Old Passions, New Goals: Figure Skating Success


March 28, 2013
by Rachel Koren, Research Assistant, PXE International
This article first appeared in the March 2013 PXE International eNewsletter

Kerry Wilson and coach at Skateland

When PXEer Kerry Wilson finally put away her roller skates after 16 years as a figure skater, she didn’t realize that her life’s journey would lead her right back to the roller rink. After retiring the skates at the age of 21, Wilson went on to have a beautiful family and career. When her health became a concern, Wilson had to find a way to get healthy and retake control of her life.

Wilson was diagnosed with pseudoxanthoma elasticum (PXE) in 1996, after she had already lost the central vision in her left eye. She soon lost the central vision in her right eye as well, which rendered her almost completely blind and forced her to leave her job. To keep up her spirits, Wilson tried anything she could to fill her time, but met many roadblocks. She searched for jobs she could do without her sight, but struggled to find support in her community. After being turned away from several job opportunities, she tried volunteering, but found as little support in that community as she had in the job market. As the fear of being unable to support her family grew, her health began to suffer beyond the effects of PXE.   

Kerry Wilson creates original, hand-painted pottery through her business, The Blind Potter

In 1997, she took up pottery, which lowered her blood pressure by keeping her stress in check. “The first thing I learned to make were angels,” says Wilson. “There’s nothing more calming than feeling the wet clay slide through your fingers.” Wilson excels with this hobby and continues entering her one-of-a-kind, hand painted pieces in local competitions and donating them to charity events.

While pottery helped relieve some of the pressures brought on by PXE, Wilson still felt unfulfilled. She struggled with her health, and the lack of support from her community weighed heavy on her spirit. Determined not to let PXE define her, Wilson found herself back at the roller rink, ready to put her life back on her own terms. But returning to a sport as complicated as figure skating, especially now without her sight, was a challenge.

Thriving on skates!

Wilson walked into Skateland USA fearing more of the same rejection she had already experienced, but was delighted to finally find the kindness and support she had needed all along. She explained her vision loss to the managers of the rink, who set her up with a coach with a background in physical therapy. With fresh motivation and the encouragement of a great coach, Wilson put her fears behind her and jumped back into figure skating. 

Wilson is considered legally blind, and is only able to see some shades of gray, which makes skating in groups difficult. In addition, the style of skating has changed since she was last on wheels. As an artistic skater, she performs different genres of dance routines such as a polka or waltz, but the style of routine is far different now than what she was used to. Skating backwards, a necessary component of her dance routines, has been her biggest challenge. She spoke with determination when mentioning this hurdle. “I’ll get it in time for the competitions.” Though Wilson struggled initially finding her balance and her rhythm on wheels, she is now thriving on her skates.

Wilson describes her husband as a steady source of support. When she determined to get back into skating, he did whatever it took to help her achieve her goals. Together they drive over two hours round trip to the rink each week for her lessons, and will travel a fair amount for her upcoming competitions. Wilson adds that watching and experiencing the results of her mother’s poor health has also been a source of motivation for her. “I have five children and six grandchildren,” she said. “I have a lot to live for.”

Kerry competing in the Presidents Day Invitational, Pt. Ritchie, FL, February 2013

Since her return to skating, Wilson has noticed profound improvements in both her health and happiness. “Skating works every part of your body,” explains Wilson. “Not only does it work all those forgotten muscles, but it also helps with your balance and coordination – and it’s fun!” Wilson has noted marked increases in her energy and muscle tone, and has lost 65 pounds since taking up her old love. But she is most excited about the confidence she has gained as a result of her skating. Getting back into shape has helped her generate a new outlook in all areas of her life. She has more energy to play with her grandchildren, the drive to conquer her skating challenges, and a newfound faith that she can achieve any task to which she sets her mind. 

After finding her feet in the rink, Wilson was ready to set some ambitious figure skating goals. As a young skater, she always dreamed of going to a national competition, but rules prevented her from competing at that level without a male partner. Those rules have since been lifted, and Wilson is ready to tackle that long-standing goal with even more enthusiasm than before.

Beyond her goals of winning a national title, Wilson hopes to accomplish other great things in the world of skating. “I ultimately want to become a skating coach,” she said, “and focus on working with kids with disabilities. Skating is wonderful exercise for improving balance and coordination, and above all else for gaining confidence.” Wilson told me, “This is how I fight back.”

Kerry Wilson performed her artistic dance routine at the Presidents Day Invitational skating competition in Port Richey, Florida on February 16th and 17th, earning a 4th place finish in her first competition in 33 years. Congratulations Kerry!

Check out Kerry’s blog, The Blind Potter.