I was honored to spend time with Michael Ferraioli to discuss his accomplishments in figure skating. As I sat and listened to him and learned about his story, some words came to mind which I share with you today; proprioception, special, and inspirational.
As skaters, we know the difficulty of finding balance and flow on 4mm of steel, while doing so on a sheet of ice. I understand that and appreciate that completely. It follows then, one would think, that in order to succeed in figure skating, an athlete needs a fully intact sense of balance, and that his or her body inherently feels where it is in space at any given point in time. This is proprioception, an individual’s sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement. And Michael was born without this neurological ability.
At the age of 9, an occupational therapist suggested to his mom, Margaret Ferraioli, that Michael try figure skating because of the involvement of multiple muscle groups. At the time, Margaret felt that due to Michael’s proprioception deficit, figure skating would prove impossible but the therapist encouraged the idea, citing Michael’s age and the resilience of youth – coupled with the infamous fearlessness of children!
Michael began with group classes (Learn to Skate) and it was not long after when the seemingly impossible happened, and figure skating seemed to reach inside and touch a part of Michael where proprioception was merely a word. Six weeks into the group classes, it was clear to everyone that skating was not only possible for Michael but that he had the potential to excel. It was then when he began his skating career by taking private lessons with coach Lynn Alberi.
Michael has experience in several disciplines: singles, pairs, dance, and synchro. Coached by Heidi Vanderhoof, he is working on his Silver dances and has passed the Harris Tango and American Waltz tests. His pair skating routine with partner Marie DeFalco is a feature of the Essex Special Skaters shows. Michael is especially fond of working in a team environment and he competes on the Precisely Right unified synchronized skating team (combination levels team). In January 2015 Precisely Right, coached by Kathy Ortolani, received the silver medal at Eastern Sectionals on the Open Masters level.
The second word I had in mind while talking to Michael is special. This word can mean many things to many people; what it means to me when I listen to his story is – “distinguished by an unusual quality…readily distinguishable from others…destined for a particular purpose”. Michael was destined to skate and to do so on a level that was unexpected. The fulfillment he gets by working with others is further reflected in his work as a coach with the Essex Special Skaters at South Mountain Arena, as well as at the YMCA as a children’s coach in both swim and gymnastics.
The last word that came to mind was inspirational, which can be interpreted as a person, or an experience that moves us to do or create something. We may also think of it as a force that inspires someone. Michael, to me you are all that. A strong and dedicated athlete who is also quite a force – you have accomplished much in this sport and have done so with the grace and humility that inspires me to do more and to be better in this impossibly impossible sport that keeps us coming back every day, to work so hard for those small, beautiful moments that move us.