Discover You Can

Challenge makes you stronger than you can imagine. Given this strength, you might even learn to fly. Anything’s possible once you gain the courage you need to take on the world. Learn to Skate USA strives to build confidence with every session. Our programs encourage participants and give them all the resources they need to stop asking “why?” and start asking “why not?”

Coach Bruce Porter guides Lawrence Harrison around the rink

Serving in our county’s military requires courage. So does taking on the world after losing your sight. Bruce Porter intends to extend the opportunity to both communities, starting Learn to Skate USA programs for visually impaired individuals nationwide.

“The freedom a person feels from ice skating is so unique,” Porter said. “There’s nothing as exhilarating. I want our visually impaired Veterans to feel that freedom. I want them to know there are no limits to what they can accomplish.”

It all started five months ago when Porter, a hockey player turned competitive ice dancer and all-around skating coach at the Mount Vernon RECenter in Fairfax, Virginia, was approached by the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), an Alexandria, Virginia-based organization that strives to promote the welfare of blinded veterans through a variety of services and programs, all free of charge. One of those programs, blind ice hockey, had recently received a grant to continue development from the Veterans Administration.

“I grew up playing ice hockey and my dad is retired Army, so obviously I jumped at the chance to be involved and help build the program,” Porter said. He’s since earned the title of Program Director for BVA Sports.

“I was familiar with Learn to Skate through my previous coaching,” Porter continued. “It was a natural fit. Learn to Skate opens doors, and we needed a step in-between never having ice skated and chasing a puck. These individuals might not all play hockey, but they can all feel that cold wind in their face. Learn to Skate can give them the fundamentals to be successful on a blind hockey team, or they can simply find enjoyment on the ice, wherever that may lead.”

Porter’s Learn to Skate USA program is open to all visually impaired individuals, with Veterans receiving free participation courtesy of the BVA. While the program is currently run out of the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Rink in Washington D.C., Porter plans to roll out similar adaptive programs for veterans at rinks in Virginia, Connecticut and Texas when new Learn to Skate sessions begin this month.

“I want to grow the sport nationally and help as many blinded Vets as we can,” Porter said. “If I can give 100 veterans the chance to skate this year, that’s where I want to be. Skating gives these individuals the chance to improve their balance and coordination, but it’s more than that. It gives them a community. It gives them the opportunity to be on a team.”

Porter and his staff plan to visit each new program at its launch to ensure coaches are trained and prepared to give the more hands-on approach that visually impaired participants require. While working toward the 100 veteran goal and ultimately more funding for their efforts, Porter and his team will remove limits for a unique community, building skills, strength and friendships that extend beyond the rink boards.

“I heard one of the participants say he felt like he was alive again for the first time in twelve years,” Porter said. “It brought tears to my eyes. If these programs can have that effect on one person, then another, then another, that’s really what learning to skate is all about.”

Blinded Veterans Association Learn to Skate Tips With Coach Bruce (Video by Thomas Seng)

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