Ice World warms to Kimmie

October 22, 2006|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special To The Sun

Anyone who goes to the Ice World skating rink in Abingdon won't need much time to realize that figure skater Kimmie Meissner means a lot to people there.

There's a huge banner just inside the front doors congratulating Meissner's accomplishments of the past year -- a great Olympic performance and a mildly surprising victory at the World championships soon after -- along with pictures of the Fallston High School senior. People at the rink love to talk about Meissner, how she hasn't changed much since becoming an internationally known athlete and will still talk to anyone at almost any time.

Meissner's success of the past year had a huge effect on the figure skaters at Ice World because she's practiced there on a regular basis for years -- and still works out there on a regular basis despite being known all around the world. The figure-skating programs have increased in size since her heroics last winter and continue to be bigger despite being over six months past some of her greatest moments.

"Our figure-skating lessons ... literally doubled in attendance almost immediately," said Linda Gettier, Ice World's office manager. "The attendance has stayed pretty strong since then; an awful lot of them are still here."

Many children and adults have watched Meissner practice there on the weekends. Meissner skates at the University of Delaware's rink in Newark during the week before coming back to Ice World. Children and adults like to sit and watch Meissner work out.

But they also love the fact that they can talk and interact with Meissner. Despite being famous, Meissner has no entourage and remains a small-town girl. It's easy to see how she loves to talk to the children because, after all, they have very common interests.

"I'm very flattered when all the little girls come up to me, or when anybody comes up to me," Meissner said. "Obviously, things are going to change a little bit, but I'm still me, that's just the way that I am. And I'm probably not going to change my personality."

Meissner said she remembers having similar feelings when she saw the famous Michelle Kwan at rinks.

"It is hard to kind of imagine that they see me like that," Meissner said.

But they do. Skaters like Molly Gallagher love having any chance to interact with someone who's now known all over the world.

Molly spoke with Meissner at a recent workout. The Edgewood Middle School eighth-grader is a member of the Chesapeake Figure Skating Club, which is based at Ice World. She had been working on the complicated double axel move when Meissner skated by and told her that she was doing just great -- a message that carried a heavy meaning.

"It was really fun ... because she's watching you," said Molly. "I think that, because she has such a well-known name, no matter how well she did, because she lived in the area, people would be interested."

Susan Gallagher, Molly's mother, said that it's easy to see how much Meissner means to the figure-skating program at Ice World and in the county. She's been well-known in the area for years and remained the same.

"Her [effect] was tremendous," said Susan Gallagher. "The fact that girls at Ice World can step on the same ice that Kimmie Meissner skates on, it empowers them. It makes their dreams a reality. When Kimmie skated at the Olympics, a little piece of each of those girls was with her."

The people at Ice World were pleased when Meissner was at the Olympics. Gettier said that skating families got together at the television near the snack bar to watch Meissner's Olympic short program, parts of which had been practiced on the ice several feet away from where they were standing. They also all got together to see her win the World competition.

"The look on her face at the end of that program when she knew she had nailed it brought many of us to tears," Gettier said.

At Ice World, there are two figure-skating sessions during the week, plus a Saturday-morning group. In addition, Gettier said, they've added an adult figure- skating class.

"Our retention is more because of [Meissner]," Gettier said. "We saw people sticking with it and enjoying, people see her around the rink, and they're tickled.

Heather Piepenburg is the skating director and figure-skating coach at Ice World, and said that Meissner's influence carries over to children and adults.

"I think she's a very good role model," she said. "Every athlete has their own personality, but she's there for the same reason everyone else is there, to practice."

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