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Book Review: Skating Forward by Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz

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Skating Forward is not only a delightful book to read; it is also uplifting and inspirational as well. Author Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz has collected tales from 16 amazing young women who used their electrifying feats on ice to overcome great physical and psychological setbacks. Their courage to persevere through personal tragedies will inspire readers to do likewise.

There is 16-year-old Molly who knows her father has Muscular Dystrophy. Molly has a 50/50 chance of developing this disorder in late adolescence and adulthood. MD results in a degeneration of the muscles in the lower arms and legs, and the muscles of the neck and diaphragm.

After visits to orthopedists and podiatrists resulting in months of frustration, Amanda White finally receives a diagnosis for the crippling pains in her wrists, knees, and feet. She must battle rheumatoid arthritis.

Shae Andrews is a teen in love with skating. She would like to be in the Olympics before going on to study mechanical engineering. But Shae is deaf. Choreographed movements on ice to music looms as a mountainous obstacle facing her.

Twenty-year-old Heather Johnson is a true advocate for people with disabilities. Heather has had unpredictable epileptic seizures ever since the sixth grade. Her doctor tells her she must not skate without a helmet. How can she enter competition?

Because her brother Alex has autism, 15-year-old Belle Junge puts on her first pair of ice skates so she can interact with him. Belle feels that because her brother is unusual she must do her best to help him advocate for himself.

Devastated by the death of a beloved social studies teacher, Teri Harte wants to use her dexterity on ice to help memorialize her former teacher friend. Both had shared a love for teddy bears.

Carolyn Bongirno skates at a local Florida rink. Carolyn and her husband want to use fertility drugs to help her become pregnant. A complete physical shows a tumor in her breast. In addition, cancer has spread to Carolyn’s lymphatic system.

After losing fifteen pounds in one week while drinking volumes of water and trying to eat, skater Courtney Ann Caldwell is on a collision course with death. After several misdiagnoses, eventually, doctors uncover her problem. Courtney has Type-1 Diabetes.

Although Laura Whitney never remembered a tick bite, nevertheless her eventual diagnosis shows dreaded Lyme disease. In addition to severe headaches, this bacterial infection affects her cognitive ability.

Eighteen-year-old Kara Mietlicki is diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma — a pernicious form of cancer. Faced with surgery and ongoing chemotherapy, Kara wants to keep skating like Scott Hamilton, while undergoing cancer treatment.

At a skating rink on Coney Island, Tatyana first puts on ice skates purchased by her father. She was five-years-old then. Now, years later, her loving father is in the final stages of kidney failure. “He can no longer hear me talking to him.” Tatyana is overcome with deep sorrow.

Allegedly suffering from asthma, Victoria Hecht’s coach recommends a physical to determine if she has the stamina for figure skating. A thorough physical work-up shows Victoria has two congenital heart defects, not asthma.

Erica Archambault overcomes many physical problems and illnesses including meningitis but continues to skate. None of these hardships are as devastating to Erica as when her father leaves their Colorado home and refuses to return.

Skater Kylie Gleason visits an orphanage while in Romania. There, a profoundly saddened young child deeply affects her. Now she wonders whether skating should always be the main part of her life.

Because ice dancer Emily Samuelson falls during a dance routine, in order to avoid slashing her head, her partner must land heavily on Emily’s hand. The accident requires surgery to repair a severed tendon in Emily’s middle finger.

Fourteen-year-old Eliana Roth suffers from Tourette Syndrome except when ice skating. Tourette’s causes embarrassing involuntary body movements, throat sounds, and even the unintentional use of obscene words or gestures.

All of these courageous young women you will meet in Skating Forward. There are many books on the market about persons who must deal with staggering life problems. But this book is unique because ALL of the women described are skating heroines who face situations which could easily crush most of us.

For sure, this is not a woman’s book; nor is it just a series of memoirs about ice skating. Skating Forward will leave all readers — female and male — in awe because it is one single tale of the stubbornness and flexibility of the human spirit. It will help people who are seeking a beam of light at the end of what could be a darkened tunnel of deep despair.

Author Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz’s book would be a fascinating read for high school and college students to study and discuss — particularly youth who feel life has treated them unjustly. The women in Skating Forward amend their lives and their spirits against all odds. You will not forget them.

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