Family helped Evan soar with his feet on the ground

 
 
  • In 1999, a 13-year-old Evan Lysacek praised his mom, Tanya, who he said

    In 1999, a 13-year-old Evan Lysacek praised his mom, Tanya, who he said "puts others before herself and sacrifices her life to accommodate her three children." Daily Herald file

  • Evan Lysacek won a gold medal in the juvenile division at the 1996 Junior Olympics at age 10. His mom said it was the first time she realized how far her son could go in the sport.

    Evan Lysacek won a gold medal in the juvenile division at the 1996 Junior Olympics at age 10. His mom said it was the first time she realized how far her son could go in the sport. Daily Herald file

  • Evan grew up in Naperville with sisters Christina, front, and Laura. Tanya and Don Lysacek insisted their son stay home and continue school at Neuqua Valley while training for figure skating.

    Evan grew up in Naperville with sisters Christina, front, and Laura. Tanya and Don Lysacek insisted their son stay home and continue school at Neuqua Valley while training for figure skating. Courtesy of Lynn Plage Communications

  • Evan Lysacek and his family celebrate Olympic gold in Vancouver. Lysacek says he is grateful for the support family and friends have shown.

    Evan Lysacek and his family celebrate Olympic gold in Vancouver. Lysacek says he is grateful for the support family and friends have shown. Courtesy of Lynn Plage Communications

Published: 3/25/2010 12:04 PM

Tanya Lysacek remembers watching her son, Evan, win a national figure skating championship when he was just 10.

It was the first time she truly realized his talent for flying across the ice wasn't just a hobby - Evan was going to go the distance.

"I think it didn't really hit me until afterward when all the people were coming up to us and saying, 'This is amazing.' I started watching more closely and sort of really thinking ahead and trying to plan how to fit it into our daily lives in the long term," she said.

Still, she couldn't have guessed that 14 years later Evan would be wearing an Olympic gold medal around his neck.

The road to gold was not always smooth. It began when Evan, at age 8, received a pair of skates from his grandmother for Christmas.

"At first I didn't like it at all," Evan said in 2000. "But I started to improve quickly and then I loved it."

It didn't take long for the accolades to pile up. By 14, Evan had won juvenile, novice and junior national titles.

Tanya attributes her son's subsequent success to a combination of talent and drive.

"Some kids get on the ice and try to jump and in a few weeks they nail it, but that part wasn't so easy," she said. "But he's such a hard worker and, coupled with being so driven and determined, it makes for a champion."

Instead of sending Evan away to train with the country's top coaches like many other promising young skaters, Tanya and Don Lysacek insisted on keeping their son in Naperville with his sisters, Laura and Christina, until he graduated from Neuqua Valley High School in 2003.

"I knew that would keep him grounded because my feeling is no one raises your children the way the parent does," Tanya said. "That was our rule. He knew that and understood it and keeping him in school and having a normal life and friends ... beyond skating was a big factor (in staying grounded)."

Staying at home in Naperville meant keeping a rigorous schedule of classes at Neuqua in the mornings, followed by skating practice and then either weight training, balance or ballet classes in the afternoon. Once home, the family made a point of always sitting down together for dinner before they scattered once again for homework time.

Staying in Naperville still didn't make ice skating an inexpensive endeavor.

Despite a skating scholarship from Seven Bridges and subsidies from the United States Figure Skating Association, Evan's sport cost the family about $35,000 a year.

The sacrifices Evan's skating required from the family did not go unnoticed by the future champion.

In 1999, Evan wrote a Mother's Day letter to Tanya that was published in the Daily Herald.

"She guides me through each day and makes everything that I do important," 13-year-old Evan wrote. "She puts others before herself and sacrifices her life to accommodate her three children.

"My mother knows how to reach into my soul and rekindle my spirit. She is my brain when I am absent-minded. She is strength when I am weak, and she never fails to reassure my faith in the human heart."

Training in Naperville didn't seem to hinder Evan's progress. He went on to take second in the 2001 and 2003 World Junior Championships. In 2003 he also won gold at the Junior Grand Prix Final.

Meanwhile, he fought for a place among the nation's elite skaters. After winning the gold in 2000 at the U.S. Nationals as a junior, Evan placed 12th in his first two years in the men's division and rose to fifth place in 2003.

After his 2003 high school graduation, Evan moved west to train with legendary coach Frank Carroll.

Evan won silver in the 2004 World Cup and bronze in both the 2005 U.S. and World championships. He made his Olympic debut in 2006 and placed fourth after a fall during his short program.

Undeterred, Evan went on to win gold at the 2007 and 2008 U.S. Championships as well as the 2009 World Championships, all culminating in his 2010 Olympic glory.

Over the years, the Lysacek family's support for Evan has not waned. Tanya described her son's Olympic gold medal win as "fabulous" and "a whirlwind."

"I think what I enjoyed most is watching his expression and how much he was into his program and soaking it up and enjoying it," she said.

She gave him a piece of advice before his Olympic performance that he seems to have heeded.

"Enjoy the moment and soak it all in," she told him, "because you want to remember this 10 years (from now) as a joyous time and not 'I wish I would have.'"