Passing the Torch

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Professional skater Marcy Hinzmann-Harris and her husband, Lee Harris, practice their moves on the ice at Nationwide Arena

When Marcy Hinzmann-Harris glides across the ice in an empty practice rink, her moves are so smooth and effortless that the performance seems worthy of an audience.

Every spin, every jump, every landing looks polished to perfection.

Rare missteps are quickly followed by graceful recoveries.

Having spent her competitive figure skating career under the critical eyes of judges, the 28-year-old now enjoys the freedom of lacing her skates without anyone keeping score.

A newfound love for the sport shines during practices with her husband and professional skating partner Lee Harris, who also never tires of hours spent on the ice.

"It's that place," Marcy said, "where you really don't think about what else is going on in your life."

The pressure that accompanied her many accolades, including the title U.S. Olympian, has lessened since returning from the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. After the Olympics, the

Worthington-bred skater retired from international competitions to pursue a professional skating career. She and her husband spent the past few years performing in shows aboard cruise ships and recently returned to Central Ohio.

Competing in the Olympics at age 23 was a longtime dream and hard-earned accomplishment for Marcy-a milestone that she will always look back on with pride.

"Every skater dreams of having a photograph of them skating their performance on the ice with the Olympic rings," she said. "I remember thinking, 'I can't believe there's going to be that photo of me somewhere, someday.' "

And yet, she's careful not to let such a remarkable achievement define her.

"She never turned into a diva," said her grandfather, Les Hinzmann, who encouraged Marcy's passion for skating as a little girl. "She never got impressed with herself. A lot of skaters do, and they get a little overbearing. She was humble almost to a fault."

Marcy's introduction to the world of figure skating began in her parents' living room, where she remembers watching Olympic bronze medalist Debi Thomas perform on TV. The energetic 8-year-old mimicked the star's choreography, twirling and leaping across the carpet. Her parents, Isabel and Terry Hinzmann, recognized Marcy's athleticism and enrolled their daughter in group lessons at the Ohio State University Ice Rink.

"We wanted her to take up some kind of sport-soccer, ballet, gymnastics or figure skating," Isabel Hinzmann said. "It was something for her to do just an activity aside from Brownies at school.

Never did I dream that she'd end up on the U.S. Olympic team."

The first skating lesson didn't go quite as Marcy had imagined. The petite novice wobbled atop the slick ice and wiped out a few times, ending practice in tears.

"We had to kind of coax her to go back the next time," her mother recalled. By the second and third lessons, though, she took off smoothly on her skates and excelled so quickly that the group instructor soon told her parents that Marcy would benefit from a private coach. The Hinzmanns knew their daughter was talented, but they couldn't help but question whether such early praise was sincere: Did Marcy truly have a gift?

Repeated success at local and regional competitions answered that question.

With her balletic body, Marcy "looked like a perfect little skater," said Mary Hiser, a national U.S. Figure Skating judge and member of the Columbus Figure Skating Club. "From the get-go, she was very artistic. There were national judges at the time who said, 'This girl's going to be very good.' "

At 12, Marcy qualified for her first national championship as a juvenile-level skater.

"We could just see a progression," Isabel Hinzmann said. "Every year, we could see that she was taking steps in the right direction as far as learning more and achieving goals that she would set for herself."

Marcy showed motivation, determination and self-discipline early on that set her apart from other young competitors.

"For her, it was the whole process," Hiser said. "It wasn't just about going to nationals, or making a team, or winning a competition. She liked going to the rink every day. I never saw her parents tell her to get back on the ice. If anything, they had to pull her off."

Such intense dedication required sacrifices along the way for Marcy, her parents and younger siblings Tyler and Tiffany.

"We tried to keep normal family life, although with a skater in the family that's hard sometimes, because there's a lot of traveling and a lot of focus on that one child," Isabel Hinzmann said. "It was a fine balance, making sure everyone's needs were met. At times, it was all-consuming."

Marcy's mother home-schooled her from eighth-grade on to adapt to her daughter's full-time training schedule, which allowed little time for off-the-ice socializing. Marcy missed out on a typical teenage life filled with school dances, sports and sleepovers.

"I was always just pretty much a skater and working on my school work and that took all my time," Marcy said. "I started sacrificing a lot, but I wanted to. I didn't think about it. It seemed very natural to me to want to go in that direction."

Marcy's training path as a competitive singles skater took her from Columbus to Cleveland. She and her mother initially commuted to the Winterhurst Figure Skating Club three days a week. By 16,

Marcy committed to training there full-time under former coach and Olympic champion Carol Heiss Jenkins. She lived with a friend during the week and returned to Columbus on weekends.

