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Talent's the thing for SABAH Latest technology helps more to skate

When SABAH kicks off its annual ice show Sunday with the first group skating to the song "Crocodile Rock," the first two skaters in line will be 8-year-old identical twins Zachary and Dominic Proudman.

Both will use the latest technological toy to help them glide across the ice, despite the fact they've been walking for only about two years.

That device is a souped-up, slicker version of the old walker. But this one, the Rifton walker, comes with swinglike seats, arm rests, chest prompts and ankle straps. Once the skaters get fitted into the new walkers, they're pushed to stand up as straight as they can.

"It enables nonweight-bearing individuals to go on the ice," said Sheila O'Brien, executive director of Skating Athletes Bold At Heart. "They're standing up, blades on the ice, and they're really moving."

The skating association will hosts its 32nd annual show, "SABAH's Got Talent," at 2 p.m. Sunday in HSBC Arena. The show will feature about 600 skaters, with roughly 150 to 200 taking to the ice with walkers.

Some will use the standard old walkers, but the association has purchased 34 of the modern Rifton walkers in the last few years, thanks largely to contributions from the Children's Guild Foundation.

Those new walkers have helped SABAH attract about two dozen skaters, including Zachary and Dominic, from School 84 in Buffalo, which caters to students with multiple disabilities and severe cognitive delays.

"This has been our goal over the last two years," O'Brien said. "It's not about perfection. It's about participation, trying to get as many people involved in the program as possible."

The School 84 group held its final practice Wednesday morning in Riverside Rink before Sunday's show. Most of the skaters were in their slick red or blue Rifton walkers, pushed by a teacher or occupational therapist. Some of the higher-functioning students zipped around the ice on their own.

Teacher Meghan Barrett and occupational therapy aide Amy Thorne were pushing Dominic and Zachary. The boys, who have cerebral palsy, have limited verbal skills, so they communicate with pictures, verbal utterances and sign language.

But it wasn't hard to tell that they were enjoying the physical activity.

Both were shaking their hands and arms, almost flapping them. They were working hard to move their feet on the ice. And they were smiling and laughing.

"You can see it in their eyes that they're truly enjoying it," Thorne said.

The boys are identical but different. Dominic is more playful and social, Zachary more serious.

"When the music stops, Dominic will sign the word 'music,' because he enjoys it and wants it to continue," Barrett pointed out.

Beth Tolbert, a special-education teacher who coordinates the School 84 skating program, marveled at what SABAH does for these disabled youths.

"It gives the kids an opportunity like other kids to be in a club or activity, a social experience," she said. "They get to be kids."

Sunday's SABAH show will feature about 400 volunteers assisting the 600 skaters. The association always has encouraged former skaters to come back as volunteers. Both Dan Yager, 26, of Tonawanda, and Elena Collins, 22, of Williamsville, have returned as volunteers after being SABAH skaters for at least 15 years.

Tickets, for $10 apiece, are available through the SABAH office at 362-9600, the HSBC Arena box office and www.tickets.com.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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