Bobek not skating on thin ice anymore

Former figure skating star back performing, doing what she loves most

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Nicole Bobek

Nicole Bobek performs for Improv-Ice. (Brittany Evans / Disson Skating / December 16, 2013)

I was channel surfing in commercial breaks from an NFL playoff game last Sunday when a figure skating show, Improv-Ice, arrested my attention.

There was Nicole Bobek, back on national television as a performer (for the second time in 15 days), looking extraordinarily fit, supremely confident and so overwhelmingly happy she couldn't stop smiling.

"It's almost ridiculous," Bobek said of her expression when we spoke by telephone. "Sometimes I want to slap the smile off my face, but I can't. It's how I feel out there."

And why not? A little more than two years ago Bobek was a dropout from the skating world in which she once was a star, battling a crystal meth addiction and hoping to stay out of jail on a drug distribution charge.

When a judge gave her five years probation instead of prison, Bobek immediately grasped her good fortune. During a visit with her in Florida 16 months ago that led to a lengthy story in the Tribune, she said, "I couldn't have been given a bigger chance in my life to do something right."

From the way she is performing to the testimony of those who have employed her, skated with her, coached her and gone to bat for her, all evidence is that at 34, Bobek finally can be taken at her word.

"She definitely has won back my confidence," said Steve Disson, the skating impresario in whose Pandora NBC Skating Series shows Bobek made her recent TV appearances. "Her attitude and cooperation were terrific, and it's nice to see her skating well."

That skating once again defines her is what Bobek wants.

"I can say whatever, I can act however, but the skating speaks for itself, and I have put a lot of work into it," Bobek said.

Disson gave her a contract at the urging of Lynn Plage, a skating consultant, and JoJo Starbuck, the Hall of Fame pairs skater who has become mentor, choreographer and guardian angel to Bobek.

"She was always the girl who could get away with anything, but now she has fortitude, dedication and discipline," Starbuck said. "Physically, it has been a huge battle for her, but she never has complained."

There also have been financial issues. Bobek, a 1998 U.S. Olympian, has been able to afford just one new costume; the rest are 10 years old. She continues to work 25 hours a week running the Zamboni and teaching power skating to hockey players in Lake Worth, Fla., at the Palm Beach Skate Zone, whose manager, Mike Bunting, threw an employment lifeline to her while she awaited her legal fate.

"She was at the depths, and it looks like she is going right back to the top, but this time she is better prepared to be there," Bunting said. "I am so proud of what she has done with her life, and she deserves all the credit for it."

Richard Callaghan, who coached Bobek to the 1995 U.S. title, is giving her free lessons. When Callaghan saw the once undisciplined Bobek consistently arrive on time, he knew this was a different person.

"She is more mature, more responsible, more in control," Callaghan said.

And she has retained the charisma that made audiences love her since she was a 5-year-old strawberry shortcake in the Evanston ice show.

"She can put on a piece of music and be a star in 30 seconds," Callaghan said.

Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen recently did two shows with Bobek.

"She looks great and has a great energy about her," Cohen said. "It's wonderful to see her back. She belongs on the ice."

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