Every January for the past eighteen years, special needs skaters arrive from all over the Midwest for Franklin Park's Special Needs Skating Competition, to participate in one or more of four ice sports: hockey, figure skating, speed skating and sled hockey. This event is a precursor to the Illinois Winter Special Olympics which are held in Galena in February.
At this year's event on January 8, Jeff took first place in the H division, the tier of the fastest skaters. Special Needs skaters are grouped by ability rather than age. He won first place in all three distances; 333m, 500m, 700m.
Jeff is a long-time member of the Evanston Speed Skating Club, and ESSC's only special needs member. "Regular competitions all season with his age-mates have really motivated Jeff to work hard and improve his times," says ESSC coach George Babicz. "I'm proud of his win, but not surprised."
Jeff is currently a high school junior at The Cove School in Northbrook. Cove School serves students with moderate to severe learning disabilities. Jeff joined ESSC as a third grader: this is his ninth season skating.
"I initially thought of speed skating for Jeff because the demands of a team sport would have been very difficult, due to Jeff's disability," says his mother, Lydia. "I didn't know anything about speed skating. But the individual endeavor of the sport appealed to me."
Jeff also plays guitar and is on Cove's basketball team, but speed skating is his favorite activity. He has met Olympic medalist Shani Davis a number of times, often enough to have a running game of tag with Shani over the past six years. "The friends and experiences Jeff has had skating are wonderful, but annoying Shani is fun for him, too."