Skating is a Family Affair for Raychelle

March 23, 2011, 5:44 p.m. (ET)
Raychelle Thomas, a roller skater from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has a story that starts just like many other USA Roller Sports competitive adult athletes. She began skating in Detroit, Michigan at the age of 3, but did not skate in competitions until she was 40 during the 2009 season. But, her skating adventure is a little bit different. For those who don't know of her, Raychelle has managed to bring a lot of much-needed positive media attention to USA Roller Sports figure skating events.

In May of 2009 Raychelle was discovered by Fox 8 TV, when she was traveling from North Carolina to a competition in Maryland. The Fox News Team reported her competition story, because even though Raychelle is blind – she has a positive vision and sees herself on top of her world. Anyone who saw the news footage of her that season realized that she was perky and articulate and made everyone feel great about artistic roller sports, our skaters, our coaches and the officials that make it possible. She took charge of her interviews and made sure that the story was a sports report about her skating family as well as a personal profile.

Raychelle was not born blind. This mother of four just woke up one day in 2006 and couldn't see. After what she called her "pity party," she decided that "every skater has personal, skating, and professional challenges. What makes me any different?" Now, she trains and practices freestyle and figures for competition with the support of great coaches and a strong club. She explains that she can see where to go for her freestyle skating by listening to the speakers and feeling the sound on the barriers. All she needs for competitive figures is to be placed in the initial takeoff strike zone.

The first time Rachelle stopped by for practice, while visiting her relatives in the Metro Detroit area en route to Nationals, my students and I got a big surprise. I knew she was legally blind, but discovered when she arrived that a totally blind skater – with a wonderful seeing eye dog named Tom-Tom who quietly sits as a spectator during practice – was about to practice freestyle singles with us. This was one of the best practices ever. She has a great work ethic, an inspiring attitude and reminds any skater who is goofing around that working to achieve goals is a lot of fun, too. When you see her jumping, spinning, falling and getting up with a big "taa-daa," you know how much she enjoys every fall and appreciates what is learned from them.

Raychelle missed the 2010 skating season because of illnesses and therapy but is coming out strong in 2011. She skated Pre-Regionals in Odenton, Maryland and earned her first Gold Medal in freestyle. Now, she looks forward to skating freestyle, figures and creative dance at Regionals. And her teammates, fellow competitors and fans are looking forward to cheering for her.

The bottom line is that Raychelle Thomas just loves to skate and enjoys life with all that it brings. Her one wish is that everyone in her big worldwide skating family realizes that in the midst of all of the challenges that each skater faces in this sport, the final result should be fun.