Sometimes the simplest ideas create the biggest rewards. Gliding Stars of Findlay began when Dr. Jean Focrus, a University of Findlay professor at the time, wanted to share the benefits of physical exercise with special needs children. Gliding Stars, a national organization, was founded by figure skater Elizabeth M. O’Donnell, who turned her talents from competitive skating to adaptive ice skating for students of all ages. Benefitting Focrus’ effort, the University of Findlay had a large sheet of ice and volunteers ready to help.
Focrus invited O’Donnell to the campus for an exhibition. Utilizing four area children with a range of special needs from autism to children in wheel chairs, Gliding Stars offers a chance for everyone no matter their age to skate. “My daughter was one of the original four children,” said Cindy Bregel, Program Coordinator. “She was nine and I was willing to do whatever it took to get this started, so I took on fundraising,” she said. Volunteers skate along with the children, providing tips and tricks, helping them to gain independence.
In addition to providing adaptive skating lessons for children, Gliding Stars allows participants to perform at a yearly show. This year marks the organization’s tenth in Findlay and the presentation has stretched far beyond that sheet of ice at the Univeristy of Findlay. On Sunday, March 20, at 2:30pm Gliding Stars presents the tenth annual ice show at The Cube (3430 N. Main St.) Last year’s performance drew an audience of 960 and this year Bregel hopes they will reach 1,000. “We have 52 skaters and 43 types of walkers that can accommodate students on the ice,”said Bregel. Brittany Greeno, who has been skating with the organization for the past ten years is showcased with a special performance.
Rydell, a national ice skate producer, got on board with Gliding Stars during its foundation and created specialty skates. “They have special molds for Down syndrome children who have flatter feet. They’ve even made skates that fit over leg braces for kids with cerebral palsy,” said Bregel.
The benefits of Gliding Stars are endless. Self-esteem is encouraged, core strength is improved, not to mention the betterment of social skills. “Most of our students are in the autism spectrum, so the activity helps speech and behavior,” said Bregel. The children are not the only ones to experience the benefits; the volunteers also feel the accomplishment. “Most of our volunteers are in high school, but we always have room for more. The more participants we get the more volunteers we need,” she said. Bregel continued to share a story about her daughter’s own personal experience. “She went from a walker with two volunteers to skating alone,” she said. “It’s a leap of faith for some,” she continued.
Parents keep taking the leap. The Findlay Chapter of Gliding Stars has students from four counties reaching as far south as Lima. Findlay City Schools special needs teachers are on board. “A special needs teacher called me and told me it was her personal mission to make sure each of her students was enrolled in our program and last year she did it,” said Bregel. “However, our program would not exist without the help from our volunteers and all the assistance from Marathon,” she said.
“It’s inspirational,” said Bregel. “It’s hard to not be moved to tears, because this is the kids’ chance to shine.”
To enroll in the Gliding Stars program or to register to become a volunteer visit glidingstars.org/findlay or call Cindy Bregel at 419-423-4536 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For tickets to The Ice Show contact the Gliding Stars at 419-423-4536. Tickets for the performance are $5.