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JoJo Starbuck Delights Crowd at Community House

Madison resident and famous figure skater breaks the ice with humor and amusing anecdotes

Olympic figure skating champion discussed her thrills and spills on and off the ice as part of the 'Wise Wonderful Women' luncheon and lecture series hosted by at .

Sandwiches, pie and lots of laughs were on the menu as the Madison resident paired her 45-minute talk with a slideshow that followed her career from its very beginning at the age of seven.

Kicking things off with a humorous start, the figure skater showed a photo of her famous ex-husband, former Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback Terry Bradshaw. Starbuck told an amusing anecdote that had the crowd engaged  instantly when she shared that after winning the Super Bowl and being named Most Valuable Player, she and Bradshaw were on their way to a post-game party when Bradshaw missed getting his quarter in the toll basket.

Because no one else in the car had another quarter, Bradshaw, dressed in a suit, was forced to get out of the car and crawl around to get his quarter back.

Starbuck joked that it just goes to show that one minute your greatest dreams can come true "and the next you're down on all fours looking for a quarter."

The only child of a single mom growing up in Downey, Ca, Starbuck said her working mother enrolled her in skating lessons so she wouldn't come home to an empty apartment. A self-proclaimed tomboy with a love of acting, the Olympian said skating was a perfect mix.

As much as she enjoyed gliding around the ice with partner Ken Shelley, it wasn't until she was 12 and her mother called her in to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics that her passion for the sport was born. On her small black-and-white television, Starbuck saw a familiar face, that of Peggy Fleming, whom she knew from the rink where she practiced.

"I was in awe," Starbuck said. "It ignited a new dream that fueled us every day. We wanted to be in the Olympic games."

Starbuck then detailed the grueling schedule that became her life: in the car by 5:30 a.m, skate from 6 to 8 a.m., go to school, skate from 3 to 7 p.m., do homework by flashlight in the car, Hollywood ballet and gymnastics from 8 to 9 p.m before returning home to sleep and do it all over again the next day.

During those years, Starbuck said she often doubted herself and would tell her mother, "I'm not good enough or strong enough" to which her mother replied, "You know that and I know that but let's not tell anyone else that," which was met with much laughter from the group.

An appreciative Starbuck said her last audience, comprised of lawyers and bankers, didn't understand that joke the way mothers do.

Four years later, in 1968, Starbuck, with her partner Shelley, joined the Olympic team in France as the youngest pairs team America had ever sent to the Olympics. The duo went on to compete again in 1972 and took home fourth place. They were also U.S. Pairs Champions in 1970, 1971, and 1972.

After their final season, the team signed the highest-paying contract ever with "Ice Capades." Following that success, Starbuck partnered with Olympic champion John Curry in his production "Ice Dancing" on Broadway, at New York's Metropolitan Opera and at the Royal Albert Hall in England.

Starbuck detailed her brushes with fame which include eating dinner at the White House and at the home of Tina Turner as well as meeting the likes of Andy Warhol and Bianca Jagger and dating Richard Carpenter. Very real and self-deprecating, Starbuck recounted how she tripped in front of Rudy Guiliani and Prince Andrew during a 9/11 tribute.

The figure skater, said despite her amazing journey, her life is much richer because she shares it with her husband Jeff Gertler and their 16-year-old twin sons Noah and Abraham. The latter was on hand to help his mom with the slideshow.

Starbuck said she is currently the head pro at The Rink at Rockefeller Center and also teaches ice skating at the Twin Oaks rink in Florham Park. She invited the audience to consider giving the sport a try.

In closing, she thanked the crowd, acknowledging that "women are amazing" and said, "It's been a joy and an honor to speak with you. You are champions. I applaud you as you go out in the world every day and make it a better place just because you are in it."  

"She was delightful," said Sylvia Luber, of the Wise Wonderful Women committee. Luber noted that Starbuck had attended a prior luncheon when a member spotted her in the crowd and asked her if she would consider giving a talk.

"They outdo themselves each time," said Ruth Mirrer, referring to both the exceptional speakers and The Community House's fine in-house catering headed by Bernie Grohol. "There's usually a waiting list. Some people are under the misconception that you need to be a member to attend the series, but you don't."

Starbuck's was the first talk of the season. She will be followed by Tracy Beckerman, writer of the syndicated humor column, "Lost in Suburbia" on Feb. 16, 2012 and Claire Guadagno, "Entertaining at the White House", an historical survey of each First Lady - her life, her personal style, her vision 
of her role in the political spotlight, and her approach to the demands as the premier hostess of the Executive Mansion, on May 10, 2012.

 

 

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