This is an edited version of an article originally published in the Halls Shopper.
Paul Wylie has known Scott Hamilton since he was 10-years-old, and while the enduring friendship may not be surprising, Wylie’s a little amazed the two are still strapping on skates to perform together.
“We have longevity—I don’t think I would have thought of that as a child,” says Wylie. “It is a lifelong sport now.”
Wylie joined Hamilton and an impressive list of figure skating champions at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum for “Scott Hamilton and Friends on Ice.” The event raised money for Provision CARES Foundation and Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation, both of which fund cancer research and support cancer patients and their families. The event also included noted skaters Katia Gordeeva, pairs gold medalist with late husband Sergei Grinkov in the 1988 and 1994 Olympics; 2014 Olympic medalist Jeremy Abbott; world champion figure skaters Yuka Sato and Steven Cousins; U.S. national figure skating champions Alissa Czisny, Ryan Bradley, Michael Weiss; ice dancing champions Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre; 1990s British National Champion Steven Cousins, and ice dancing siblings Sinead Kerr and John Kerr.
The skaters performed to the live music of Michael W. Smith, acclaimed singer, songwriter and musician who has sold more than 15 million albums and achieved 28 No. 1 songs. Smith has earned three GRAMMY® Awards, one American Music Award, and more than 40 Dove Awards. He was recently honored, with Amy Grant, by ASCAP as “a cornerstone of Christian music” and in 2014 received recognition as “Philanthropist of the Year” by the Nashville Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
For Wylie, this event meant a lot. Both his father and mother are cancer survivors, and he watched Hamilton go through his own bout with testicular cancer and subsequent brain tumors. He considers himself an advocate for proton therapy, one of the world’s most advanced cancer treatments.
“I’ve been doing benefits for cancer research since I was a teenager,” he says. “Cancer is absolutely something I had close by.”
Although he has never had cancer himself, Wylie has experienced his own brush with a life-threatening illness. One morning during a workout with friends, he collapsed, and his heart stopped beating. Two men took turns doing CPR until first responders arrived and rushed him to the hospital. After two days in an induced coma, Wylie woke up and learned he had been the victim of a cardiac arrest. After a battery of tests in which doctors could not determine the cause, he received an ICD—which functions both as a defibrillator and pacemaker—and set out on the road to recovery.
He kept skating and says the experience gave him a new appreciation for life.
“I think when you have experienced closeness to death, it tends to put things in perspective, and you realize how fragile lives are,” he says.
After decades on the ice, Wylie says he still loves to perform, something that’s kept him doing shows like Scott Hamilton and Friends On Ice far past his retirement as a professional figure skater. He burst onto the world scene as a relative unknown at the 1992 Olympic Games, reaping a silver medal and launching a highly successful professional career. He also toured with Stars on Ice and has served as a television commentator.
“For me, the music and performing have really always been front and center,” he says. “That’s where I derive the pleasure of skating. The way the edge feels against, it’s a lovely feeling, a very free feeling.”
And, for the record, he’s still landing those double jumps.
The nice thing about events like “Scott Hamilton and Friends,” Wylie says, is it give skaters a chance to truly enjoy themselves and put on a show—with the unique aspect of performing to live music.
“There is great skating, great music and it’s a great cause,” he says. “We’re there to entertain the audience. There’s just something about it, where the artists and the athletes work together to create something entertaining. It’s always a great show.”