Learn To Skate USA
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Learn To Skate USA

Finding the Ice Through Adaptive Skating

Growing up using crutches, a walker or power wheelchair to get around, Cara Liebowitz knew nothing else. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at one year old, she has dealt with chronic pain and fatigue all her life.

But she never saw it as an obstacle.

“I’m perfectly happy in my own skin,” Liebowitz, who can walk around on her own in small, indoor spaces, said. “This is the only body I’ve ever known.”

Liebowitz only tried ice skating once as a child. While attending a skating party, her mom tried to hold her up.

“It didn’t go so well,” she said. “After that, I just kind of figured skating was something I couldn’t do, but I’ve always wanted to do it.”

After that moment, Liebowitz put her ice dreams aside, though she always remained a fan, watching figure skating on TV and often choreographing programs in her head. She developed a passion for writing, even writing a young adult novel and getting a piece published in the Washington Post.

After moving to Washington, D.C., she discovered Aqua Fit and adaptive rock climbing classes that she now attends regularly. But skating was always at the back of her mind.

“I sort of knew adaptive ice skating existed and had actually been looking for an adaptive skate program near me,” she said. “When I saw the ad for the Adaptive SkateFest, it was like all my dreams had come true in that moment.”

Liebowitz found an ad for one of Learn to Skate USA’s Adaptive SkateFests, one of five events held in partnership with U.S. Figure Skating to introduce ambulatory veterans, military and disabled people to the ice. Thanks to a grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs, five SkateFests will be held nationwide, and the host rinks will receive adaptive equipment to keep for their own adaptive skating programs.

Going into the event, Liebowitz had no expectations.

“I was so excited to skate, but I had little to no concept of how it would actually happen,” she said. “I kind of had an image of myself clinging to the wall, and I would have been satisfied with that, as long as I got to get out on the ice and skate, even if it was holding on to the wall.”

But Liebowitz and the other attendees at the SkateFest had access to adaptive skating walkers and trained instructors to help them.

“At first, it was scary,” she said. “You’re standing on the ice in these skates and you’re acutely aware of how very thin those skate blades are, and those are the only parts of your skates touching the ice. It’s like balancing on a tightrope.”

Despite that first thought, Liebowitz said she felt very secure in the walker, and she made it out to the middle of the rink.

“Once I realized I was actually doing it, it was incredible,” she said. “At some point I realized that the staff person who was with me wasn’t holding on to my hoodie anymore and that’s when I realized that I was really, truly, doing this by myself. It was exhilarating.”

Liebowitz and her friends, Noor and Pilgrim, enjoyed the day of skating, experiencing something new, something they never thought they could do.

“I went home that night and imagined myself figure skating like I’ve always done,” she said, “but this time I knew how the ice feels under my skates and what it feels like to be in the middle of the rink.”

Now, Liebowitz is looking for more opportunities to skate and wants to make it a regular part of her life, and she thinks others should give it a try, too.

“Don’t say you can’t, because I thought I couldn’t skate and then I did,” she said. “There’s a way for everyone who wants to skate.”

With the support of Special Olympics, Learn to Skate USA, powered by Toyota, gives everyone the opportunity to ice skate. Learn to Skate USA offers an adaptive and therapeutic skating curriculum designed for individuals of all mental and physical abilities. Learn more at LearnToSkateUSA.com.

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