Meryl Davis to headline figure skating fundraiser in Detroit
Some of them didn’t know how to skate.
Five years later?
Their improvement is inspiring, both on and off the ice.
“It’s really beautiful,” said 16-year-old Cassidy Conley of Detroit, a member of Figure Skating in Detroit, a program that brings figure skating to girls downtown. “How much we can grow and learn with each other. It’s just amazing.
Fifty-two figure skaters train each week at the Jack Adams Memorial Arena northwest of Detroit. But it’s so much more than a skating program. It’s a mix of figure skating, tutoring and leadership training.
The goal is not to make Olympic skaters. It is about producing complete student-athletes. Ignite passion and provide opportunities.
And that’s exactly what it does.
“Skating is the carrot they’re interested in,” said Lori Ward, who runs the program. “I hear moms say, ‘my daughter wants to learn to skate.’ And then when they hear what we offer – we’re a comprehensive youth development program – when they hear all the other components, they’re like, “Wow, I didn’t know you wanted to do all that.”
Yes, they do all of this for a group of girls aged 6-18.
“Figure skating is an expensive sport,” said Meryl Davis, the Olympic gold medalist ice dancer, who serves on the program’s steering committee and is a member of the Champions Committee. “It wasn’t a particularly diverse sport historically, so we’re focused on getting access to girls of color in the city of Detroit.”
Davis will headline a fundraiser for the program on March 5 at Campus Martius.
“I think it’s a great program and we’re so excited about our future,” Davis said of the program. “Seeing what the team on the ground has done over the past two years due to COVID, through this difficult time, has been really inspiring and really, really special.”
The program is an extension of the Figure Skating in Harlem program. The girls receive lessons in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math), entrepreneurship, self-esteem and health, and they are mentored on and off the ice.
“This is a youth development program that uses figure skating as an educational tool,” Ward said. “The lessons they learn on the ice translate into the classroom. We have a strong academic component. We really try to instill leadership skills and all types of tools that will help our participants make their own dreams a reality.
Even though skating is an individual sport, they also try to instill team values.
“It’s about team spirit, unity and brotherhood,” Ward said. “It’s celebrating your sister when she’s well and caring about her when she’s not.”
A complete turnaround
When Conley joined, she lacked confidence and struggled in school. But she flourished on the skates.
Now his grades are skyrocketing. She exudes confidence. And she loves being on the ice.
“I feel more comfortable talking,” Conley said. “Four years ago I was a bit introverted, I wasn’t really comfortable talking to others. But now I can express myself. Academically, I’ve grown up. I’m more comfortable learning math. Before the program, I hated it.
She thought she was going to fail before joining the program.
“They gave me a little boost,” Conley said. “It’s not about what we work towards, it’s about how hard we work. That’s what counts, the effort you put into what you love. It is a very good program because it opens the door to people of color.
And it opened up new dreams.
Conley was inspired by watching figure skating at the Olympics.
“I love watching the Olympics, because it just shows… what could be. I love skating so much. It’s one of the things that makes me very happy. I love being able to skate, whether it’s alone or with the other girls, because it doesn’t matter who I skate with, it just brings so much joy,” she said.
No family is turned away for financial reasons.
“If someone is in financial trouble, we give them a scholarship,” Ward said. “We find ways with our donors because we are non-profit.”
The girls can even show up without skates, and we take care of them.
“We make sure the skates fit the girls’ feet,” Ward said. “We don’t want their feet to hurt. We don’t want to treat them like second-class citizens. We want to make sure they have a great experience on the ice. “
They are thinking of founding a competitive synchronized team.
This is the next stage of development, both for the girls and for the program.
“Now that we have girls trying out the learn-to-skate programs, they’re doing well and wanting more,” Ward said. “So I’m working with my skating director to start a synchronized team. Offer other opportunities at a more competitive level.”
Contact Jeff Seidel: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.