Connecticut Skater Seeks Olympic Chance At U.S. Championships in Boston

Timing, as they say, is everything.  For Olympic hopeful Zachary Donohue of Madison, Connecticut, and his skating partner Madison Hubbell of Michigan, a lifetime of training, determination, resiliency and competition will be in full view at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston this week.

As U.S. national bronze medalists in 2012, and fourth place finishers at the 2013 U.S. Championships, the ice dance couple is at the cusp.  Three couples will earn U.S. Olympic team slots, to be announced on Sunday. The contest for those positions is expected to be extremely close.2014 USChampionships

For Donohue, it has been a long and winding road from New Haven and Madison, where he grew up, through New Jersey, Colorado, and Michigan where he trained and lived beginning at age 15, to the U.S. Championships in an Olympic year, just days after his 23rd birthday.

The journey began while visiting cousins in North Carolina, who took him along to go skating at a local spot.  “I was just messing around, imitating what they were doing.  One of my cousins said, “hey, you’re pretty good.”  Unbeknownst to 10-year-old Zach, his athletic ability on blades was mentioned to his mom, who promptly signed him up for a “Learn to Skate” program when they returned home to New Haven. He excelled, and skating soon evolved from a “cool outlet for all my energy” to a more serious interest.

Then at age 13, he grew a foot and a half in a year, and had to reduce his ice time to let his body catch up to itself.  The bones were outpacing the muHubbell_Donohue_FS_145scles, which made jumps and spins painful.  It was during that time that his love of music and interest in skating merged toward ice dance.

Now 6’2”, 195, Donohue is “tall, long and strong” – all attributes for a powerful yet graceful ice dancer.  Madison “Madi” Hubbell, at 5’8” is taller than many ice dance partners, and together they bring and impressive line to their skating.   The word most associated with their performances is “connection. “ They convey an emotional bond on the ice that is mesmerizing –earning the effusive admiration of commentators describing the fluidity, artistry and technical precision reflected in their routines.

In addition to training seven-days-a-week at the Detroit Skating Club, Donohue coaches skaters in nearby Troy, from 7 year-olds to young adults.  His coaching focuses on everything but dance, an understandable change of pace.  Through the years, he has discovered that he not only enjoys coaching, but choreography as well.  That is not only helpful with his students, but in developing the championship-caliber routines of Hubbell & Donohue.

Perseverance Through Injuries

It has been a stunningly successful and incredibly challenging, injury-riddled year.  Hubbell, out for two months recuperating from a concussion during which doctors precluded her from any exercise whatsoever, fought back and they not only competed effectively but won the coveted 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, exceeding their personal best scores.  No small task in the best of circumstances; remarkable given the realities.  They had won the same competition two years ago, in their debut season together.

Barely back on the ice, and with pressure-packed competition as skating’s Grand Prix season intensifying, Hubbell has bravely forged through the current season despite a diagnosis of a labral tear, a hip-injury not uncommon in the sport, but incredibly painful, and at times, debilitating.  She has been forthright about the injury, describing the challenges and limitations on their blog, while remaining upbeat and positive.  And despite it all, they won their first-ever Grand Prix medal, and finished fourth at Skate America.

“They just focus, and they’re so supportive of each other.  It is the persistence of an athlete – I’ve worked so hard for this, I’m just not gonna stop.  They both have that,” observes Diane “Dee” Eggert, Donohue’s mother and biggest fan.  Their recent success, in the midst of trying times, comes built on a foundation of trust and confidence that is “essential to any partnership,” Donohue points out.  “Although still a relatively new team, just three years together, it was evident relatively quickly that “all the pieces fell into place” when they got together.  “It takes time to get the kinks out,” Donohue says, but “we have become that well-oiled machine, through a tremendous amount of hard work.”  Hubbell’s determination working through injuries has impressed not only Donohue, but the skating community.

It is an on-ice partnership that was unplanned, but clicked immediately.  Hubbell had skated with her brother at the lower rungs of the skating ladder, and excelled, winning championships and much notice.  When he opted to retire from skating, Donohue was simultaneously ending a previous partnership, which also had brought success.  They found themselves on the same Detroit rink, at the same time, in need of new partners, and a coach off-handedly suggested they help each other out that day by working together.  Hubbell and Donohue haven’t looked back.

Local Roads to National Acclaim

Donohue easily recalls time spent training and practicing at rinks in Cromwell, Newington and Simsbury, as his interest in and dedication to the sport grew.  It was his mom who drove endlessly through central Connecticut to get him to training sessions, coaches, and practice time.  “She’s always been by my side,” Donohue points out, appreciatively.  “Skating puts a lot of stress on parents.”  For those of modest means, especially so.

Employed by the security department at Yale University for nearly 15 years after a career in law enforcement, she added an extra job or skating imagetwo along the way to help meet the relentless expenses of a skating career.  She worked the overnight shift, so days could be spent with her son.  Because of his skating-centric life, Donohue was home-schooled through his teenage years, and college plans remain on hold for now.

