The following appeared in the Prince George Citizen Newspaper. Thanks Darlene ~ you are a true inspiration for all children with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome.
Idaho trip ahead for Special Olympian
Written by TED CLARKE
Tuesday, 27 January 2009
Her coach tells her she needs to work on putting on a friendly smile for the judges. Darlene Jakubowski isn’t too worried about that. She’ll be positively beaming if she skates to the best of her ability at the Special Olympics World Winter Games, Feb. 7-13 in Boise, Idaho.
She’s one of three B.C. athletes on the 15-member Canadian figure skating team, and Darlene is shooting for the stars.
“I want gold,”said Darlene.
Aside from the competition, the 16-year-old from Fort St. John is looking forward to meeting new friends from all over the world and swapping pins with the other athletes.
“I’ve got 250 pins already,” she said. “I’ve got some from Prince George to trade, and I’ll be taking some 2010 Olympic pins.”
Although she lives in Fort St. John, she’s been training the past five years in Prince George with Prince George Figure Skating Club coach Alison Aikins. Aikins said the most notable improvement in Darlene’s skating over last year is the speed at which she covers the ice, and her improved flexibility is adding height to her jumps.
“She’s improved immensely in the last two years,” said Aikins. “Her dances are coming along quite nicely and she’s working on her axel for next year. She never gets dizzy. Out of all my skaters, I can have her spin forever, while most of them get dizzy.”
It’s a five-hour trek from Fort St. John on dry roads and that trip is often treacherous in the winter, but her mother Leona and father Steve know it’s helped their daughter emerge as a national champion. She won two gold medals in the Level 4 category last year at the Special Olympics National Games in Quebec City.
“Alison pushes me hard,” said Darlene, now in her eighth year of skating. “Now I get to go to the world games for the first time and it’s a different thing for me. There have been a few Canadians there (at the World Winter Games) who have won gold in figure skating.”
Darlene was born with Cornelia de Lange syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that results in delayed physical development before and after birth. It can lead to smaller head size, malformation of the arms and hands, and mild to severe mental retardation.
Darlene had very little use of her legs in the first few years of her life and her parents were required to constantly move her limbs, which helped form the connections with her brain that she now uses to walk, run and skate.
“When she was born they said she’d never walk, and then they said she’d never skate, and she does both well,” said Leona.
Skating crossovers on the ice as often as she does has helped rewire some of the connections to Darlene’s brain to enhance her co-ordination. She trains weekly with a physiotherapist and her daily stretching exercises at home and at school have improved Darlene’s quality of life, and people are noticing. At a recent national team training camp she was rated the best-conditioned athlete among the figure skaters.
Jenn Harcourt, Darlene’s coach with the Mile 0 Figure Skating Club in Dawson Creek, thought Darlene was ready to advance to the more difficult Level 5 category last July, after attending a five-day training camp in Toronto. The World Games figure skating events start Feb. 8.
As part of her Special Olympics national team commitment, Darlene has to maintain a log of her exercise time, what she eats and her skating time. She’s also required to compete in at least one other sport and chose gymnastics, which she did until she hurt her foot in November. While she’s more into swimming, dancing and horseback riding, her gymnastics experience helped teach her the value of stretching, and she’s seeing the benefits in skating practice. Her father is giving her $5 for every five Lutzes she lands successfully, and jokingly says he’ll take back $1 for every bad Lutz touchdown. So far, she’s $30 ahead of the game.
“She worked hard for this and it’s her time to shine,” said Steve. “She’s a very hard worker and skating has helped her mentally and physically. She’s been socially accepted in places where she wouldn’t be before.”