Magic on Ice

Four champion skaters salute family members

by Quest Staff on July 1, 2008 - 4:38pm

QUEST Vol. 15, No. 4

Four nationally renowned young figure skaters recently paid tribute on ice to people living with muscular dystrophy.

Molly Jespersen performed in honor of her father, who has myotonic muscular dystrophy.

For the skaters, it was a personal thing because among the people they honored were members of their immediate families.

The event, Skate for Life, was held April 12, at Newington Arena in Newington, Conn., and proceeds from ticket sales went to support MDA research and service programs.

Molly Jespersen, 15, was there to perform in honor of her father, Jake, who has myotonic muscular dystrophy (MMD). Parker and Colin Pennington, 23 and 21, cut dazzling figures on ice in a salute to their dad, Larry, who has facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD). Sean Rabbitt, 18, displayed his own magic on skates in a special tribute to his mom Helene, who also has FSHD.

Where their hearts are

Skate for Life was the brainchild of Parker Pennington, the only man to claim U.S. titles in each of the U.S. Figure Skating levels (juvenile, intermediate, novice and junior). Parker’s current goal is to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team.

“My dad was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy eight years ago. Watching him cope with the progression of the disease was my inspiration to put on this event in recognition of his struggle and his spirit,” Parker said.

He enlisted the help of his brother Colin, who won the U.S. novice men’s championship in 2003.

Larry Pennington said seeing his sons skate in the special event brought tears to his eyes. “This is where the hearts of my boys are — they did something very special here,” he said. “I was thinking not only about what it means to me, but to everyone else who has muscular dystrophy.”

A driving motivation

Jespersen began skating when she was five. She practices one to two hours a day, six days a week.

“When Molly was eight, she set a goal to be the best she possibly could,” said her father, Jake. “Last year we went to Lake Placid (N.Y.) to watch some of the Olympics hopefuls trying out, and when Molly saw their performances, she felt confident she could skate with the best of them.”

Molly, a high school sophomore, is a gold medalist freestyle skater, an accomplishment she attributes to her coach Tish Driscoll who helped her overcome concerns about her health. By age 13, she already had passed the series of advanced skating skills tests necessary to attain her Senior Singles rating.

Molly’s motivation was driven in part by uncertainty, said her mother, Kathleen. Molly knew that her father began evincing signs of MMD in his early teens, so Molly wanted to go all out to achieve the highest possible rating as soon as possible, in case she, too, developed the disease.

A chance meeting

Champ skater Parker Pennington organized an on-ice tribute to his dad and others with neuromuscular diseases.

Sean Rabbitt’s inclusion in the April 12 tribute to family members with muscular dystrophy came about by coincidence.

Parker Pennington happened to encounter Rabbitt, a promising junior men’s competitor, in southern California at a skating event near Rabbitt’s Yorba Linda home. There, Parker’s mother met Sean’s mother and learned she has the same disease Larry Pennington does, FSHD. From that point on — and thanks in part to free flights from Sean’s dad’s job for a commercial airline — Sean’s presence in the lineup of youthful skating talent in Connecticut was assured.

Helene Rabbitt’s mother and sister, who have both passed away, also had FSHD. She said one of her mother’s greatest joys was watching grandson Sean learn to skate at age 3. Two years ago, Sean was named among the top 10 skaters in the country in his intermediate men’s division.

“I’m always proud to see him out there, skating so beautifully,” Helene said. “He wants so hard to do well. This year he hopes to move beyond section and regional competition to the nationals.”

All the skaters who performed at the Connecticut event have practiced and trained day in and day out to achieve remarkable degrees of success on ice, and all have the motivation to attain new levels of professional recognition. But their tribute to family members reflected not only their skills, but their characters as well.

No votes yet
MDA cannot respond to questions asked in the comments field. For help with questions, contact your local MDA office or clinic or email See comment policy