At 18, Marcy made the leap from singles to pair skating. That decision prompted a move to Newark, Del., and then to Bloomfield Hills, Mich. At the Detroit Skating Club, she found a new skating partner, Aaron Parchem. The two clicked after a tryout in 2003. With a partnership, "It's not just about individual skills," Parchem said. "It's about how they mesh together. Marcy was great. She is an unbelievable combination of sweetness and toughness all at once."

That toughness was tested more than ever when Marcy fell and seriously injured her left knee during a practice leading up to the 2005 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The pair knew they needed to give a strong performance at the competition to put themselves in position to qualify for the Olympics the following year. So, despite worried doctors, Marcy skated with a blown anterior cruciate ligament for months, delaying surgery until after the competition.

"I was so close," Marcy said. "The doctors were concerned. But at that point I kind of knew my boundary and had tunnel vision and was like, 'I'm going to give it all I've got.' "

The next year, just months after recovering from knee surgery, she and Parchem won a silver medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and qualified for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

The 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, were dreamlike, Marcy said.

She remembers feeling calm and worry-free as she stepped onto the ice, and her parents watched from the stands with a similar sense of relief.

When the announcer read Marcy's name, her mother felt overwhelmed with pride.

She did it, Isabel Hinzmann thought. She's here. This is what she wanted.

"I was so proud of her," she said, her voice filled with emotion at the memory. "I saw her work so hard toward this. We were just so happy to be there to share that moment."

Marcy skated two of her best personal performances ever, and she and Parcham placed 13th overall.

Skating makes up a big part of Marcy's post-Olympic life.

It's a passion she shares with her husband, Lee, a Canadian-born hockey player who also competed as a pair skater. The couple met in 2003 at a competition in Helsinki, Finland, ("I thought he was cute and had a crush on him right away," Marcy said) and married three years later.

Marcy and Lee recently returned home to Westerville after show-skating on Royal Caribbean cruise ships. As paid entertainers, the couple performed their pairs routine nightly while sailing to Europe, the Caribbean, the Mexican Riviera, New England and Canada.

"There was a standing ovation every night," Lee said. "The first time we got a paycheck, we went back to our room and were almost dancing around. We were like, 'We're getting paid to do what we've done for 20 years!' "

"It felt wrong to us," Marcy said, laughing. "It was so cool."

The only downside of life aboard a cruiseship, she added, was living in a room "the size of a walk-in closet. But we were together."

When their fifth cruise contract ended in October, Marcy and Lee flew home for a day before flying off to Germany for the rest of the year to perform in a Christmas show.

They returned to Ohio in January, content to give up traveling the world at a whirlwind pace and finally settle down. Marcy, who moved away at 18, said she's now rediscovering Columbus with Lee.

The couple love exploring new restaurants with friends and are regulars in the stands at Blue Jackets games.

"It's the little things, believe it or not, that mean so much," Marcy said. "It's doing laundry in your own washer and dryer, sleeping in your own bed, cooking your own dinner. Those are the things we're really enjoying."

Their days are now spent pursuing a new passion-coaching students of all ages at The Chiller Ice Rinks. The job isn't glamorous, and demands odd hours seven days a week, but Lee and Marcy find the work fulfilling.

"They're a breath of fresh air," said Denise Hughes, The Chiller's figure skating director. "We're happy that they're here to stay."

Skate for Hope

Marcy and Lee are among 10 skating stars performing in Skate for Hope, a star-studded ice show benefiting breast cancer research.

The couple will dedicate their performance to Lee's mother, Sally Harris, who is currently battling a recurrence of breast cancer, and to Marcy's aunt, Nelly Brooks, a breast cancer survivor.

"With skating being our platform, it's great for us to go out there and skate for another reason except for ourselves," Lee said.

Skate for Hope-now in its eighth year-will take place June 18 at Nationwide Arena.

"The show is like Stars on Ice and a dance recital," said show founder Carolyn Bongirno.

She has recruited skating celebrities like U.S. Olympians Johnny Weir, Rachael Flatt and Emily Hughes to perform this year. The show's other stars are young figure skaters who have individually raised $500 for breast cancer research.

Bongirno, an adult figure skater, created the event after overcoming a Stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis. She felt compelled to develop a charity that would help survivors-and their families-cope with the disease. She also wanted to teach children the importance of giving back.

Since 2004, when the event debuted in Columbus, Skate for Hope has raised more than $300,000, with proceeds donated to the Stefanie Spielman Fund at the Ohio State University James Cancer Center and Solove Research Institute and the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer. Tickets cost $15 to $55.

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