Today we’d like to introduce you to Jim O’Neill.
Jim, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
In 2008 I formed the STARskaters.org non-profit organization to offer occasional skating events on the ice for kids with disabilities. It became so popular that it grew to a weekly event at Sugar Land Ice and Sports Center and branded as SkateTherapy. It is one of just a handful of these types of programs in the USA, and is being used by US Figure Skating as a model for other similar programs around the country.
Shortly after the SkateTherapy program was implemented, I was contacted by TC Lewis of USA Hockey to see if we would be interested in putting a Sled Hockey program in Houston. Sled Hockey definitely fit within the STARskaters mission statement of “providing an on-ice experience for individuals with disabilities” so I agreed and in 2009 we held our first “Try Sled Hockey” event at Willowbrook Aerodrome.
Shortly thereafter, STARskaters became a USOC Paralympic Sport club which provides a path to the Olympics for participants looking to compete at the highest level. Over the past 5 years, STARskaters has placed players on both the USA Men’s and Women’s National Sled Hockey teams, and three players have been invited to participate in the annual USA HOCKEY Select Sled Hockey Camp, the first step on being identified for Team USA.
The Houston team is captained by Andy Toppin who received a purple heart for his service in the US Army. Andy lost one leg when his Humvee was hit by a rocket in Iraq. Practices are FREE and open to any interested participants each Saturday at Ice Skate USA at Memorial City Mall. More details can be found at www.STARskaters.org
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
As with all non-profits, funding is the biggest challenge. Ice availability is quite limited in Houston and also quite expensive. As hockey is not a “native” sport to Texas, with no professional teams in Houston, there has been no organizational or corporate support and we rely solely on fundraisers and individual donations.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with STARskaters.org – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
In the past 9 years STARskaters has grown from doing only occasional events to over 130 events annually, all staffed by volunteers. Our volunteers have created incredible adaptive devices such as a prosthetic “skate-arm” for a triple amputee player which allows him to propel himself across the ice, and stick-handle the puck.
A teenage skate therapy volunteer created an “ice cruiser” to assist a blind student she was teaching who was uncomfortable with the unstable metal ice walker he was using. Her unique design is now patented and there are now 7 cruisers available for some of the 60 weekly SkateTherapy students who need this assistance.
Of over 1,000 US Figure Skating clubs in the USA, STARskaters offers one of the few “learn to skate” programs in the country thanks to the efforts of BL Wylie, director of the SkateTherapy program.
So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Future plans including expanding our out-reach program to inform more individuals with disabilities about the Sled Hockey and SkateTherapy program. And, of course, to continue to find funding to enable us to expand the hours and types of programs available.
- Address: Sugar Land, TX 77496
- Website: www.STARskaters.org
- Phone: 713-446-6902
- Email: jim@STARskaters.org
- Twitter: @STARskaters