Olympic stars shine at Winter Welcome
It doesn’t take a big man to make a big difference.
When Olympic speedskater Derek Parra took to the stage on Saturday night at the Jans Winter Welcome at Deer Valley, what could have been a nice profit on an auction item which included dinner for 16 with Parra and Olympic legend Eric Heiden, suddenly became one of the biggest money makers in the history of the Youth WinterSports Alliance fundraiser.
The very personable Parra joined Heiden on the stage after it was revealed that both speedskaters would be a part of the dinner. As two tables started a bidding war — Parra kept throwing in extras along with his winning smile to drive up the donations.
"All of a sudden, legendary athletes such as Eric and Derek are coming into the community," said YWSA executive director Shelley Gillwald. "They definitely helped the energy level at the event."
the end, the auction winner went home with the dinner and the two athletes agreed to show up in their racing suits, offering skating lessons and tickets to next year’s World Long Distance Championships at the Olympic Oval. The Youth WinterSports Alliance went home with $9,000. Minutes later, the other bidders were able to work out a deal for a dinner and skating lessons for $6,000.
"Next year I’ll set the fundraiser date around Derek’s schedule," joked Gillwald.
Parra wasn’t the only athlete providing entertainment to help generate more funds for the Alliance, an umbrella organization that helps to raise money for youth winter sports programs ranging from alpine skiing to the two-man luge. The triumvirate of aerialist Ryan St. Onge, 2002 Olympian and U.S. aerials coach Brian "Curdog" Currett and freestylist Shawn Smith threw on firefighting pants with no shirts to sell a dinner provided by local award-winning chef and firefighter Leroy Fernandez. Gillwald said it was her favorite moment of the night and the extra skin for extra money seemed to work as the bids kept coming.
The jovial mood of the live auction started with Olympic gold medallist Ted Ligety, who was able to make the event after a World Cup in Soelden, Austria was cancelled this weekend.
"He really started the evening off," Gillwald said.
Ligety, who grew up racing for the Park City Ski Team and eventually became a U.S. Ski Team member and Olympic medallist, is what Gillwald calls the "poster child for youth sports developments programs in Park City," so his presence immediately helped to set the mood.
He brought with him a pair of ski googles from his new personal equipment line, Shred, for the auction and eventually kicked in a pair of every color to keep the bidding going.
"People couldn’t get enough of the celebrities," Gillwald said.
Other big sellers included a dinner at Adolph’
s for $7,000 and two "Dinners with Dar" that each went for $5,200 apiece. All in all, the live auction generated an unprecedented $90,000, more than doubling last year’s total. Gillwald said the entertaining atmosphere kept the crowd engaged and their checkbooks open, and also made the auction feel like the main event, rather than just a component of the evening. The silent auction results are still being tallied, but Gillwald expects the Alliance did well there too.
Other parts of the fundraiser included hononary program memberships that people could bid on to be a part of a particular youth development program for the day, as well as a chair decorating component. Each club was asked to personally decorate a ski chair that could be auctioned off. The proceeds from both endeavors went entirely to that specific program.
The chair decorating was an idea Gillwald got from Lake Placid’s National Sports Academy, who does a similar fundraiser with Adirondack chairs. She liked the creativity involved and also wanted to give each team the opportunity to make their own money.
"We’re always trying to give the programs control of their own destiny," Gillwald said.
The event may continue to grow even bigger next year. Gillwald said that they sold 100 tickets over the amount originally slated. A gracious Deer Valley staff adjusted to accommodate the crowd, but Gillwald may soon have to think about how to make the event even larger.
"Our phone would not stop ringing from people wanting to attend," Gillwald said.
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When it comes to the U.S. census, let’s just say Park City has… room for improvement.