- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 14, 2002

Something is different about figure skater Michael Weiss. Since he began touring with Champions on Ice a week ago, audiences have seen him do footwork that reviewers can only describe as magic.
Nick Perna knows better.
Perna, who works at Fairfax Ice Arena and assists in Weiss' training, knows the "magic" is a result of the Freedom Blade, a revolutionary skate blade he invented.
The aptly named blade allows the freedom to skate on the heels, a move that normally would cause a skater to lose balance. Perna's skate is flexible enough for a skater to do a split without the blades ever leaving the ice.
"It opens up a whole new dimension of movement that hasn't been possible on the ice before," Perna said.
Perna has been teaching skating in Fairfax for 20 years, and a love for his work inspired him to improve his sport through invention. The idea for the Freedom Blade began with another project, the Pic-Blade inline skate, which Perna co-created in 1994 with John Petell of Boston.
Perna noticed that any move he could do with ice skates, he also could do with the inline skates. But it didn't work the other way around, and on the ice Perna wanted the same thing freedom.
Since most skate manufacturers are in England, Perna had to find creative ways to experiment in the United States.
"We had to take the blades we already had and chop them up," Perna said. "We had to weld pieces together until we had the design we wanted."
After some elborate designs, Perna realized the solution was simple: a piece on the back of the blade like a "fin on a Cadillac." Once the blade is perfected, Perna hopes to start production in England at John Watts Skates, a manufacturer since the 18th century.
"We've only had four pairs made, and they're all in different design stages," Perna said. "Eventually, we hope to have production for any size. They're really fun to play in."
Perna's four pairs may evolve into an available line, which is what it would take for the Freedom Blade to appear in a competition like the Olympics. Skate regulations for amateurs are lenient, but one requirement is that a skate used by any one athlete must be obtainable by all. Once stores begin carrying the Freedom Blade, that "magical" footwork could become a regular part of competition.
For now, Perna's protoypes are worn on a well-watched pair of feet. Weiss will perform in the Freedom Blade during the 86-city Champions on Ice tour.
The skates are already drawing attention. While filming the show for television, the TNT network saw what Weiss could do and asked if it could do a special segment on the Freedom Blade.
"A lot of people have done variations on the toe pick, but no one has done much with the heel," said Weiss, who watched Perna welding his skates together just two weeks before the tour began.
Perna has worked with, among others, reigning Olympic champion Sarah Hughes and U.S. silver medalist Sasha Cohen, but he has been with Weiss from the beginning. He remembers well the first lesson he had with him, before the Freedom Blade was invented, before Weiss even had his own pair of skates.
"He came out and had his sister's old white skates painted black," Perna said. "By the end of the lesson, a lot of the paint had flaked off. It looked like he had cow skates on."
With a guy like Perna around, Weiss didn't have to wear his sister's skates for long.

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