The air is chilly inside the Feature Rink at the Northtown Center at Amherst, but there’s heart-warming effort on the ice as young skaters take their final rehearsal prior to the 12th anniversary show by Gliding Stars of Western New York.
With the performances on this rink at 7 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday just around the corner, Elizabeth O’Donnell, founder and president of the adaptive ice skating program for people with disabilities, starts off by rallying the beginners at center ice and putting them through their paces.
Most use walkers to keep their balance as parents and volunteers assist them in skating from one blue line to the other and then linking hands to create a moving circle.
“That’s one lap,” O’Donnell encourages them on her microphone from the middle of the circle. “Keep going, Jim,” she adds, singling one out, “you’re my hero.”
The older, more advanced skaters ease along the sidelines. One of them is Elizabeth McCormick, of Lewiston, who will be 16 next month and who is in her 15th ice show.
When it’s time to rehearse her duet with her father, Brian, she abandons her walker with its bright pink hand grips, and skims across the ice. At one point, she joins him in balancing on one foot.
“I’ve been skating all my life,” her father says as they return to the sidelines. “I was looking for something to get her involved in and found Gliding Stars.”
In all, the show brings together more than 100 skaters and 200 volunteers who have been working on their skills since October at rinks in Hamburg and Niagara Falls. The theme, “Celebrating Western New York,” highlights more than a dozen of the area’s favorite features and personalities.
Joe Faulring, of Hamburg, who has been part of O’Donnell’s skating program for nearly 20 years, will be doing a tribute to legendary radio deejay Danny Neaverth using the music of Neaverth’s signature songs, “Rats in My Room” and “Danny Moves My Fanny in the Morning.”
Faulring says he’s been working on his routine for about seven weeks. “I’m a fast skater,” he adds.
Decked out in ethnic costumes are Niagara Falls High School student Noah Borzynski and his cousin, Veronica, from North Tonawanda, who’s a student at Cardinal O’Hara High School. In their segment, they will celebrate German heritage.
“He really likes being in the show,” says Noah’s mother, Marlies, who is skating in another segment that pays tribute to the Erie Canal. “He started out on a walker and got too fast for it. I couldn’t catch him anymore.”
Another speedster is 6-year-old Griffin Vaccaro, of Lockport, who zips around wearing a black knit winter hat and a black Goo Goo Dolls T-shirt.
“He’s Robbie,” explains his mother, Tracy, who notes that he’s a big fan of the band. She says that she has eight children, six of them adopted and four of them in the show.
“Griffin is my youngest,” she says. “He had a rough start, but he’s met every challenge.”
Skating has given all her youngsters “a lot of focus,” she adds. “They all strive. This is an awesome program. These kids really benefit from it.”
The Northtown Center is at 1615 Amherst Manor Drive, off Millersport Highway and Maple Road. Tickets for the show are $8 advance, $10 at the door. Children 4 and younger are admitted free. For advance tickets, call 608-8345. For more information, visit glidingstars.org and click on the Western New York chapter.