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Golden Moment for Autistic Man

Author Paula Mitchell
Date February 9, 2017

POUGHKEEPSIE—When Jonathan Peterson finishes his figure-skating routine at the McCann Ice Arena on Feb. 18, it’s a pretty safe bet that his family will be giving him a thumbs-up and handfuls of Hershey’s Kisses as a reward.

It will be the perfect post-Valentine’s Day gift for the 20-year-old, who counts the holiday among his favorites.

Jonathan has autism, and like many of the athletes competing  in the upcoming Special Olympics New York Winter Games being held for the second consecutive year in the Hudson Valley, his accomplishment will be reason to celebrate.

“We’ll be in the stands, and I know he’ll be very excited and proud to see us there,” said his mother, Karla Peterson. “We’ll definitely have some chocolate waiting for him after he gets off the ice.”

Jonathan’s journey to get to the Special Olympics figure-skating competition has had some twists and turns as well as a few bumps and victories along the way.

He was diagnosed at the age of 3 and has been living in a residential program since he was 8.

Jonathan has been part of the Staatsburg-based Anderson Center for Autism’s residential program since February 2012, and he has made significant progress since then, according to his mother.

Jonathan, who had participated and medaled in track and field at past Special Olympics, was introduced to the sport of figure skating by Anna LaFerriere, Anderson’s recreation program coordinator, when he first enrolled there.

At the McCann Ice Arena in Poughkeepsie, Jonathan participated in group therapeutic ice-skating lessons under the guidance of teacher Laurie May during the winter semester. He caught on right away and loved it, Peterson said.

This is the first year Jonathan was coached one-on-one by May, the general manager at McCann, where the Special Olympics figure skating will be held.

His mother has nothing but the highest praise for May, who taught him the skills needed for the compulsory exercise and musical program.

“He just connected with her from the start. She is very understanding and warm and is an amazing skater in her own right,” Peterson said.

“She has a great rapport with Jonathan. She knows how to reword things to make him relate to certain techniques and is very loving and supportive.”

Jonathan Peterson’s mother, Karla, says he is thriving since taking up figure skating four years ago. He is pictured here at the McCann Ice Arena in Poughkeepsie, which will host the figure skating competition on Feb. 18.

After May judged figure skating at last year’s Special Olympics, she called Jonathan’s mother.

“She said she thought Jonathan was coachable and that it might be really neat for him to represent the Hudson Valley. She thought he would be successful. She had never coached Special Olympics but felt they would be a good team,” Peterson said.

The pair began training in earnest. Jonathan goes to McCann every Sunday for an hour-long practice. His family from Hurley takes him weekly and encourages him.

Jonathan did his first solo performance at an ice-skating show last June at McCann.

“Laurie wanted to test the waters for the Special Olympics. He had never done a performance before with the crowd and lights and loud music.  He loved it and did great.”

At this year’s Special Olympics, he’ll be participating in skating for the first time and performing a routine to DNCE’s upbeat pop single “Cake By The Ocean.”

His mother said she can’t wait to see Jonathan skate at the games.

“My family and I are so excited for him. It is awesome to see him step on the ice and smile. He just loves it.

“He seems energized by the lights and music and crowd. His older brother is involved in theater and music, so maybe it’s a family trait. He just loves the performance factor and senses the audience. We don’t know how it’s going to play out, but he’s doing great.”

Even if Jonathan doesn’t win a medal, his mother said chocolate will be waiting for him just the same.

“We’re extremely proud of him and all his accomplishments. We’re also extremely grateful to Anderson and his phenomenal coach for giving him this opportunity. They’re all very dedicated to him, and we’re so blessed for all the people in his life who believe in him,” Peterson said.

The Special Olympics, which begins with the opening ceremony at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center on Feb. 17, is expected to draw 1,000 athletes and coaches throughout the state.

The events and venues this year include alpine skiing at Holiday Mountain in Monticello; figure and speed skating at McCann; floor hockey at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh and Nordic skiing and snowshoeing at Bowdoin Park in the town of Poughkeepsie.

For more information, go to http://specialolympics-ny.org/hudsonvalley/.