October Athlete of the Month – Gabe Venditti

SABAH’s Athlete of the Month for October is the strong and ruggedly handsome, Gabe Venditti from the Niagara University program.  Although Gabe has a tough exterior, the 15 year old SABAH athlete is also one of SABAH’s most helpful participants.  Last year, along with his volunteer partner Harry Steinwald, Gabe took it upon himself to assist first year skater, Liam O’Donnell.  Gabe noticed that the 7 year old skater was taking his first steps on the ice and immediately came to his rescue.  He also enlisted Harry to help support Liam by positioning themselves on either side of the new SABAH athlete.  Together, they each took a hand and gently skated around the ice with Liam.

At just 15 years old, it might be hard to believe that Gabe has been with SABAH for 13 years.  But Gabe began in the Niagara University program when he was just two years old!  In Gabe’s earliest years with SABAH, he was a fun and feisty toddler who wavered between completely happy to completely resistant.  Yet, now as a young adult, Gabe is a delightful teenager who serves as a role model to his fellow participants in Niagara’s Group 1.  “Gabe has grown up so much over the years,” states Executive Director Sheila O’Brien. “He is now one of the most helpful and engaging participants at the Niagara Rink.  While he appears to be a tough young man on the outside, he has a very kind and compassionate side to him that already makes him a leader at the rink.”

SABAH continues to be grateful for Gabe’s hard work, commitment, and support for his fellow athletes in the Niagara program. In celebration of Gabe’s growth and dedication over the past 13 years, we are pleased to name him as the 2017 October Athlete of the Month.

Katie Mruk – September Athlete of the Month

Katie Mruk

September Athlete of the Month

SABAH’s Athlete of the Month for September is a true role model for individuals challenged by disability.  Katie Mruk began skating with SABAH in 1993 when she was just 8 years old.  Determined and dedicated, Katie has continually grown stronger and more capable as a SABAH athlete.  Katie’s success is also largely due to the strong support and love she receives from her sister and volunteer instructor, Kristen.  Each week, the close-knit sisters show up at the Northtown Center at Amherst to work on their skating skills and to enjoy the camaraderie and friendships they have made with their fellow Group 3 skaters.  The popular pair enjoys their time together, but they also both encourage and support the other athletes in the Sunday morning program.

Katie’s dedication to SABAH doesn’t end with her participation as a SABAH athlete.  After making tremendous progress with her skating skills over the years, Katie made the decision to give back to others challenged by disability by becoming a SABAH volunteer.  Each week during the fall and winter, Katie volunteers for SABAH’s School Day Adaptive Ice Skating program.  Along with her friends from ASPIRE, Katie provides valuable volunteer support for the children who attend SABAH’s School Day program.  Katie continues to be a very kind and thoughtful volunteer who patiently helps teach children with special needs how to skate each Wednesday morning throughout the season.

Katie is also inspirational for her genuine enthusiasm for skating and, most especially, for the Celebration on Ice show.  Her positive outlook and excitement are a tremendous encouragement for other athletes and volunteers.  In honor of her commitment to SABAH for nearly 25 years, we are pleased to name Katie Mruk as the 2017 September Athlete of the Month.

Ryan Koteras – August Athlete of the Month

Each week during the SABAH season, Ryan Koteras enthusiastically leads the warm up exercises for SABAH athletes and volunteers in Group 3.  A born leader, Ryan demonstrates the stretching routine for his fellow athletes in the advanced group and then eagerly practices his skating skills.   Although Ryan is only 10 years old, he began with SABAH when in 2010 when he was just 3 years old.  Since that time, Ryan has progressed from the beginning group to an independent skater in the most advanced group.  SABAH’s Director of Programming, Carrie Drabik, states, “Ryan has grown into a tremendous asset for Group 3.  His optimistic attitude and willingness to work hard have made him a positive role model for other athletes challenged by disability.”

Ryan has also become a talented hockey player in SABAH’s Adaptive Ice Hockey program.  Through his years of practice and hard work, Ryan was able to join the Adaptive Hockey program in 2013.  Even at his young age, Ryan finds great joy in playing hockey and has become a talented player in the program.

