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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 3, 2002

Olympic games spark interest in ice skating

By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer

There's only one place in Hawai'i to get a real fix for ice fever. It's a 20-year-old building just off the highway in Salt Lake, where a rink is shielded from the sun and the air is a brisk 55 degrees.

Muriah Kayser, 9, of Makakilo, puts on skates at The Ice Palace, where she takes lessons.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

While The Ice Palace has become a social hub for teens and hockey enthusiasts, it is a place that has encouraged Olympic fandom, end even formed Olympic dreams.

In 1980, when Ryan Shimabukuro was 6 and living in Salt Lake, he found a hero on the TV screen.

As his dad was watching the Winter Olympics, Shimabukuro was captivated by a 21-year-old speedskater from the Midwest named Eric Heiden. Heiden did what no other athlete could. He took home five gold medals.

Shimabukuro thought it looked like a cool sport, but not for a kid in Hawai'i. That was until The Ice Palace opened two years later.

Shimabukuro tried skating and learned he was good at it. Then he was hooked. And at age 15, he left Hawai'i to find world-class competition.

Two decades since The Ice Palace opened, Shimabukuro is still a legend there. While his own Olympic dream was dashed, he came close, and now he's a Junior National Team coach with two speed skaters in this year's Olympic Games.

Most kids don't look to The Ice Palace for Olympic-level training. But with the Olympic Games being broadcast this month from Salt Lake City, girls like 6-year-old Samantha Stevens in Kailua will be watching new idols like figure skater Michelle Kwan and getting just as excited about dressing in sparkly costumes as doing jumps and spins themselves.

Samantha's stepbrother, 10-year-old Vinnie Stevens, who is beginning to get serious about the sport, will be dreaming of doing back flips like Scott Hamilton, a former Olympian and a TV analyst for this year's figure-skating coverage.

They already are regulars at The Ice Palace, where owner Doug Taylor expects business to spike about 25 percent in the months after the Olympics.

It's usually the parents who watch the games, feel some kind of connection to the sport, and enroll their kids in classes, he said.

Erin Stevens said skating helped solve a problem at her house.

"I was looking for a sport that my stepson and daughter could do that would accent their gymnastics," she said. "They were on the ice at the same time. One drive. Two kids. Problem solved."

Costs can add up

Ice Palace offerings
 •  The Ice Palace has public skating and offers birthday party packages, skating lessons, ice hockey leagues and special group admission.
 •  Address: 4510 Salt Lake Blvd.
 •  Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesdays; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and 6:30-11 p.m. Fridays; 10:45 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturdays; and 10:45 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Sundays
 •  Admission: $6.50, including skate rental
 •  For more information: call 487-9921 or go to icepalacehawaii.com
Lisa Kayser of Makakilo let her 9-year-old, Muriah, start skating lessons after Muriah attended a birthday party at the skating rink four years ago.

Now they make the drive three times a week, which will soon become four times a week to prepare for a competition in March.

If things progress, Kayser will have to decide whether to spend the money to send Muriah to the Mainland for competitions.

With ice time costing $5.50 every 45 minutes and coaches charging about $1 a minute, plus good skates and costumes, and snacks and arcade games for her son during the wait at the rink, the costs can really add up. But Kayser said it has been worth it.

"She's gained poise and confidence and she's learning grace," Kayser said. "It's a good sport."

For 14-year-old Brittney Lusk, a military transplant who just moved to Hawai'i from Virginia, the joy of the sport is more about the feeling it gives her than an Olympic spirit.

"It really catches your eye," she said. "It's just a graceful sport."

Heiden, the Olympic idol of 1980, impressed upon Shimabukuro that Lusk is right.

"Heck, gold medals, what can you do with them?" Heiden is remembered for saying in his glory days. "I'd rather get a nice warmup suit. That's something I can use. Gold medals just sit there. When I get old, maybe I could sell them if I need the money."

Shimabukuro expressed a similar sentiment when he wrote this on a Web site to a former coach: "I just hope my skaters will see that it just isn't about medals and titles but the character that you develop through triumph and tragedy."

People 'looking for heroes'

Kailua’s Samantha Stevens, 6, here practicing with coach Stella Meneses at the Ice Palace, will be watching idols such as figure skater Michelle Kwan when the Winter Olympics begin in Salt Lake City.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Heiden will be at this year's winter Olympics in his new role of sports doctor. Shimabukuro will be in Italy for a competition with his Junior World League team. And at The Ice Palace, coaches and athletes will be watching the Games from afar.

Coaches there are ready for an influx of young skaters and excited parents.

"If someone gets excited about the Winter Games and wants to be a bobsledder, they can't do that in Hawai'i, so they turn to skating," said Robyn Conboy, an instructor at The Ice Palace. "Plus, I think people are looking for heroes nowadays."

Shimabukuro, 28, who left Moanalua High School when he was a sophomore, says he would like to return to The Ice Palace and help start a coaching certification program. He still gets sentimental about Hawai'i's only rink.

"The Ice Palace is a good beginning point," he said. "My life changed after that."

Reach Tanya Bricking at tbricking@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8026.