Salt Lake native Eddie Gornick didn't quite know what he was getting himself into when he signed on to skate the part of a toy cowboy in "Walt Disney's World on Ice: Toy Story."
"I didn't see the movie until after I signed a contract with them, which was probably not the smartest thing," said the 21-year-old figure skater. "Then, of course, I saw the movie and I loved it."But it took me a while to realize what playing Woody means. We do 10 or 12 shows a week, and we usually pretty much fill the arena. Most of the people who come to see us have seen the movie. And when you're out there, portraying a character that's so loved, it's amazing. You feel like you can do no wrong."
This "Disney's World on Ice" - which begins a six-day run at the Delta Center on Wednesday - re-creates the 1995 movie "Toy Story." That computer-animated classic tells the story of toys who have lives of their own and the rivalry between old favorite Woody and new favorite Buzz Lightyear, a spaceman who catches the eye of his young owner, Andy.
And if the audience gets caught up in the ice show, they won't be the only ones.
"When I'm out there in costume and I'm speaking with Tom Hanks' voice, sometimes I forget that I'm me," Gornick said. "I have all these toys around me - it's surreal a lot of the time. It's just easier to pretend that I'm in a movie. We've done it so many times it's second nature.
"It makes it so easy for me to skate. When I go out on the ice and I skate as me, it's more difficult. I get nervous. When you're inside a character, it's completely different."
Gornick's skating career actually began before he was born, in a way. His parents, Utah Symphony musicians Edward and Holly Gornick, were performing at Sun Valley when they decided it would be great if one day they had a child who skated.
"I happened to be the first one to pop out, so when I was 7 they took me to the rink one day and signed me up for lessons," he said.
It was not, however, love at first skate.
"I didn't like it at the beginning. I wanted to quit," Gornick said. "But my parents said, `Well, we paid for (the lessons) so you ought to finish.' "
And by the time the six-week course was over, young Gornick had changed his mind. And he soon dedicated his life to figure skating.
"I think it's fair to say that skating is in a class by itself," Gornick said. "I've done a lot of other things. And in my mind, nothing really compares to its difficulty or the sacrifice that you need to make. I know that a lot of people make sacrifices to reach a goal in a sport, but skating requires so much dedication. You have to really keep at it constantly."
Gornick competed for 12 years, making the U.S. Championships for six consecutive years. And while he never won any titles, he has no regrets.
"I didn't make it as far as I wanted to," he said. "Of course, you want to go the distance and win the Olympics, but that's such a far-off thing that so few people ever achieve. Many, many people don't even make it to the U.S. Championships. I'm very proud of my accomplishments, and I by no means regret any of it. I'm just grateful I had the chance to compete.
"And I feel very fortunate to be getting paid for something that I worked so hard at for so many years."
And, actually, his joining the "World on Ice" came somewhat out of the blue. After the 1996 national championships, he was in Salt Lake City with his parents when one of his coaches phoned and told him to expect a call from someone at Kenneth Feld Productions, which is behind both the touring ice shows and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. That call came shortly thereafter, offering Gornick a principal position in the show.
"Which means that you're basically going to get to skate - you'll have a solo," he said. "And that's all that I would have accepted because I wanted to keep skating."
It was only then that he began to realize what a big production these ice shows are.
"I soon realized after I showed up at rehearsals that this company is the greatest live-entertainment company there is," Gornick said. "These are huge, huge productions. . . . Our show was choreographed by Robin Cousins, who was an Olympic champion in 1980. It's budgeted at $8 million.
"It's unbelievable to be right in the dead center of all of this whirlwind that creates all of these wonderful shows. . . . I love making people happy, and the people love what we do."
He's even adjusted to all the traveling the company does.
"I love traveling now," Gornick said. "I find I can hardly be in a city for a week before I'm sick of it and ready to play to a new audience. It's not fun living out of two suitcases, but you get used to it, and you do enjoy the perks."
And he's particularly looking forward to coming home to perform.
"I love Salt Lake. I think Salt Lake is such a wonderful city," he said. "I'm really excited to be coming there and performing. My parents will be able to see the show and a lot of my friends. . . . It might be a little nerve-wracking because I usually don't know many of the people we perform for."
And, 14 years later, he's glad his parents made him finish out the six weeks of his first group lessons.
"I'm grateful to them for everything. I'm so grateful that they let me do what I wanted to do and never held me back," Gornick said.
"Walt Disney's World on Ice: Toy Story" comes to the Delta Center on Wednesday for a six-day, 10-show run.
Show times are as follows:
- Wednesday, March 18, at 7 p.m.
- Thursday, March 19, at 7 p.m.
- Friday, March 20, at 4 and 7:30 p.m.
- Saturday, March 21, at 11 a.m., 3:30 and 7:30 p.m.
- Sunday, March 22, at 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
- Monday, March 23, at 7 p.m.
Tickets range in price from $9.50 to $22.50 and are available at the Delta Center and all Smith's Tix locations.