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Elizabeth O'Donnell seems to be facing an uphill battle, as she tries to bounce from her Aug. 15 firing from the skating association she founded 27 years ago.

O'Donnell's new group skates at just two rinks, with a total of 102 skaters.

Following a brief legal dispute, she no longer uses the name of the Skating Association for the Blind and Handicapped, which she founded in 1977. Her group now is called the Gliding Stars.

And her annual ice show will be on a smaller scale than the two shows she staged each year in HSBC Arena.

The Skating Association for the Blind and Handicapped, meanwhile, claims to have 580 skaters registered at five rinks across Western New York.

SABAH officials say they are tracking ahead of last year's fund-raising figures, and their main challenge seems to be getting enough on-ice volunteers.

Two months after O'Donnell's firing, the battle between the two groups seems to have died down -- publicly, anyway -- as each tries to solidify its presence in the teaching of skaters with disabilities.

Can two such groups survive, when the number of skaters has leveled off recently?

"Why can't there be two skating programs?" O'Donnell asked, citing the multiple baseball and horse-riding groups teaching people with disabilities.

"I disagree with the perception that it's an uphill battle (for Gliding Stars)," she added. "I'm really happy to be working with people who care about the skaters themselves and the quality of the program."

Bob O'Connor, SABAH's development director, said he didn't have enough information to comment on whether two such organizations can thrive.

"We're certainly going to survive," he said. "She (O'Donnell) did a great job building this to the point that it has a really solid foundation. Everybody knows the name SABAH. But there's a whole new direction now, (an emphasis) on our families and our kids."

O'Donnell was fired Aug. 15, because of what critics described as ongoing complaints about her leadership style and her controlling manner. Supporters consider her a caring woman who has dedicated her life to young people with disabilities.

The firing touched off two separate legal battles. O'Donnell sued SABAH for $120,000 in back pay, while SABAH went to court to prevent her from calling her group SABAH National -- the organization set up to oversee chapters in four other cities.

While the lawsuit over back pay remains pending, O'Donnell has withdrawn her bid to use the SABAH National name for her local group.

"We decided we didn't want to waste our money fighting over a name," she said. "We thought it was more important to use the funds we were raising to put kids on the ice."

Both groups plan to put on an annual ice show.

SABAH plans to hold a single show "SABAH Skates to America's Top 40," probably in March or April in HSBC Arena, although that depends on what happens with the National Hockey League lockout.

"We have been told we will get a date," O'Connor said. "We just don't know when."

Gliding Stars hasn't set its location or date.

While O'Donnell admitted her firing was extremely hurtful, she says she welcomes the more reasonable schedule. For more than 20 years, she worked seven days a week from Oct. 1 to mid-April.

Now she's trying to return to the roots of what she started.

"When you're larger, it's much harder to stay focused on the original principles that I used when I founded the association," she said. "Everybody is just so happy to be here, working together for the Gliding Stars skaters."


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