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It was Aug. 30, the night before it happened. Wade Belak was vamping in front of the mirror, that's what Kim Navarro remembered. The music was on in her Toronto hotel room. Choreographer Rene Roca was selecting tunes for Belak and Navarro, who would be competing in "Battle of the Blades," Canada's ice skating version of "Dancing With The Stars." Belak, who played in the NHL for 14 years, stood in front of the mirror, striking poses, working it, wiggling this, shaking that, grinning, creating quite a profile for someone 6-foot-5.

"Rene fell out of her chair, she was laughing so hard," said the 1999 El Molino grad. "He was hilarious."

A couple hours later, energy evaporated, Belak said goodbye. Navarro will never forget his words.

"See you tomorrow," Belak said.

Navarro had no reason to think these would be the last words she would ever hear from him.

"Wade was so full of life," she said Wednesday from her Toronto hotel room. "He was so personable. He seemed so happy and content."

The next morning Navarro went down to the lobby at One King Street West to wait for Belak so they could take a van to the rink. He was late. She grew restless. She looked from the lobby to the valet area. She saw two police cars. She saw a photographer turn to take a picture of her. She started to stress, then dismissed it.

"I'm watching too much &‘Law And Order,'" Navarro said to herself. "&‘I'm just being paranoid,'"

A few minutes later Navarro was told Belak, 35, was found dead in his room. Reports surfaced that Belak committed suicide.

"I was speechless," she said. "I was shocked. It was not believable."

As what happens so many times to people who learn of such a tragedy, Navarro went inward. What was it I didn't see? Was there a sign I missed?

"I went back and reviewed all the texts I sent Wade," said Navarro, a 2004 Cum Laude graduate from Columbia. "Maybe I sent a bad joke."

She kept searching for that giveaway, that Ah-Ha moment in which a hand is tipped, a darkness revealed. Navarro, 30, kept running into dead ends, like their first meeting in July in a Toronto hotel lobby. They introduced themselves, went to the hotel bar to chat it up. Navarro had never met a hockey player before but came armed with jock stereotypes.

"Wade was so down-to-earth," Navarro said. "I was pleasantly surprised. I said to myself, &‘If they (hockey players) are all like Wade, this is really going to be a lot of fun.' It was clear Wade was going to be the star of the show, his personality was so huge. About a month later they paired me up with Wade. I was on Cloud Nine!"

In the days that followed, she failed to wrap her mind around his death.

"I'll never be able to," said Navarro, a two-time U.S. Olympic ice dancing alternate with Brent Bommentre and a two-time bronze medalist with Bommentre at the U.S. Nationals. "It makes no sense. It will never make sense. He was so excited about the new chapter in his life. He had just retired from the NHL. He was going to be a broadcaster for the NHL team in Nashville. He was totally in love with his family."

Russ Courtnall, a 17-year NHL veteran, stepped in to replace Belak.

"Russ' father committed suicide when he was 13," Navarro said, "but it was only a couple of years ago that Russ revealed it was suicide. Until then he told people his dad suffered a heart attack; suicide was taboo. He said it's best to talk about it. Don't keep it inside. It helps."

So Kim Navarro talks. Tells everyone the Blades' cast is dedicating the season to Belak. Asks that any donation go to Wade's favorite charity, Tourette's Syndrome Neurodevelopmental Clinic in Toronto (one of his daughters has Tourette's). And skates for therapy.

"Skating always has made sense to me," Navarro said. "It's the one thing in my life that has felt really good."

Yes, she admits, the ice has never felt warmer.

For more North Bay sports go to padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.