Beyond the ever-present skating, he has interests – and talent - in music and culinary arts, in addition to coaching and choreography.  When Zach was 12 years old, he was selected as the singer to open a show at the Shubert Theater in New Haven, and his mom marveled at his ability to sing in front of an audience of nearly 500 people.  Entertaining crowds has always been something he’s comfortable with.  “He’s my cheering section, and I’m his cheering section,” she says proudly, recalling his growing success and relentless tenacity.

At every turn, she concluded “how can I stand in the way of his whole career,” as he proceeded to pursue the next step in the dream.  She recalls vividly when she once broached the subject of giving up skating, as a youngster.  “Well, there was just no way.  He said he’d run away from home, sleep on the ice, and drive the Zamboni if he had to.  That’s when I knew how much skating meant to him.”

At 15, he moved to New Jersey where he lived in his coach’s home and trained during the week, returning to Connecticut on weekends.  By 17, he was moving to Colorado to work with a new coach as his development and advancement continued.  While there, he had an opportunity to work with ice dance legend Christopher Dean, among his icons in the sport.

“It’s a sacrifice you make,” Eggert says, reminiscing about the Christmases, Thanksgivings and other holidays where Zach hasn’t quite been able to make it home.  Donohue’s mom and Hubbell’s mom talk regularly, provide support and encouragement as needed, and look ahead.  Whether or not they are selected for the Olympic team, other goals beckon, including the World Championships later this Spring, and noteworthy competitions thereafter.

“There are daymadi_zach_sc2013s it’s hard but then you get to the competition and you realize it’s all worth it,” said Donohue.  “There’s never a day I don’t love it.  I love being on the ice.”

Artistry and Athleticism

The music for their Short Program, to be skated on Friday, will be a “Big Bad Voodoo Daddy,” medley featuring the quickstep, foxtrot, and Charleston. For the free dance (long program) the next day, “Nocturne into Bohemian Rhapsody.” The music has been well received by audiences this year, and Donohue is pleased with his role assisting in the choreography.  “I’m stubborn and outspoken,” and thereby earns a say in choreography decisions.

“He and Madi both feel the music.  It’s a gift.  Even when he was young, when he was practicing and someone else’s music would start, he’d skate away to the music.  It’s been that way since day one,” Eggert recalled.

Four years ago, Donohue was in juniors, with a different partner on the ice.  Today, he is on the brink of the Olympic dream becoming reality.  What will fans see in Boston?  A “better-than-ever version” of performances that earned top honors in Germany, even as extremely talented American teams vie for coveted Olympic slots.

“We’ve been working on our lifts and elements, and becoming stronger, faster and lighter.” Donohue admits to some nervousness prior to skating competitions, but that is quickly eclipsed by confidence as the music begins.  The training regimen, from intense cardio to a relentless series of physically demanding exercises, is unending but essential.  Injuries have required adjustments, but no stoppage.

The contrasts in skating can take your breath away.  The unique combination of artistry and athleticism makes it a singular sport - also unique in that a man and woman are paired in competition.

Not to get ahead of the story, but the 2014 Olympics will have an attractive new feature – the first-ever figure skating team event, similar to the team competition in gymnastics.  That will provide Olympic skaters with an opportunity to medal not only in individual events, but as part of a team – and Team USA is expected to be very much in the running.  If all goes wonderfully in Boston, Madi and Zach – described by his mom as “two peas in a pod” - will be, too.

West Hartford, Farmington, Cromwell Earn "Top Town" Titles

 West Hartford has been ranked as the Greater Hartford region's number one community in a new analysis published in the June issue of Hartford magazine.   Rounding out the top 10, in order, are South Windsor, Glastonbury, Manchester, Bristol, Farmington, Simsbury, Middletown, Avon and Enfield. The publication is produced by CT1Media, which also publishes The Hartford Courant.

The rankings are based on information highlighting more than three dozen factors, from school test scores to crime rate, property taxes to median home price, voter turnout to number of retail establishments. In 12 overall categories, the data was weighted to determine rankings broken down by small, medium and large towns, in addition to the overall results.

 top towns

  • The top-ranked large towns (over 30,000 population) are West Hartford, South Windsor, Glastonbury, Manchester and Bristol.  
  • The leading medium-sized towns (15,000-30,000 population) are Farmington, Simsbury, Avon, Berlin and Southington.
  • The top small towns (under 15,000 population) are Cromwell, Granby, Canton, Burlington, and East Granby.

Here’s the breakdown of the champions, by category (and size), according to Hartford magazine:

  • Best for Families/Schools: West Hartford (large), Simsbury (medium), and Granby (small).
  • Best for Seniors: West Hartford (large), Farmington (medium), and Cromwell (small).
  • Young and Hip: Hartford (large), Southington (medium), and Hebron (small).
  • City Living: Hartford (large), Southington (medium), and Cromwell (small).
  • Country Living: Glastonbury (Large), Simsbury (medium), and Granby (small).
  • Bang for the Buck: Bristol (large), Windsor (medium), and Windsor Locks (small).
  • Most Affluent:  West Hartford (large), Avon (medium), and Granby (small).
  • Most Educated:  West Hartford (large), Farmington (medium), and East Granby (small).
  • Lowest Crime:  Glastonbury (large), Simsbury (medium), and Hartland (small).
  • Leisure Life:  Hartford (large), Simsbury (medium), and Hebron (small).
  • Fastest Growing: Hartford (large), Southington (medium), and Cromwell (small).

