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Champion’s long-lost prize finds its way home

Last year, just before Christmas, the manager of a city ice rink called Doreen Denny on her day off. At age 68, Denny still taught ice skating five days a week. The manager insisted she come in right away. His voice sounded odd.

“There’s some crazy lady here who says she has something that belongs to you,” he said, trying to sound mysterious. “It’s something from the ‘50s.”

“The ‘50s?” Denny sputtered in her clipped British accent. “I wasn’t even here in the ‘50s.”

But she was. Fifty-one years before, as a wispy teenager from Twickenham, England, she and her partner had skated flawlessly for their country at the storied Broadmoor World Arena to capture the 1959 ice dancing world championship.

“It’s some kind of a silver plate,” the manager said, adding that there was writing on it.

Denny’s hands began to shake. Her prize from so long ago was an elaborate silver tray with the engraved words: “World Ice Dancing Champions. Colorado Springs. USA. 1959.” But the tray had vanished nearly three decades before, stolen during a house break-in.

“Oh my God,” Denny whispered. And then she started to cry.

The tale of the traveling tray began when Denny left Europe in 1965, lured back to the city synonymous with ice skating’s best. She had retired from competition at 20 after winning back-to-back world championships.

In Colorado Springs, married and starting a family, she became a coach at the Broadmoor, guiding two ice dancing teams to the Olympics in 1976 and 1980.

In 1982, while she was away at a competition, her house was burglarized. Along with electronics and jewelry, her beloved tray was gone.

The tray reemerged, filthy and worn, in the mid-1990s, when Kathryn Hummel spotted it at a local Goodwill auction, the last stop for donated goods before the landfill.

“This is really cool,” she thought as she dusted it off. “I wonder how it got here.” She liked watching ice dancing on TV, so she snagged the tray and bought it along with a boxful of other things for a couple of dollars.

For the next 15 years Hummel lugged the tray with her as she moved from Colorado to California and back again. Sometimes she displayed perfume bottles on it; sometimes she used it to serve drinks and snacks. She was always curious but figured the former owner must either be dead or no longer wanted it.

Then last December, she gave the tray to a neighbor, Michelle Gallegos, who had fallen on hard times. Gallegos was worried she wouldn’t have enough money to buy Christmas presents for her kids. Hummel told her to take the tray and sell it.

Gallegos tried but got no takers. One antique store owner suggested she try the World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame. Gallegos hadn’t known such a thing existed, much less in her own town.

The small museum, adjacent to where the Broadmoor World Arena stood before it was torn down in 1994, is the only one of its kind in the nation. Among the displays are glittery costumes dating to the 1930s and Olympic gold medals, including those won by Scott Hamilton and Kristi Yamaguchi.

Museum archivist Karen Cover was dumbfounded when Gallegos asked if they would buy the tray. “We don’t buy things here,” Cover said, adding it must belong to someone. A quick check in the record books revealed that the ice dancing champions of 1959 were Courtney Jones, still in England, and Doreen Denny.

Doreen Denny. A staffer recognized the name.

Gallegos was torn. She needed the money the tray might fetch, but she knew what she had to do. She stuck a bow on the tray, took it to the center and told the director to call Denny.

Both women wept as the tray changed hands, presumably for the last time. Today it hangs in Denny’s modest two-bedroom apartment. Sometimes she can’t help but touch it as she walks by.

Deam writes for The Times.


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