Ryan’s progress has been noticed by many, including his devoted family.  Ryan’s mom, Gina, states, “Ryan has become so confident in everything he does because of SABAH, from his classes in school to making friends. If there was one quote I could come up with from Ryan, I would have to say it is, ‘I got this, mom.  I got this.’  Thank you SABAH, and all of his helpers, for giving him that confidence.”    In honor of Ryan’s dedication and hard work over the past seven years, SABAH is very pleased to honor him as the August Athlete of the Month.

Sam Perison – July Athlete of the Month

SABAH’s July Athlete of the Month, Sam Perison, has been named one of the featured coaches of the 2017 Kickstock Kickball Festival.  During the past season, Sam skated in SABAH’s Saturday morning program at the Hamburg Rink with volunteer, Brian Finnerty.  As a result of the friendship that grew between the pair throughout the season, Brian invited Sam to be an honorary coach for his Kickstock Kickball Team, the Motley Krew.  Sam eagerly accepted the offer to reunite with his volunteer, but the tide will turn as Sam will be the one encouraging Brian to give his best effort during the annual tournament on July 8, 2017.

Although Sam now skates in the Hamburg morning program, the 15 year old student at first began in SABAH’s School Day Adaptive Ice Skating program in 2011.  Through his perseverance and work ethic, Sam continually improved during the four years he attended the program with his classmates from the Cantilician Center.  Following his participation in the School Day program, Sam wanted to continue with SABAH in the weekend program at Hamburg.  From the beginning of the 2016-2017 season, Sam was paired with his weekly partner, Brian.  Through Brian’s encouragement and the support of the Hamburg crew, Sam continues to make great progress as he perseveres through visual impairment and the challenges of Cerebral Palsy.  Each week, SABAH’s Hamburg team witnesses Sam make considerable progress toward his dream of playing hockey.  With great joy and appreciation, SABAH is pleased to honor Sam Perison as the July Athlete of the Month!

Abby Yates – June Athlete of the Month

When Abby Yates arrives at SABAH, the rink instantly brightens.  Abby has an angelic face and a warm, wide smile that captures the hearts of both SABAH volunteers and her fellow athletes.  Although she is quite shy and nonverbal, Abby is eternally cheerful and kind to those around her.  Because of her warmth and optimism, she is always enthusiastically greeted at the door with many hugs and happy faces.

As one of SABAH’s most active athletes, Abby annually participates in two of SABAH’s six programs.  Abby first began with SABAH in 1999, when she started participating in the Hamburg weekend program.  After many years in the Saturday morning program, she began attending the Adults Fit and Fun program with her group from the Heritage Centers.  In both programs, Abby works very diligently to complete each task she is given.  Her dedication and hard work has paid off, as she has made tremendous improvements in her skating skills, nutritional knowledge, and physical activity over the years.  For her enthusiasm, dedication, and joyful spirit, SABAH is pleased to name Abby Yates as the 2017 June Athlete of the Month.

Jenny Ruisi – May Athlete of the Month

SABAH’s Athlete of the Month for May is the sweet and delightful Jenny Ruisi from the Northtown Center at Amherst Sunday morning program.  Although Jenny began with SABAH over eleven years ago, she was forced to take a three year absence for medical reasons.  While Jenny’s friends at SABAH missed her while she was recovering, they were happily reunited in 2015 when Jenny was cleared to return.  Once back, Jenny quickly returned to skating independently and attempting each new skill with determination and enthusiasm.

Jenny is also a very kind and compassionate SABAH athlete. Jenny always looks for ways to help her friends in Northtown Center’s Group 3.  If anyone around her is missing a partner, Jenny will quickly step forward to offer her assistance.

SABAH is pleased to recognize Jenny for her tremendous determination, courage, and kindness in the face of adversity.  As a role model for her fellow athletes at the Northtown Center at Amherst, SABAH is pleased to name Jenny Ruisi as the 2017 May Athlete of the Month.

Rachel Connor – April Athlete of the Month

One of the greatest outcomes of SABAH’s programs is when we witness our athletes overcoming their fears.  Rachel Connor is a SABAH athlete who openly admits that falling on the ice can be scary.  Yet, in spite of her apprehension, she arrives at the Riverside Rink every Tuesday evening eager to practice her skating skills. Rachel, who skates with one of the program’s most positive and encouraging volunteers, Michael Franz, began the year determined to reach the goal of letting go of her walker. For the first time this season, Rachel began to skate independently and often starts skating before her volunteer is on the ice!

