Yvonne Dowlen (July 5, 1925-May 2, 2016)
"Well! Hello there!" Yvonne Dowlen chirped through a broad smile that along with the glint and wrinkles were a picture of happiness, wisdom, and vitality. Bob Jones, Apex Ice Arena Manager, informed me the 84 year old skating legend had coached another amputee who achieved a full loop jump, so I was both anxious and enthusiastic to meet her. The moment we made eye contact the anxiety melted away like ice on pavement at noon in July, and a lifetime friendship took root.
Yvonne was an inspiration to those who had the blessing of her friendship. She gave us bright hopes for the future and supported our dreams. Ice is, by nature, cold and unfriendly. Skating culture often reflects that nature. Yvonne's presence during the public skate time created a warm, welcoming and safe space. When a crowd gathered in one spot on the ice, Yvonne was at the center.
Her mentorship was available to anyone who wanted to, as she would say "Put on skates and wander around the ice for a while."
We wandered around the ice together for many "whiles," talking and skating, lap after lap, lost in a Zen garden of human possibility that rinks provide, musing about skating's therapeutic value and the development of competitive adaptive skating. The sense of ability and confidence it provides is a real head high. Skating is especially beneficial for those growing up, those growing older, and those with disability. In our wanderings, we found a common purpose in exploring the use of ice skating as physical, social, and intellectual therapy.
Then, Yvonne had a stroke shortly after she turned 88. Doctors told her she would never skate again. She'd heard that before. It didn't take. After all, whose army was going to be the barrier? Winter would be setting in soon and, "there's always a frozen pond somewhere up in the hills."
With her daughter Sherry's close supervision, Yvonne soon returned to the ice – much too soon according to the experts. Within days, she was the Yvonne we all knew, the vital woman I met four years earlier. Her skating was a bit less powerful and the stroke had shaken her confidence as any serious injury or illness does – especially for athletes. But six weeks later she was working on her loop jump again. She skated until the moment she passed, vital and happy. Skating truly is chicken soup for the body and spirit.
Yvonne is the picture of Vitality In Action Foundation. She volunteered her time, her wisdom, and her spirit to building a community of friends who work together to overcome barriers to vitality. Yvonne inspired us to organize an effort to conduct research on the concept of therapeutic skating and to push forward with further development of adaptive skating – still in its infancy. Yvonne, you are with us.