UNIVERSITY PARK Nine-year-old Kim Li said she could name every figure skater who ever went pro.
Her face lit up when professional figure skaters Rocky Marval and his wife, Isabelle Brasseur, hit the rink Friday at the Pegula Ice Arena. They were joined by their daughter, Gabriella Marvaldi, 13, who is the 2012 U.S. juvenile pairs champion, and fellow professional Michael Weiss.
Kim clenched her hands, stood on the toes of her skates and looked up at her mother for approval to introduce herself to the pros.
“Can I, Mom?” she asked in a whisper as her mother nodded her head. “I love figure skating. I’m not great, but I’m getting better and can get some really good tips and learn a lot.”
The pros posed for photos and mingled with local skaters during the first United States Figure Skating SkateFest at Pegula Ice Arena, which allowed beginner, intermediate and advanced skaters to get a lesson from Penn State Figure Skating Club instructors and get tips from the professionals.
“You first teach them how to balance, then tell them to have a lot of fun,” Marval said.
Kim was one of about 200 skaters who were a part of the event that aimed to promote ice skating sports in central Pennsylvania and promote Sunday’s Musselman’s Applesauce Family Skating Tribute, which will feature professional figure skaters Kristi Yamaguchi, Paul Wylie and more.
Marval is a two-time U.S. pair champion; Brasseur is a former world pairs champion and two-time Olympic pairs bronze medalist from Canada; and Weiss is a two-time world bronze medalist and three-time U.S. men’s champion.
“It’s a great place to be and help promote the sport to not just youth, but everyone,” Marval said. “Being able to work with them and see the joy on their faces is the most rewarding.”
Marval drove in from New Jersey to be a part of the skate session. Weiss said he drove in from Washington, D.C., after dropping his son off at a hockey game in Pittsburgh first.
“It’s been busy lately, but just really happy to be here and interact with everyone,” Weiss said. “It’s a great thing that the community has here with this arena that helps people get involved in figure skating. If we can come here and show them the sport, then it can get people inspired.”
With the Sochi Winter Olympics in February, it is a perfect time to showcase ice skating, said Beth Eckert, organizer of the SkateFest and a member of the ice rink’s pro staff.
“It’s to build excitement for figure skating and hockey skating in our area, to encourage people of all ages to try skating with a free lesson, check out our new rink, learn more about our group lesson programs and have a chance to meet our celebrity skating guests,” Eckert said.
During the two 45-minute skate sessions, Sarah Biggs, 9, of State College, twirled, jumped and skated gracefully around a portion of the ice designated for advanced skaters.
Sarah said she has been skating with the Penn State Figure Skating Club for three years. On Friday, she said, she was able to work with instructors who gave her tips to better her performance.
“It’s fun,” she said. “I hope to be in the Olympics and win gold some day.”
For instructors like Krista Miller, it was all about getting new skaters comfortable on the ice and helping enhance the skating of others.
“It’s something new and something fun,” said Miller, who is also a member of the Penn State Figure Skating Club. “We’re providing opportunities like this to show how great this sport really is.”
Miller worked with beginner skaters from toddlers to adults.
Eckert said that once the contracts for the Disson Skating Show and Musselman’s Applesauce Family Skating Tribute were finalized, U.S. Figure Skating contacted the Penn State Figure Skating Club to see if the group would be interested in hosting this event.
She jumped at the chance.
“I attended a SkateFest a few years ago and really enjoyed it, so I wanted to give our community the same opportunity,” she said.
Musselman’s Family Skating Tribute will be held at 5 p.m. Sunday at the varsity ice rink at Pegula Ice Arena.
Eckert wasn’t sure if SkateFest would be an annual event, but said she is looking into hosting something similar, called “It’s Great to Skate,” sometime next year or in 2015 during National Skating Month. She said that having a facility like the Pegula Ice Arena provides something the community didn’t have before.
“The Pegula Ice Arena holds many opportunities to the figure skating community,” Eckert said. “Having two sheets of ice opens the door for hosting U.S. Figure Skating competitions, local ice shows, spotlighting our local talent and the opportunity to bring in a variety of professional ice skating shows. “
On Dec. 8, the Penn State Figure Skating Club’s annual “Happy Holidays Ice Show” will be held in the arena as well.
Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @ M11azzo.