My Son Ice Skated In His Wheelchair, And This Is Why That's Such A Big Deal

by Jamie Sumner
Originally Published: 
A two-part collage of a father in a blue checked shirt helping his son to ice skate in a wheelchair
Jamie Sumner

“Ma’am, would you like me to help him out on the ice?” The blue-shirted rink manager held out both hands like he was asking me to dance. But he was really just waiting for me to let go of the chair handles. I couldn’t do it.

When I was planning our summer vacation to Colorado, I dry-heaved more than a few times at the thought of all the adjustments we would have to make. I wanted to be adventurous and seize the day like Robin Williams told me to in Dead Poets Society, but I also just wanted everyone to be happy and healthy and SLEEP.

I imagined the altitude sickness from sleeping at 8,000 feet. I imagined the naps we would skip in favor of hikes and swims and train rides and the restaurants we might have to leave before our food came because any one of my three kids was having a meltdown. But, bigger than that, I pictured my six-year-old son, Charlie, having to watch from the sidelines as his younger brother and sister did whatever activities he couldn’t do in his wheelchair.

I researched hiking backpacks and bought the very best one with the most five-star reviews and expert testimonies so we could take him on the trails. I made sure the gondola that would carry us up the mountain was ADA compliant. I made him drink extra water for the dry air and took squeeze pouches of applesauce everywhere we went.

I wanted him to be present and participating as much as possible. This is what I do. When I think he might be trapped in his disability, I cobble together a workaround — like MacGyver, but for special needs.

But I couldn’t think my way around the ice skating. I assumed it was a situation where we would stand by the sidelines and watch. So when the rink manager offered to take Charlie on the ice in his wheelchair, I couldn’t move. A path I thought was blocked had suddenly opened and I was busy processing both new fears and hope.

“Honey, let me take him,” said my husband, Jody, holding his hands out in the exact same way as the manager — like they were coaxing an animal out from hiding. I looked at Charlie. He smiled and pointed to the ice. That was a good enough nudge for me. So, I stepped out of the way and let him go.

Jody took off — fast enough to make me yell, “slow your roll!” After that, I just gave in to the hilarity. It was too serendipitous not to let myself fall into moment. Charlie kicked out his legs and the wheelchair slipped and slid like a luge. Jody did circles and spins and skated backwards—using all his hockey training to get our kid to fly. And that’s exactly what Charlie did. He flew on the ice. People cheered every time he passed and he waved like a king.

After half an hour, his cheeks were a little red and his fingers a little blue, but it was the happiest I had ever seen him. The next night, when we came back for round two, someone proposed on the ice. Charlie clapped for the happy couple and they clapped for him in return. It was a magnanimous ice rink that night and every night we visited.

It was the kind of merriment and collective love I never thought we’d see in a place like this, on the ice, under the stars, 8,000 feet above sea level in a town of sunburned hikers. It was the best moment of inclusion I could have hoped for. It was a miracle on the ice.

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