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Two new chapters of the Gliding Stars Adaptive Ice Skating program are starting up in northwest Ohio communities this year.
The program, founded in 1994 by former figure skater Elizabeth M. O'Donnell of Amherst, N.Y., teaches physically and mentally challenged people how to ice skate so they can reap the activity's character-building benefits.
Findlay native Cindy Bregel helped start Ohio's first Gliding Stars chapter in her city in 2002, after Ms. O'Donnell visited the University of Findlay's Clauss Ice Arena in November, 2000.
The program's success has led parents of disabled children from across the region to travel to Findlay.
This year, volunteers in Fremont and the Toledo area are starting their own chapters.
"My daughter Lily skated in the program down in Findlay last year, and we found out there were a total of six families driving to Findlay from Toledo," Bill Himmel of Sylvania said. "We got together and said it would be nice to have a program put together in Toledo."
Mr. Himmel and others from the Toledo area are starting their program from 4 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Sylvania's Sports & Exhibition Center at Tam-O-Shanter ice-skating rink.
Practice will take place there one hour each Sunday. The program lasts about 27 weeks and concludes with a play performed on ice where participants show off their new skills.
The Toledo chapter's choreography and costumes are provided by Gliding Stars Inc.
Ice skating instructors such as Mr. Himmel and Mrs. Bregel have been trained by Ms. O'Donnell on how to adapt choreography and techniques to people with different disabilities.
Mr. Himmel said Gliding Stars had an immediate impact on his daughter.
"It makes her feel part of a group," he said. "As soon as we go in an ice rink, she's happy... It's therapeutic for her, gets her bearing weight on her feet. She really enjoys zipping around on the ice. The faster the better for Lily. She's a speed demon."
Nikki Zachel, Fremont's director of parks and recreation, was introduced to Gliding Stars when Ms. O'Donnell visited the Findlay chapter in January, 2007, to teach others how they could start chapters in their communities.
She and a group of volunteers in Fremont want to kick off their own program by Nov. 2, but it is expensive - an estimated $1,500 per student.
Mrs. Bregel said that's because the specialized equipment, such as adaptive ice skates and walkers made by Gliding Stars Inc., is not easy to make or come by.
"You've also got liability insurance, which we fall under from the national organization," she said.
The highly specialized program's cost is a hurdle Mrs. Zachel intends to cross, but not without support from the Fremont community.
"We are in need of funding from public and private sources," she said. "We're currently in the process of looking at foundations and also asking the different, local counties in this area for any kind of funding through their [Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities] programs."
Mr. Himmel said his group was successful in raising money by talking with local businesses and asking family and friends.
"I sent out to my e-mail list, and people started doing donations through their e-mail lists and business contacts," he said. "Through all that, we've been successful in bringing in some money. We're hoping to bring in about $20,000 in grants, but private dollars are the key."
Program operators still are looking for donations and volunteers to help participants learn their new skills.
"Our goal is to get 125 percent of our budget," Mr. Himmel said. "That way we'll have a little bit of a cushion for next year."
Eight years after Mrs. Bregel started the Findlay chapter, her daughter Taryn's strength and confidence have improved greatly. And she's made several friends along the way.
"[Taryn] started out with a walker and two volunteers," Mrs. Bregel said. "Now she can independently skate by herself. ... It's helped with her self esteem and socialization. It's helped with her balance. She's much more aware of where her body is.
"This is something she's doing she's succeeding at and she can share it with her typical friends at school," Mrs. Bregel added. "She's very proud of that - and she should be."
The program is not just for children. Many disabled adults participate as well.
Contact Chauncey Alcorn at: