Thanks to a grant from the Save of the Day Foundation, 2018 saw the implementation of a new skating program at the Adirondack Bank Center that expanded skating opportunities to all children, not just those playing hockey or participating in figure skating. The Adaptive Edge Skating School is a program designed for children ages 2 to 16 years who exhibit communication, physical and/or cognitive challenges that may impede their ability to below to a traditional skating club.
The program is led by Courtney Gouger, a former competitive figure skater and current speech/ language pathologist who works with children with special needs. “I have always had a desire to blend my two passions: working with children and figure skating,” said Gouger. “This opportunity provides children with and without special needs, a chance to experience the feeling of gliding across the ice, establishing lifelong friendships, and the feeling of accomplishment of trying a new activity that they may have not had accessibility to before. I see it as an opportunity for individuals with special needs to be accepted, respected, and included!”
The program includes coaches and volunteers who are trained to work directly with each skater, adapting the instructions and learning pace to each child, making sure each skater is developing skills and enjoying the sport. Skill development for the skaters includes encouraging social skills and developing self-confidence, with the ultimate goal to have the child return to their community skating program with their peers.
According to Courtney, “The skaters have all made progress, each at their own rate. Teaching modifications and adaptive equipment, as needed, have been provided to aid in successful experiences for the children.”
The program also includes a buddy system, where skaters can bring a sibling or a good friend to skate with them. The ‘buddies’ can either already be skaters and provide support and encouragement, or can also be new to the ice and learn to skate side by side with the Adaptive Edge Skater. Either way, having a buddy experience this new adventure helps to improve a skater’s comfort level on the ice.
“Currently there are six buddies registered, two of whom are siblings. We have seen successful engagement of participants in the program by buddies. The children have been more willing to attempt a skill when another child has encouraged them to do so.” said Gouger. “A parent had shared with me how wonderful it is that their child is able to participate in an activity with their sibling instead of sitting on the sidelines watching.”
This is the only adaptive skating program like this in the area. It creates another opportunity for these participants to learn how to do something that they may not have the chance to do in other areas.
According to Courtney, “Any time you can raise awareness of disabilities and break down barriers is beneficial. This program creates another opportunity for community involvement as well as opportunities for siblings and peers to engage in an activity together despite varying abilities.”
When asked what her favorite part of the program was, Courtney beamed, “Seeing the progress each child has made and the pure joy that is expressed on the skaters’, parents’, and volunteers’ faces!”
Courtney continues to be so grateful for the grant from the Save of the Day Foundation as she witnesses every week the impact this program is having on the children and families who participate.