by Daphne Backman
Often, we look back at friendships from our childhood as some of the best of our lives. Fueled by the loss of her childhood friend to cancer, Georgia Glastris poured her energy into something quite special.
Glastris, a three-time national ladies champion of Greece, first met Francesca (Frenchie) Persico on the first day of kindergarten and they became best friends very quickly. Persico had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma cancer at the age of three, but at the time it was in remission. The two inseparable friends enjoyed all the typical childhood activities including playing dress up, MarioKart, holding epic lemonade stands and went to see concerts such as Britney Spears and N’Sync. Several years later, Persico once again was hospitalized as the disease returned. Glastris frequently visited her, including when she was receiving chemotherapy. As a show of solidarity, Glastris and and others all wore the same matching bandanas to school when Persico lost her hair. Unfortunately, Persico lost her battle with cancer on what would have been the first day of the fourth grade.
“Frenchie was incredibly brave, really bright and had a wonderful creative spirit that brought people together,” Glastris said. “It’s easy to imagine what an amazing woman she would have grown to be and impossible to forget her.”
In 2008, Glastris conceived her idea of holding a figure skating benefit show in memory of Persico and FrenchieSkate was born. The first edition was comprised of local Chicago-area skaters who performed from a relatively small, but highly enthusiastic crow of family and friends in support of Frenchie’s Closet, which provides clothes, toys and other comforts to kids receiving pediatric cancer treatment.
Not long after, Glastris moved to the Detroit Skating Club to train and attend the University of Michigan and her FrenchieSkate efforts were temporarily paused.
“I didn’t have the time and resources at that point to continue with an annual benefit like this,” Glastris said. “Although I fell short of my Olympic ambitions I was privileged to be able to train with, compete against and become really good friends with so many of the best skaters in the world, many of whom train in Detroit or have their roots in Chicago.”
The group decided to put on the benefit show in a much larger, more ambitious manner and it culminated in FrenchieSkate 2014, which drew over 1,000 people to Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor. They selected Michigan-based organization North Star Reach as the recipient of the proceeds from their efforts.
“There are a lot of children like Francesca all over the country who suffer from diseases and afflictions that keep them from enjoying childhood the way we all wish they could,” Glastris said. “North Star Reach is building a camp (scheduled to open in Spring 2016) for kids with serious health challenges. The camp is located in Pinckney, Michigan, not far from Ann Arbor, and will provide a medically safe, supervised camp experience for thousands of these kids, all at no cost to their families.”
After the success of FrenchieSkate 2014, Glastris and the other participants decided to continue the show and build on their progress.
“For FrenchieSkate 2015, we have attracted an unbelievable cast, who are donating their time out of kinship, friendship and because we all want to make a difference in these kids’ lives,” Glastris added. “When you meet the kids, hear their stories and see the commitment from the donors, staff, medical professionals and families, it is hard not to be drawn in and want to be a part of North Star Reach. I am certain Francesca would be proud of us.”
FrenchieSkate 2015 is organized by University of Michigan student athletes in association with US Figure Skating, University of Michigan Figure Skating Club, and Detroit Skating Club. It will take place on February 27th at 7 PM at Compuware Arena in Plymouth Township, MI and boasts a roster that includes Olympians, U.S. and Canadian champions as well as international and World medalists. Tickets are available at www.compuwarearena.com. Doors will open at 6 PM. For more information, visit www.frenchieskate.com.
Ice dancers who are scheduled to perform include Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje (2014 Grand Prix Final Champions, 2015 Canadian Champions), Madison Chock & Evan Bates (2015 U.S. Champions), Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani (2011 World Bronze Medalists, 2015 U.S. silver medalists), Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue (2014 Four Continents Champions, 2015 U.S. bronze medalists), Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam (2014 Olympians, 2015 Canadian bronze medalists) and Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-luc Baker (2014 World Junior Champions).