In some ways, Stephanie Joseph's life resembled Evan Lysacek's.
Born just a year apart, the two grew up near each other in Naperville and attended Neuqua Valley High School. Both had a passion for ice skating from a young age and took lessons from the same coach, Candy Brown Burek.
But Joseph had an extra challenge - a diagnosis of soft tissue sarcoma at the age of 8 that eventually would prove fatal.
Lysacek will honor his fallen friend at a fundraiser at 5 p.m. Friday at Rosebud Italian Specialties and Pizzeria, 48 Chicago Ave., Naperville. The event will benefit the Stephanie Joseph Memorial Fund.
Joseph undoubtedly would have been proud of the Olympic gold medal Lysacek is bringing home to Naperville. She herself began skating at age 5 and eventually mastered difficult triple jumps. She was working on her senior level rating when she died.
"She was graceful and elegant and just beautiful on the ice," said Lynn Hill, whose daughter, Katherine, skated with Joseph.
Despite leg swelling, chemotherapy and radiation, her struggles didn't stop Joseph from living her life. She continued skating competitively and also ran cross country and track. Hill remembers how she would lend a hand when young skaters needed encouragement.
"She had a beautiful smile and was just vibrant and enthusiastic and really helpful to others," Hill said.
After graduating from Neuqua, Joseph went to the University of Missouri where she studied journalism and wrote for the campus newspaper.
Just halfway into her college career, cancer returned. Joseph, 21, died in February 2008, just months before she would have graduated.
In the wake of her death, friends and family, including the Hills, formed the Stephanie Joseph Memorial Fund, a scholarship program that assists young adults facing adversity and also works with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Hill said members of the group are excited Lysacek will once again take time to help raise money for fund.
"He was a good friend of Stephanie's and I think he was aware of how strong her spirit was," Hill said. "Like us, he wants her light to shine eternally."
Tickets for tonight's fundraiser are $25 and include appetizers. They may be purchased at stephaniejoseph.org or at Rosebud. For details, call Veronica Porter at (630) 717-0716.
If you go
What: Reception benefitting Stephanie Joseph Memorial Fund
When: 5 p.m. Friday
Where: Rosebud Italian Specialties and Pizzeria, 48 Chicago Ave.
Tickets: $25 including appetizers
Info: (630) 717-0716 or stephaniejoseph.org