Olympic skater Adam Rippon arrives at AZ Ice Peoria and the whispering begins. Young female skaters giggle, and their parents gush over the Dancing with the Stars mirror ball trophy he is gripping tightly.
He doesn’t attempt to conceal his identity. Instead, he happily poses with his young fans, who aspire to be like him—on the podium, with an Olympic medal around their necks.
It’s no wonder he’s been dubbed, “America’s Best Friend.”
Rippon was visiting AZ Ice Peoria to star in Wish Upon a Star on May 27. He agreed to the appearance because a friend’s daughter was a performer.
“I have a lot of friends here,” Rippon says sitting in a chilly, cordoned-off rinkside room. He’s wearing thin, USA-blue workout gear, and two shiny gold bracelets.
“I just love to come out here any chance I can get, to help my friends and visit.”
It’s been a whirlwind year for Rippon, who won a bronze medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. In late May, he was crowned the winner of Dancing with the Stars: Athletes with his professional partner Jenna Johnson.
“Can you believe this? It’s not even June yet,” Rippon says, his eyes wide. “It’s even more of a whirlwind coming up,” he adds, teasing a “big project.”
Rippon returns to the Valley for the Phoenix Mercury’s Coors Light-sponsored Pride Night at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 16, during the team’s game against the Connecticut Sun at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Rippon will participate in a halftime Q&A at center court for fans. A champion for gay rights, Rippon was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2018.
Rippon says he was pleased with his bronze medal finish. However, he wanted the public to learn about him as a person, not just as the athlete or Olympic star.
“It was really exciting because people had the chance to get to know me as more than an athlete,” Rippon says. “I’ll always be an athlete and an Olympian, but my takeaway was the chance for me to show off the rest of who I am.
“I think some people stand on the Olympic podium and think, ‘I’ve been waiting for this my entire life.’ Mine was the interviews and the interaction with people. That was my a-ha moment. Everything I’ve ever done led to that moment.”
Viewers, he hoped, recognized his sense of humor. He enjoys making people laugh and shares his story with anyone who will listen.
“I love hearing other people’s stories as well,” Rippon adds. “I’m from a really small town in middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania. If you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything, no matter what track the people came before you crossed or walked.
“I was the oldest first-time Olympian in figure skater since the 1920s. I definitely march to the beat of my own drum.”
Rippon, 28, tried to make the Olympic skating team twice, but didn’t make the cut.
“I learned a lot about myself, especially my shortcomings,” he says. “I didn’t make the team twice. I used to think those were failures. You only fail if you don’t try. I think I found what you can perceive as a setback is an opportunity for something else. When you live that way, you never feel lost.”
The same goes for stepping out of his comfort zone. Rippon was under the gun during Dancing with the Stars: Athletes. The special edition of the ABC hit TV show was only four weeks, significantly shorter than the proper shows. There really wasn’t time to conquer a learning curve. He and Johnson had to “bring it” every week.
“As an athlete, you work your entire life for those moments (like the Olympics),” Rippon explains “For the dancing competition, I wanted to be excellent and professional at it, but you have four weeks and it’s crazy.
“It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I definitely made a new friend (in Johnson). She’s just so fantastic. I really love her so much.”
Rippon has been busy since the Olympics. He flew from New York to Los Angeles, and then from Los Angeles to Phoenix on May 26, performed in Peoria on May 27, and left the morning of May 28. He didn’t look tired in the least.
“It’s just creams,” he says with a laugh. “Underneath here, it’s a different story.”
Phoenix Mercury Pride Night, Talking Stick Resort Arena, 201 E. Jefferson Street, Phoenix, 602.252.9622, talkingstickresortarena.com, 7 p.m. Saturday, June 16, tickets start at $9.