Mabel Fairbanks, as a figure skater and ice skating coach, first African American to be inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame, she is directly attributed for helped pave the way for other ice skaters from minority heritage to be included in the sport.
Mabel was born November 14, 1916 in New York City. She became interested in figure skating when she saw Sonja Henie skating in a movie in the 1930s. In 1938, at age 22, she bought a pair of ill-fitting leather skates for $1.50 from a pawnshop. She used a small frozen pond in Harlem and in Central Park to practice. At the time, African Americans were restricted from using the indoor ice rinks. Eventually, she was allowed to practice on an indoor rink after hours. It was during these practices that she caught the eye of Maribel Vinson Owen, a nine time national figure skating champion and coach of champions, she was allowed to practice on an indoor rink after hours. During this time, Mabel secretly trained her free of charge.
She passed figure skating tests, but was restricted from joining any figure skating club that sponsored competitors. Being ineligible for national and international competition, she began skating professionally in ice shows, but again was restricted from skating in some of the shows, so she created her own ice shows, and was principal skater traveling worldwide in the 1940s and 50s. She also began coaching children of celebrities during this time.
In the 1960s, in her 40s, she started a skating club and began successfully coaching young skaters in whom she saw talent. She may be best known for pairing Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner who went on to win the U.S. National Pair Skating title five times and the World Championships in 1979.
She coached Kristi Yamaguchi and Rudy Galindo as well as Atoy Wilson, the first African American to win a national event in 1966. She also coached Richard Ewell and Michelle McCladdie, who were the first African Americans to win a U.S. Pairs title in 1972. She continued to coach until she was 79.
Late in her life, she was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, a degenerative muscular disease. She died October 2001 at the age of 85 just prior to being inducted into the Women's Sport Foundation Hall of Fame at the 2001 Annual Salute to Women in Sports Award dinner.
Through her determination and perseverance, she enjoyed a 60-year career in the sport she adored even though she was barred from competition herself. Her legacy made it possible for today's minority skaters to be judged on skill and performance alone.
Compiled from http://figureskating.about.com/od/famousskaters/p/mabel.htm, Wikipedia, and http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/Content/Articles/Athletes/About%20Athletes/M/Mabel%20Fairbanks%20Breaking%20Down%20Barriers.aspx.