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Special Olympians sparkle on ice in Johnstown

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Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012

JOHNSTOWN — CeCe Wagner lost her balance for just one brief moment during her figure skating routine at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena for the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania's Winter Games on Tuesday, but the bobble didn't shake her resolve.

Wagner got up and kept going to the finish — she skated to George Gershwin's "I've Got Rhythm" — and it's that determination that coach Renee Sullivan said characterizes the special-needs athletes she trains.

"These kids have more heart and soul than I've ever seen in my life," said Sullivan, 50, of Mt. Lebanon. "They fall, they get up, they don't give up. They keep going, and going, and going."

Wagner, 41, of Mt. Lebanon, joined Wendy Zimmerman, 41, of Kennedy, and 44-year-old David Mulgrave, of Green Tree, in representing Allegheny County at the Special Olympics figure skating competition.

Afterward, Wagner said she had a blast.

"I like coming here every year," Wagner said. "It's more of a challenge for me. I know when I come here that I'm going to be (skating against) different people, so I know I have to work harder."

Sullivan said that Wagner's life revolves around figure skating. Zimmerman used to compete in speed skating, but gave it up to focus on figure skating.

Skaters compete in different levels depending on experience, and each level comes with its own set of skills that the athletes perform to earn marks in their routines.

Wagner and Zimmerman competed in level two, while Mulgrave has worked his way up to level four.

"If I get gold, I'm happy, and if I get silver I'm happy," Mulgrave said, before extending his arm to demonstrate the hand shake he gives the other skaters, no matter how he finishes. "I'm an athlete, and I show good sportsmanship."

Sullivan was a self-taught skater as a child and didn't take her first lesson until she was an adult, after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She also teaches adults and children, but said what she's most proud of in her life is her work with Special Olympics.

"They're good for my soul," she said. "They want to be here, they want to skate, they want to be challenged. They want to make you proud, and they want to be happy and enjoy a good athletic experience. They love it."

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