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Fire Destroys Their Home, Not Their Focus

October 31, 2003|HELENE ELLIOTT

When the fires blazing through Southern California hit Scripps Ranch last weekend, figure skater Eden Delphey was at an amusement park with her mother, Pam.

"Her dad [Jim] called her mom and said, 'We have to evacuate. What should I take?' " said Delphey's coach, Vicki Heasley. "She said, 'Get the competition dress.' He grabbed the long program dress but missed the short program dress. It was a hot little red number. It was awesome. But now it sits in a pile of rubble, all melted and gone."

Delphey, 15, competes in junior pairs with Greg Benton, 20. They train in Escondido and were awaiting next month's Pacific Coast Sectional competition in Vancouver, Wash., when the Delpheys' home burned, also taking many of Benton's belongings, since he had recently moved in with the family.

Despite their losses, Delphey and Benton intend to compete at the sectional event. Heasley, whose own home in Escondido was threatened last Saturday, said Delphey insisted on practicing Monday and Tuesday but was overwhelmed Wednesday after visiting her destroyed home.

"Right now we're proceeding as usual, and we're going to go forward, but I'll give her an out a couple of times," said Heasley, who skated pairs at the national level with Robert Wagenhoffer in the 1970s. "She seems to want to march on.

"I just spoke to Greg, and he said going back to the house was really upsetting for her. He said, 'I'll recover, but I'm worried for her. That's her entire life.' "

Heasley said Delphey's parents have been "amazing," as have both skaters.

"This is her first pair experience, and they've only been together three months. He's been just great, treating her like a little sister, and every time he sees her start to get down he makes her laugh," Heasley said Thursday.

"She's just tough as nails and wants it so bad. It's so good to see kids like these. So many kids spend their lives doing things that aren't good for them, but these kids are working hard despite what's happened to them."

Fire and Ice

Figure skater Angela Nikodinov barely had enough time to pack a bag before she fled Lake Arrowhead late last Saturday, just ahead of fires that ravaged the mountain community.

Nikodinov, who skates at the Ice Castle training center, said she planned to stay even after losing electricity at about 6 p.m. "I had another skater staying with me, so we lit candles and waited," she said. "About 11 o'clock we got a call saying how bad it was, so I grabbed a couple of things, like my skating stuff and some clothes.

"We left Saturday midnight and didn't get to my house in San Pedro until 4:30 in the morning. We had to go through Big Bear and to Redlands because the 18 [highway] was closed. You could see the fire from the road it's on. I still can't believe it's happening."

Michelle Kwan, Sasha Cohen, Surya Bonaly, Lu Chen, Nicole Bobek and Sasha Abt are among the skaters who have trained at Ice Castle, which was sold by longtime owner Carol Probst to two-time Australian Olympic skater Anthony Liu last spring.

"Even if the rink doesn't burn down, they lost electricity, so the ice melted, and that means it will be a few weeks before they can get up and running again," Nikodinov said. "It's so sad. A big part of my life was up there."

In the Long Run

Marla Runyan's sensational marathon debut last year in New York City -- her time of 2 hours, 27 minutes 10 seconds was the second-fastest debut time by an American woman -- would seem to make it a foregone conclusion that she'd return this year.

But after experiencing fatigue and inconsistent workouts earlier this year, Runyan realized she couldn't run in New York if she ran her signature event, the 5,000, at the World Championships in Paris in August. She made the difficult choice to skip Paris and run Sunday at New York, hoping for inspiration at the scene of one of her greatest efforts.

"This year has been one of ups and downs," said Runyan, who dropped out of the world half-marathon championships Oct. 4 in Portugal after about five miles because she was weakened by a viral infection.

On her Web site,, she said she has felt better since Portugal and approaches the New York race "with more confidence and competitive spirit." She added, "I really enjoyed it last year. I was really happy with how everything went last year. If I can have a positive race like that again, I'd be so happy."

Runyan is legally blind as the result of Stargardt's Disease, a degenerative condition that has left her with only peripheral vision. She will have a cyclist riding nearby Sunday to keep her apprised of turns and her split times.

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