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Lysacek Day starts with 'We love you, Evan' from 4,000 teens
By Melissa Jenco | Daily Herald Staff

Evan Lysacek reacts to students' cheers as he returns to his alma mater Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville on Friday.

 

Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Evan Lysacek greets a cheering crowd as he returns to Neuqua Valley High School as part of Evan Lysacek Day in Naperville on Friday.

 

Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

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Published: 3/26/2010 12:48 PM | Updated: 3/26/2010 7:22 PM

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Neuqua Valley High School didn't need a formal committee to pick the winner of its first Distinguished Alumni Award.

The screams of 4,000 teenagers at the sight of Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater Evan Lysacek Friday morning said it all.

"If winning a gold medal doesn't do it, I don't know what would," Principal Robert McBride said, barely making himself heard over shouts of "We love you, Evan" and chants of "U.S.A."

Lysacek, 24, returned to his alma mater as part of a whirlwind victory tour though his hometown of Naperville, a day dubbed Evan Lysacek Day.

Neuqua not only gave the 2003 grad an alumni award but also presented a sign they will hang outside the school reading "Evan Lysacek Commemorative Parkway."

Lysacek represented the nation, community and school with class, McBride said.

"The years of hard work before Vancouver led to his moment of triumph," he said. "During the Olympics, his guts, grace under pressure ... earned him the gold medal."

Indian Prairie Unit District 204 Superintendent Kathy Birkett was principal at Neuqua during Evan's time there, and told students she still remembers having an all-school assembly for Lysacek when he became a junior world champion. She described him as a fierce competitor.

"He is a Neuqua Valley Wildcat through and through," she said.

Lysacek agreed, saying he was lucky to have gone to the school and "will be a Wildcat for the rest of my life."

"This was like my safe haven, and behind the walls of this school I didn't have to deal with the pressures of being an athlete and training and competing and the media and I could just be normal," he said.

Lysacek thanked Neuqua faculty members for going out of their way to accommodate his schedule as he tried to balance school and skating.

"Any dream is possible, any goal is possible and I think growing up in a community like Naperville I knew from a very young age I had the support of my entire city behind me as if they were all members of my family," he said.

The next stop of the day was a Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon where he was greeted by more than 400 fans and the O.C. Tanner Recognition Company presented him with a commemorative Olympic ring.

It turned out to be one of many awards and gifts showered upon the skater at the luncheon. Local, state and national politicians honored him in addition to the Army, International Skating Corp, Noon Rotary, Moose Club and Chicago Metro Sports and more.

Lysacek's mother Tanya thanked the crowd at the luncheon and said "it takes an entire city to raise an Olympic champion."

"Some of you nurtured him athletically, some of you physically, some of you spiritually and some of you academically," she said. "A lot of you have kept him grounded with your love and support through the years."

There was still more.

Several hundred additional supporters showed up for a rally Friday afternoon at Rotary Hill, where Mayor George Pradel presented Lysacek with a key to the city that he said "opens the hearts of everyone in Naperville."

Lysacek said the city has shaped the person he has become.

"Coming from a community and a real family-oriented town like Naperville has given me an upbringing I wouldn't trade for anything in the world," he said. "It has shaped the person I am today, the athlete I am today. ... The support I've gotten from this town has been so, so electrifying."

Lysacek was just 8 when his grandmother bought him his first pair of skates. He told the crowd he hated skating at first because his sister Laura was better than him but his mother convinced him to keep at it.

"Once I had enough stability on the ice to go fast, because I love to go fast, and feel the glide and feel the wind in my face I fell in love with the sport," he said.

Responding to questions from the crowd, Lysacek talked about his favorite memories in Naperville (playing at the Riverwalk), his favorite Chicago baseball team (split between White Sox and Cubs), his favorite flavor of cheesecake (all of them), whether he'll compete in the 2014 Olympics (maybe) and his hobbies (running and hiking).

Lysacek is giving himself a new challenge by competing on ABC's "Dancing With The Stars." He showed off his moves for the crowd with dancing partner Anna Trebunskaya who spent the day in Naperville with him.

He also gave his fans a mission - to vote for the pair at 800-868-3406.

Lysacek signed autographs for fans as he left the rally, heading for a fundraiser for the Stephanie Joseph Memorial Fund. Those who didn't get a chance to see him will have another chance this spring. He'll return May 8 for Smucker's Stars on Ice at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont.