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Adaptive Ice-Skating for People with Disabilities

For the second winter in a row, people that attend three of S:US’ Day Habilitation Programs in the Bronx have participated in an adaptive ice-skating program. The Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park agreed to help support the experience of ice-skating by generously setting aside time on the ice for skaters with disabilities with no fee during the winter months to help our participants become more active and explore new experiences. Ice-skating is often not offered to people with disabilities due to societies’ perceived risk, but with the enthusiasm and support from Jajaida Gonzalez, Vice President of Day Habilitation Services, Jared Leake, Rink Director, Faith Xikis, Vice President of Leasing and Maintenance, William Black, Central Maintenance Superintendent, Freddie Bratcher, Program Director at S:US’ South Bronx Day Habilitation Program, along with the Figure Skating Coach Margaret Dornbaum, participants have the opportunity to get familiar with the activity, equipment, adaptations, and basic skill building to be comfortable enough to skate on the ice.

Last year, Coach Margaret graciously volunteered her time to teach participants who attended S:US’ Day Habilitation Programs in the Bronx basic skills in ice-skating to build comfort and ease on the ice. This year, thanks to a generous donation from Barbara Lehrer, President and CEO of The Beacon Group, S:US was able to pay Coach Margaret for her weekly lessons, plus the means to purchase larger helmets for participants who did not fit the standard sized helmets provided by Riverbank State Park, skate stabilizers to help with the holders built by S:US’ Facilities team, and shoe grips for staff to walk on the ice to provide extra support for the skaters.

Over the course of eight weeks starting in January, participants met weekly for introductory classes for two hours on Wednesday mornings at the outdoor rink at Riverbank State Park. Safety rules are reviewed weekly, along with emphasizing a good fit for the shoes and tight tying of the laces. Some basic learning steps are taught including simple balance techniques, graceful falling, step-glide moves and good posture with an upright body, bent knees and a straight head while gazing up all at the same time. Coach Margaret works with the participants to practice good posture while on skates before getting out on the ice because it promotes their success and ease.  She also teaches them the etiquette of a good fall to lean on the hip or buttocks where the body has extra padding. Coach Margaret explains, “I like to work on the safety of a fall to help people get over their fear of falling. Almost everyone falls, which is part of the learning of this sport. I also like to help them strengthen their memory of the movement so they can build on what they learn from week to week.” Adaptive equipment includes double blades for each skate to increase stability on the ice, and ice skater trainers built by Faith Xikis which increase support and balance while skating.

Rafael, one of the participants, shares, “I like to skate.  It was new and exciting for me.  I like Coach Margaret; she’s friendly, kind, and patient with me.” Henry, another participant, says, “It was my first time to skate.  It is not hard when I fall down. I hold onto something to help me skate because I can’t skate by myself. My Coach (Margaret) helps me a lot!” Osvaldo, another participant, exclaimed, “Ice-skating is like play, like I am a car on the ice!” Matthew, another skater, mentions, “It was good. I skated around the whole rink, and I’ll go weekly to do it.”

Adaptive equipment includes double blades for each skate to increase stability on the ice, and ice skater trainers which increase support and balance while skating.

“At its core, ice-skating with adaptations is rewarding. It establishes and contributes to opportunities for people who thought that they would never skate to get on the ice and skate. It is empowering for them and richly rewarding for me to help them learn this new sport,” remarked Coach Margaret.

We at S:US are deeply grateful to Riverbank State Park Rink Director Jared Leake, Coach Margaret Dornbaum, Barbara Lehrer from The Beacon Group, and all the staff at S:US who have pitched in to enable people with disabilities the opportunity to ice-skate!

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