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Skaters bring inspiration to the ice

Jenna Rae Dombrowski was born with dislocated hips, and her right foot turns out when she walks.

But when the 21-year-old Lackawanna resident laces up her skates and gets on the ice, it's a different story. Her right leg straightens up and is parallel with her left.

"It's so fluid. It's amazing," said her dad, Dave.

When Jenna was born, doctors told Dombrowski and his wife, Cindy, that their daughter would never walk, that she would be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

But this Friday and Saturday, Jenna will be skating as a soloist in Dancing with the Gliding Stars at the Amherst Center. More than 300 skaters with disabilities and volunteers will be performing.

Jenna has been skating with the company for the past eight years. What she likes most about figure skating is "how I feel free when I skate."

She will perform a highlighted routine with a partner, 16-year-old Krista Kellner of Amherst, who has been figure skating for 13 years.

For the first year, Krista did nothing but scream every time she got on the ice, said Elizabeth O'Donnell, founder of Gliding Stars, who has been training young people with disabilities for the past 33 years.

To see the improvement in the athletes on and off the ice is what motivates O'Donnell, she said.

"When a parent calls and says their kid has improved in school, it keeps me going," O'Donnell said.

Such was the case with Kellner, who has autism. Her parents were told she would never read. Recently, O'Donnell filled out a recommendation for Kellner for induction into the National Honor Society.

An accomplished skater, Kellner skated in an ice show with Brian Boitano and Kristi Yamaguchi two years ago, O'Donnell said. Also, ice skating has boosted her confidence and has given her an edge when it comes to her studies.

"It helped me focus more," Krista said.

Jenna said skating has given her strength and courage, and helped her learn to ski. Not bad for a young lady who had 10 surgeries on her hip before age five. These days, she trains in the summer months with O'Donnell and does Pilates for muscle strength and coordination.

"We've seen it from the beginning, when she first started skating," her father said. "What's amazing is how far [all the performers] have come. To see them not being able to do things to [what they can do] now. They do it naturally on ice."

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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