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A fun time that she takes very seriously

Turners Falls woman behind Ice Stars for Wounded Warriors

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Kerry Togneri of Montague is planning Ice Stars for Wounded Warriors.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Kerry Togneri of Montague is planning Ice Stars for Wounded Warriors.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Kerry Togneri of Montague is planning Ice Stars for Wounded Warriors.

TURNERS FALLS — As the parent of a soldier serving in Iraq, Kerry Togneri dreaded the phone call but didn’t really expect it.

Togneri’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan Togneri, then 21, was returning from a mission in Fallujah in 2006 when a roadside bomb sent shrapnel through the Humvee’s door seal and into his leg and shoulder.

“Compared to these other kids he’s very, very, very lucky. He was in a reserve unit, so we kind of didn’t expect those calls, maybe I’m naive but I thought they were in the safer zones,” Kerry Togneri said.

The Turners Falls native recovered and returned to duty, serving in Afghanistan where he lost his best friend in the spring.

The 2006 phone call and what her son shared of his experience, combined with her brother’s experience in the Vietnam War, left Togneri wanting to help.

“I lost a year of my life worrying, and then worrying about him coming home; they lost five guys in their unit, having him here, he came and stayed here with us for a while and seeing how they’re so skittish when they come home, and they’re not that innocent child you sent off, and they never will be,” she said.

A triathlete dedicating two hours a day to training, Kerry Togneri’s schedule cleared up a little when a bad motorcycle accident left her unable to compete and after some research, she combined her passions for figure skating and ice hockey for a benefit event and settled on the Wounded Warrior Project as the beneficiary.

Togneri said she found the organization the most effective and willing to acknowledge and help soldiers and their families with visible and invisible wounds.

Ice Stars for Wounded Warriors is now in its third year, with the two-day hockey tournament and figure skating display scheduled for the end of April on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus.

Among her other pursuits, Togneri teaches figure skating and coaches hockey players in skating technique, so the combination was a natural choice for her, if not a usual pairing.

“Hockey players blame figure skaters for making the huge holes, and figure skaters blame hockey players for chewing up the ice,” she said. “So it’s unique that we’re together in the same building on the same day.”

Also rare is the spectacle of police and firefighters battling over a puck, with the tournament limited to teams composed mainly of military and civil service workers. Tickets are already on sale, and Togneri’s goal this year is to sell out the smaller Mullins Center annex, hoping this will draw the sponsor attention to move the event to the Mullins Center proper, with a much higher seating capacity.

The event raised $4,000 in its first year and despite disappointing attendance $12,000 the next, mostly thanks to nonattending donors.

The event has many sponsors, including local hotels and bed-and-breakfasts that are donating lodging for visiting figure skaters, while the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office is providing the programs and other printed materials.

Togneri said misconceptions about the effort have sometimes proved an obstacle in seeking donors and sponsors. She stresses the fundraiser is for soldiers and their families, not the war.

“Don’t just tell me you don’t support the war, because none of us do,” she said.

The show begins 6 p.m. April 26, a Friday, with a hockey tournament so far including seven military or civil service teams. The tournament resumes Saturday at 8 a.m., to be followed by a parade around the university campus led by Gill native Chris Demars, wounded by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan two years ago.

The ice show begins at 7 p.m. and includes a roster of about 200 figure skaters. Before moving to the area, Togneri trained in Lexington with skaters including a close friend who made it as far as the Olympics, and through connections old and new, Togneri said the show will feature some of the best figure skaters in New England and elsewhere.

Big names include three-time Olympic figure skater Todd Eldredge, 2008 U.S. national champion Mirai Nagasu, and, off the ice, Paralympic rowing partners Oksana Masters and Rob Jones, a retired Marine and double amputee who will drop the game puck for the final hockey match.

Tickets, $12 for adults, $7 for children and free for military children, are on sale at the Mullins Center box office or through Ticketmaster.com. The hockey and figure skating shows are ticketed separately.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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