A hip injury will prevent Naperville's Evan Lysacek from pursuing another Olympic gold medal in February, but it hasn't diminished support for the figure skater in his hometown.
Mayor George Pradel, known for his boundless pride in his community, said he was sad to hear the 28-year-old Neuqua Valley High School graduate and 2010 Olympic men's figure skating champion would not be competing in Sochi, Russia.
"We are saddened because we just love the guy and he's made a name for Naperville," Pradel said. "He's an icon here. He's part of the Naperville family."
Lysacek choked up as he told The Associated Press a torn labrum in his left hip has not healed in time for him to compete next year on the world stage.
"This has been my entire life, training and representing my country," Lysacek said, pausing to fight back tears. "So it's just kind of difficult. As much as I knew it could go either way, I never accepted it wouldn't. I always thought it would work out. I was crushed. I am crushed."
Four years ago, there was nothing but euphoria in Naperville, where Lysacek grew up with two sisters and lots of practice time on the ice at All Seasons in Naperville and Seven Bridges in Woodridge, His gold medal performance in Vancouver was celebrated with Evan Lysacek Day on March 26, 2010. An estimated 35,000 people turned out to share in his triumph.
The woman who worked behind the scenes to plan the celebration called his decision a loss not only for Lysacek and Naperville but also for the country's Olympic ice skating team. Veronica Porter, a volunteer who planned several public appearances for Lysacek, said his skating talents are matched by his humble and gracious manner.
"It's a real loss that he won't be able to go, but I think he made the right choice because this type of injury can be lifelong," Porter said.
Lysacek hasn't competed since the 2010 Vancouver Games, when he became the first American man to win the Olympic title since Brian Boitano in 1988.
"In the minds of kids here and the minds of faculty here, he's already an Olympic gold medalist," said Bob McBride, principal at Lysacek's alma mater, Neuqua Valley. "And it's hard to imagine anything that's going to tarnish that."
His gold medal set off a whirlwind of activity in 2010: He placed second on "Dancing with the Stars," posed nude for ESPN the Magazine and skated with the Smuckers Stars on Ice tour. But a torn abdominal muscle derailed his comeback last season.
The Naperville community, however, is hesitant to count its hometown Olympian out of future competition.
Lance Fuhrer, Neuqua Valley's assistant principal for curriculum and instruction, who taught Lysacek world history during the athlete's freshman year, said he always displayed "sort of a quiet determination" as he remained in public high school despite traveling frequently for elite skating competitions.
Ray McGury, executive director of the Naperville Park District, who helped provide security during Lysacek's visit after his gold medal-winning performance, said the skater's work ethic and determination make him "the Michael Jordan of skating."
"His desire to be the best at what he does is unbelievable," McGury said. "Knowing Evan, if there was a way he could get out there and perform to his top capabilities, he would have done it."
Lysacek started the sport at age 8 on a pair of skates given to him by his grandmother, and Pradel said whenever Lysacek would return to Neuqua Valley or other Naperville schools, he would answer kids' questions honestly: Becoming the best required him to skip many a birthday party and gatherings with friends.
"But most of all, he's a challenger for our youth," Pradel said. "He challenged them all that they can make the grade if they work hard."