dazzling smile that most captivated the audience.
"She is beautiful out there, one with the ice," said Sharon Barnes, who plays women's ice hockey at the East Baltimore rink. "She smiled so genuinely the whole time she was out there and did a really difficult program."
Hamill, 46, a frequent performer at the Kennedy Center with New Ice Age, said she felt slightly flustered by the lack of spotlights at the bubble-domed rink. "You feel naked when you can see all those faces staring at you," she said.
Hamill appeared at the request of Live Baltimore Home Center, a nonprofit group that promotes city living. The Mount Vernon resident said she chose Baltimore when she decided to move back east six years ago and was more than willing to help promote the city.
"I just fell in love with Baltimore," Hamill said. "There is a small-town feeling, but you are still in a big city."
Tracy Gosson, Live Baltimore director, said all she had to do was ask and Hamill scheduled the date.
"She loves to perform and give back to the community," said Gosson, who donned skates and glided to center rink to introduce the star. "We are thrilled at her generosity."
The skater's smile did not fade as she spent more than an hour signing autographs and posing for photos with fans. Lena Jansen, 86, sister of the late city councilman for whom the rink is named, was first in line.
"I invited her back," said Jansen, clutching a paper with Hamill's signature and a smiley face. "I am a real fan. I remember when she won the gold medal in 1976."
Jansen, a frequent rink spectator, said her skating days are well behind her, but "there was a time, honey, when I was on the ice." She donated $1,000 to youth hockey programs yesterday.
Many came with memorabilia for Hamill to sign. They asked for her signature on her books, programs, skates, and even a "Barbie-sized" Dorothy Hamill doll.
"It was my mom's and she's 30, so it's a really old doll," said Cassandra Crouse, 11, a skating student at the rink.
Renee Lauer brought her two young daughters from Westminster to see Hamill.
"I have told them all about her," said Lauer. "She was my idol growing up. I had my hair cut like hers. After seeing her today, I think I might take skating lessons again."