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Olympians create surge in Ellenton Ice interest

ELLENTON — Olympic pairs figure skaters Amanda Evora, 25, and Mark Ladwig, 29, have seen their lives change forever.

Now they are hoping to have the same impact for others at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, as well as elsewhere in the community.

Less than two weeks after skating to a 10th-place finish at the Vancouver Olympics, the pairs skaters were back in Ellenton, teaching classes and giving private lessons before heading back to Vancouver on Friday for the closing ceremony this weekend.

Their success seems to have spawned a whole new generation of would-be skaters who want to take lessons and learn from their success.

Brett Kaplan, Director for Media and Marketing for the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, said the impact from their Olympic performance has been significant with more individuals wanting to sign up for instruction.

“It absolutely has dramatically increased interest,” he said. “Lyndon Johnson, the director of our Learn To Skate program, just got back from Vancouver. He usually has about 10 to 20 sign-ups for the program, and this time he came back with a stack of probably about 50 to 70 high.

“Johnson is an Olympic coach and two-time Olympian himself as a competitor, so people also get the chance to be taught by Jeremy (Barrett), Mark and Amanda.”

Barrett and his partner, 16-year-old Caydee Denney, finished 13th in the pairs figure skating competition in Vancouver.

The complex has gotten a lot of e-mails from people who are interested in getting private lessons and training with the Olympic skaters, according to Kaplan.

“We have also received e-mails from people who are interested in curling, which doesn’t necessarily increase business, but just shows how much interest there is in the sport,” Kaplan said. “We won’t do (curling) because it’s a totally different ice surface from what we have. We have pretty good figure skating and pretty good hockey programs here and we wouldn’t want to compromise that.”

Kaplan said the interest in the facility’s hockey programs could also increase, depending on how the American hockey team finishes in the Olympics. The U.S. team beat Switzerland on Wednesday to advance to Friday’s semifinals.

“The impact right now is on our Learn To Skate Program. The other stuff we might see later,” Kaplan said.

Ladwig and Evora said their lives will never be the same because of the Olympics, and Evora already has plans to expand her influence.

“The Olympics changed my mentality,” Evora said. “Now that I’ve gotten there, I want to do more, not only for my skating, but for the (United States) and more for the community and that kind of stuff. One thing I’ve learned is that there are opportunities ahead that you can do for yourself and your community.

“I’ve always wanted to run a marathon for a cause, and they have one in Houston where I live, which is to help breast cancer, and I would like to do that. I hope I can be a spokesman for the Susan G. Komen for cancer cure foundation. It would be a great cause for me to be involved with and give me a chance to inspire others.”

Both Evora and Ladwig have made personal sacrifices to climb the ladder of success in the skating world. Outside of teaching at the Ellenton skating facility, both have done odd jobs to bring in enough money to fulfill their Olympic dream.

“I pretty much focused everything for the past eight years on getting to the Olympics, and I want to enjoy the ride,” Ladwig said. “I incurred a lot debt, but it’s been wonderful, and I have a wonderful wife, and we’ve been able to work things out to make this all possible. I’ve worked in just about every restaurant trying to make ends meet.”

As last week’s performance proved, the hard work is already paying off.

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