Feb 15, 2014

The kids who won't go to the Olympics

I've been working with atypical skaters for several years-- kids who have special needs, first as a designated aide, and now as a Program Leader with the Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association (NSSRA), part of a national movement of "SRAs," essentially park districts for individuals with special needs.

On Saturday mornings, I teach in a fast growing program called SPICE (SPecial skaters ICE Experience) with 20 kids and 20+ "buddies"-- high level skaters who work one-on-one with class participants.  SPICE was NSSRA's very first program, a couple of decades ago. Here's a typical class:

Staff and buddies are gathered in the lobby waiting for the skaters to start arriving. N, 14 and a huge flirt, has the buddies fighting over him. His regular buddy is absent; we finally settle on him helping one of the older girls to teach a new student.

S walks in with his beautiful service dog, repeating Hi Xan! in his booming voice several times. S is also a popular skater, both because he's a really good skater, and because he tells amazing stories while skating around.

C won't look at me, but I happen to know he's into lions and have brought a hand puppet.

J also knows better than to look at me, because I am really mean and have been making him stand up on the ice (I know, right?). P is usually quite quiet, and needs two helpers to stand on the ice, although he physically strong. Even with typical skaters, it's often one of the biggest challenges to help them understand that "slippery" is not the same as "impossible to stand on this." In fact, T, who was doing great last week, has decided that Dad is a way better option than the skating teachers. Like the hero that these kids often are, however, a few minutes into the class, and with the help of two buddies, his gliding like a pro.

C is complaining, but the lion is proving to motivate him.

M missed the first four classes-- we wondered where she was; turned out her registration had gotten lost. She showed up today, with pink hair! (I knew I liked that kid!) Last session she absolutely insisted that she had to have a pusher, but today she just zipped right past them without a thought.

G missed two sessions as well, for his bar mitzvah. His buddy also missed those sessions, because the kids have bonded so beautifully-- His buddy JG went to the service and party. These are the kinds of really beautiful things that happen at SPICE. G does not stand on his own and has a special adaptive frame so he can skate, with JG pushing. There is nothing quite so joyous as his laughter as he moves faster than anyone else on the ice.

Each class we sort out all the pairings, have a 10-minute class (typically swizzles, backward wiggles, two-foot and one-foot glides and other basic skills) and about 15 minutes of free skating (so that I have time to fight with J about standing up instead of scooting around on his butt).

These are just a few of the 20 skaters that I work with every week. They and their families are literally what keep me skating-- I've thought often about quitting. But knowing the difference I make in these lives, the volunteer buddies that I am inspiring, and the joy that all of us feel from these special classes keep me coming back for more.


  1. Xan this is beautiful. Thank you.

  2. The Same AnonymousJune 2, 2014 at 6:14 AM

    Hey Xan!

    I miss your blog! I hope all is well.


  3. All's fine, I just ended up with a full time job and have limited time for the fun stuff :(