Although Rachel only began skating with SABAH in 2015, the 26 year old participant has made tremendous progress in her two years in the Riverside program.  Each week, Rachel diligently listens to her volunteer and will try any new skill that is part of the day’s agenda.  And, on the rare occasion that she falls, she bounces right back up and keeps going.  As a model of perseverance and dedication, SABAH is very pleased to name Rachel Connor as the 2017 April Athlete of the Month.

March Athlete of the Month


2017 March Athlete of the Month

Meghan Richardson

SABAH athlete, Meghan Richardson, is closing in on nearly two decades with SABAH!  The sweet and reserved 22 year old has been skating in the Niagara University program since 1998.  Meghan is a hard working SABAH athlete who prefers the assistance of a volunteer to a walker.  “Meghan strives for independence,” states Executive Director, Sheila O’Brien.  “She pushes the walker away, insisting to hold on to her mom and a volunteer.  She very much wants to gain more strength and freedom.”  Meghan is also one of SABAH’s most loveable athletes, as the charming 22 year old will softly kiss your hand and share her kind smile with her friends at the rink.

Meghan’s positive attitude is also a direct result of the love and attention of her devoted family.  Meghan’s mom, Cyndi Richardson, faithfully brings Meghan to SABAH each week and skates by her side during the entire SABAH session.  Her brothers, Nick and Sean, are similarly committed to Meghan and often volunteer with her at the Niagara rink.

Meghan and her family are also known for their strong support of SABAH.  Led by Meghan’s dad, Paul, the Richardson’s are always among the highest fundraisers during the annual Skate-A-Thon.  For the past three years in a row, Meghan has been the grand prize winner of the Skate-A-Thon!

Meghan continues to bring joy and inspiration to the Niagara University program, as well as support for the entire organization.  For all of her efforts, we are very pleased to name Meghan Richardson as the 2017 March Athlete of the Month.

January Athlete of the Month

Tina Brown

January Athlete of the Month

SABAH athlete Tina Brown, from Hamburg’s Group 1, will lead off the new year as the Athlete of the Month for January!  Tina’s positive attitude resonates with all of her fellow skaters on Saturday morning, as she is well known for her hard work and determined spirit.  A SABAH veteran of nearly nine years, Tina has continually improved each year as a result of her commitment and perseverance.  This year, in particular, Tina has made tremendous progress toward skating independently.  Each week, Tina has been steadily overcoming her fear and letting go of her walker.

One of Tina’s most remarkable attributes is her commitment to give back to SABAH and SABAH athletes.  Each week during the season, Tina faithfully volunteers for the School Day Adaptive Ice Skating program on Wednesday mornings.  With her fellow volunteers from the CAPPS program, Tina works off the ice to organize the skates and helmets for the children in our School Day programs.  Always patient and kind, Tina also assists SABAH by picking up the skates and helmets in the locker room after each Wednesday morning session.

For her dedication as both an athlete and a volunteer, SABAH is pleased to name Tina Brown as the January Athlete of the Month.

December Athlete of the Month – Braheim Al-Zinghi

School Day Adaptive Ice Skating Program

From October through March, students from 28 regional schools attend SABAH’s School Day Adaptive Ice Skating (SDAIS) program.  The program, which serves over 400 students challenged by disability, improves skills such as balance and coordination, gross motor skill development, and socialization.  Each week, busloads of students enthusiastically arrive at the Riverside Rink to participate in the curriculum based program.

While all of the young participants in the SDAIS make remarkable improvements throughout the season, SABAH’s instructors often notice a student who is especially diligent and hard working.  This year, 13 year old Braheim Al-Zinghi from City Honors, has made extraordinary efforts to move from his Rifton Walker to skating independently.  Just last week, Braheim conquered his fear and let go of his walker for the entire session.  As Braheim states, “I was a little tiny afraid, but I faced my fears and I don’t need the seat (walker) anymore.  And it will be alright.”  His positive attitude and courage have enabled Braheim to overcome many challenges and make tremendous progress in this season already.  Braheim has also become an inspirational role model for his fellow students, as they watch his persistent determination and work ethic.  For all of his efforts, SABAH is pleased to honor Braheim Al-Zinghi as SABAH’s December Athlete of the Month.