West Hartford, en route to earning the top spot, finished first in five categories, second place in four, along with two fifth place finishes (Country Living and Lowest Crime) and one sixth place (Bang for the Buck).  Among the medium sized towns, Simsbury won four categories, and Southington and Farmington each  won three.   Among the small towns, Cromwell won four categories and Granby won three.

In addition to the rankings, the magazine outlines how they arrived at the rankings, explaining that data was gathered from a number of sources, “including the schools (we parsed 84 individual test score results for each town), town profiles compiled by Connecticut Economic Resource Center (, Connecticut State Department of Education, Connecticut Secretary of the State and Nielson Pop-Facts 2013.”

Travelers Championship Selected for Three PGA TOUR Awards

If you thought the Travelers Championship did a superb job during last year’s tournament in accommodating fans, involving players and utilizing its name sponsor, you’d be right on all counts.  The PGA TOUR has honored the Travelers Championship with three of its "Best of" Awards for "Most Fan Friendly Event,"  "Best Use of Players" and "Best Title Sponsor Integration" for the 2012 tournament, held at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell. "On behalf of the PGA TOUR, I am pleased to acknowledge and congratulate the outstanding job and special recognition the Travelers Championship has received for its efforts," said Andy Pazder, PGA TOUR executive vice-president and chief of operations. "The tournament should be extremely proud for being recognized as the best among their peers on the TOUR." The awards were presented this month, after a selection process by PGA TOUR officials and tournament directors from around the country.

In the area of "Most Fan Friendly Event," the Travelers Championship has continually improved its SUBWAY® Fan Zone for fans of all ages, which includes a kid's area, concert stage, Travelers Chipping Challenge and a host of other activities. In addition:

  • The tournament builds fan awareness through the BlumShapiro 5K race, held two weeks prior to the tournament.
  • During tournament week, fan enhancements include Military Appreciation presented by Saint Francis Care, Farmington Bank Fan and Family Day, Golf Digest Junior Pro-Am, Women's Day presented by Travelers, Powerstation Events Concert Series, Travelers Championship Challenge online game, the Travelers "Call the Shots" Twitter contest, as well as daily giveaways to fans through the tournament's social media channels.
  • The Travelers Championship also offers a number of affordable ticket packages and promotions in conjunction with area charities, on-site parking for the majority of fans, an ambassador program, free water and sunscreen, lockers for fans, Travelers-branded tote bags, welcome station and a prize patrol.

For "Best Use of Players," the Travelers Championship created eight events with 14 players that involved charity, fans, sponsors and volunteers.

  • The tournament hosted defending champion Fredrik Jacobson for a media day where he participated in a networking breakfast with 150 area business leaders and a Q&A with ESPN's Chris Berman.
  • On Monday during tournament week, the Travelers Championship brought Masters Champion Bubba Watson to Citi Field in New York City to throw the first pitch and help promote tournament week to fans in the New York market.
  • To build relationships with the future stars of the PGA TOUR, the tournament also gave sponsor's exemptions to young, up-and-coming players like Ryo Ishikawa, Patrick Cantlay, Kelly Kraft, Bryden Macpherson and Patrick Rodgers. The previous week's U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson kept his commitment to the Travelers Championship, due in part to the fact that he received a sponsor exemption in 2008.

For the "Best Title Sponsor Integration" award, there were a number of activities throughout the year.

  • With Japan's Ryo Ishikawa competing at the Travelers Championship, the title sponsor provided cultural training for employee volunteers and tournament staff, offered Asian-inspired cuisine for the media in attendance and printed tournament staff business cards in English and Japanese.
  • The title sponsor and tournament worked on an integrated marketing plan with Travelers tagging national ads with broadcast tune-in information and supplementing tournament buys with additional media spends in outlying markets.
  • Travelers also held a Travelers Championship Employee Day prior to the tournament in dozens of field offices across the U.S. and internationally, which included a number of golf-related activities. Travelers Championship Employee Day generated 90,000 views on the company's internal website, raised $34,000 for Birdies for Charity, generated $17,000 in ticket sales and recruited a company-record 1,252 employee volunteers.

"We are so fortunate to have Travelers as our title sponsor since 2007. Their commitment to making the tournament better each year has made the difference in the popularity of our event," said Nathan Grube, Travelers Championship tournament director. "We are thrilled to receive recognition in these categories, because it represents how much this tournament means to our title sponsor and the community that supports the Travelers Championship every year."

The 2013 Travelers Championship will be held June 17-23.