Removing All Barriers

The Greater Pensacola Figure Skating Club is removing all barriers, real or perceived, to ice sports participation through their new Adaptive Skating program

By Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz                           

The Greater Pensacola Figure Skating Club’s new Adaptive Skating program hasn’t been around very long, three months to be exact. Still, in its short time, the program has impacted skaters and coaches alike and is an excellent addition to an already bustling club.

“We truly believe skating is for everyone and are committed to removing all barriers, real or perceived, to ice sports participation in our community,” said club president Missy Frisco.

Thanks to a grant from their local Kugelman Family Foundation, scholarships were made available to adaptive skaters to enroll in classes at no cost.

“We are overjoyed to witness firsthand the life-changing impact it is having on our community.,” Frisco said. “There are no words to describe the pure joy, sense of freedom and magical  feeling being on the ice provides to these individuals and their families.”

The club skates seasonally at Northwest Florida’s Pensacola Bay Center and became a Learn to Skate USA member club in the summer of 2020.

“This change, along with a renewed focus on recruitment, retention and community awareness, has enabled our membership to skyrocket to almost 300 skaters,” Frisco said.

As the only public ice in  Northwest Florida, club members travel up to two hours to participate inA woman holds the hands of a young skater to help guide him on to the ice. The boy is wearing a blue jacket and blue helmet. The woman has short black hair and is wearing a grey winter coat classes. Club ice is contracted, and Frisco admits one of its most significant challenges is not having ice year-round. Even though time on the ice is short, she is proud of their accomplishments and the new adaptive program.

“Our adaptive skating classes are offered three days a week, and classes meet once per week for 30 minutes,’ Frisco said. “Many skaters enroll in multiple weekly days to experience the euphoric sense of freedom it provides. Skaters work one-on-one with a coach who has taken the time to learn about them in depth from their families before stepping on the ice. This has proven to be our greatest resource.”

The focus is different for each individual in the program. Some skaters find pure joy in being pulled around in a sled across the ice, while others use assistive skate aids to glide across the ice. Some even glide and twirl in wheelchairs while slam dunking a basketball into a hoop.

“It’s very common for spectators to be overcome with emotion when classes are in progress,” Frisco said. “Our club has been so fortunate to have the trust and support of local partners specializing in the needs of our skaters who believe in the important work we are doing.”

Coaches were provided with the necessary knowledge, tools, and training aids to ensure the program’s success. Working with their adaptive skaters has been a unique and rewarding experience.

“The best part of our program is how amazing and fun it is,” said club coach Ryan Donovan. “I’ve had the opportunity to skate with some fantastic kids, and they all share an excitement for being on the ice. Each session is unique because the focus is different for each individual, but the goal is always to have fun every time.”

Coach Sarah Ortlieb loves that the families are so involved and celebrate everything their skater does.

“They sit near the ice clapping, cheering and smiling while videoing every special moment,” Ortlieb said. “ I feel we are all genuinely having fun the entire time.”

Frisco hopes Adaptive Skating is just the beginning of many programs they wish to add to reach historically underserved community members.

“It’s GPFSC’s mission to ensure EVERYONE has the opportunity to Learn to Skate,” Frisco said. “ We are working diligently and relentlessly to remove all barriers to participation and will stop at nothing to expand all programming and to continue to impact the community because skating truly transforms lives and is for EVERYONE.”