From the classroom to the ice rink

Published 10:42 pm Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Leslie Kelly, a special education inclusion teacher at John Yeates Middle School, will travel to South Korea later this month for the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games. She will coach and chaperone three figure skaters.

During the past two years, John Yeates Middle School educator Leslie Kelly says, she has coached 15 figure skaters, some from Virginia and others from neighboring states.

She herself began competing in the sport at age 13, last competing in 2005 after college got in the way.

“I went to JMU (James Madison University), and the nearest ice rink was about an hour and 15 minutes away in Charlottesville,” she said.

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Kelly doesn’t coach just any figure skaters, though. The special education inclusion teacher coaches those who face and overcome unique challenges in the form of what are often — arguably misleadingly — called disabilities.

Later this month, Kelly will travel to South Korea for the 2013 Special Olympic World Winter Games, where she will coach and chaperone three figure skaters.

One of the athletes, 41-year-old Kelly Bradshaw, is from Suffolk, and the other two, 14 and 18, are from Illinois and Missouri.

“We are chaperones, to make sure the athletes are safe and to help them get to places,” Kelly said.

“As a coach, we are there to make sure the athlete is doing all the correct components in their skating program.”

Kelly has been coaching figure skaters since 2003. On this assignment, she explained, she’s only really the coach while they’re in Korea.

“It’s emails and phone calls,” she said of the preparation. “They still get coached by regular coaches, but I’m their coach when away from home. I’m more of a chaperone than a coach.”

Kelly arrives with her athletes in South Korea on Jan. 26, with acclimation activities taking up the first few days. The games themselves are from Jan. 29 to Feb. 5.

She says she’s excited by the opportunity to travel to a new country, and in such a capacity.

“I’m not sure what to expect,” she said. “I know it’s going to be very, very busy, and to expect the unexpected.”

Special Olympics Virginia doesn’t have a state figure skating competition due to lack of participation, but in 2010, Kelly and another coach decided to start an invitational competition involving figure skaters from surrounding states.

Because of the Special Olympics commitment, that competition is on hold this year.

“I hope they do well,” Kelly said of the figure skaters competing in South Korea. “I want them to do their best and just have fun.”

Kelly moved to John Yeates in December from Nansemond River High School.