Compassionate coach teaches girl with myopathy to skate

Posted Jan. 23, 2011, at 7:57 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:17 a.m.

ORONO, Maine — Kaymi Hunt was facedown and sobbing on the ice in October.

On Saturday, she moved around the rink at the Alfond Arena nearly as fast as the other 7-year-olds participating in the Penobscot Valley Hockey Conference’s Learn to Skate Program at the University of Maine.

Kaymi, however, is not just like the other kids. She has myopathy, a neurological disorder that causes muscle weakness.

So when Kaymi falls down, she can’t get up without help, her mother, Tamara Hunt of Bangor, said Saturday.

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In earlier years, the tenacious little girl was athletic. She learned to ride a two-wheel bicycle at 4 and to swim at 5, her mother said. After seeing a hockey game, Kaymi wanted to learn how to skate.

“She tried all last year [during the 2009 to 2010] session, but she couldn’t stand up,” Hunt said. “She looked like Bambi out there. We thought it was a skill issue, but it turned out to be a health issue.”

Hunt couldn’t help her daughter, because parents are forbidden to be on the ice.

Despite her mother’s efforts to talk the girl out of learning to skate, Kaymi, who also has a form of autism and epilepsy, was determined.

In October, Hunt said, the girl got her hands on one of the few chairs that can be used as aids for wobbly beginning skaters. With the chair Kaymi was able to stand up and skate.

But the goal of the program is to get kids skating on their own, so one of the coaches skated by and took the chair away from Kaymi, not knowing why she needed it. That’s when she went facedown on the ice, crawled to the nearest exit and into her mother’s arms.

“Even then, she wouldn’t quit,” Hunt said. “I didn’t know what to do, so I asked for an exception to the rule so I could be on the ice with her.”

That’s when coach Albie Dunn of Milford, vice president for the group’s “Grow the Game” effort, stepped in. Now, when Kaymi’s on the ice, Dunn is at her side.

“At first he held her up,” Hunt said Saturday. “Then he just held her hand. Now, he helps her up when she falls, which is less and less often.”

Dunn works in technical services at Fogler Library, but grew up playing hockey in a recreational program in Old Town.

“After talking with Tamara, it sounded like it was possible for her to be successful if someone worked with her consistently with whom she could build some trust,” Dunn said. “She seems to be having a good time and seems to love being out there.”

Hunt, a counselor with a private practice in Bangor, said that she has been pleasantly surprised at how close her daughter has grown to Dunn because the autism makes it difficult for her to trust and form bonds with new people.

So far, Kaymi has spent her time skating around the rink with Dunn but not regularly participating in the drills the other kids practice to learn hockey playing skills. To help her be more comfortable with other children on the ice, Dunn had his 9-year-old daughter Emma Dunn skate with Kaymi on Saturday.

“Kaymi might feel more like part of the group if someone who was more like a peer was with her,” the coach said. “My daughter is old enough be a student coach, and she was interested in doing it. So we’ll see in the next few weeks if she and Kaymi can go through the stations together and maybe scrimmage. But if it’s too much for her, that’s OK, too.”

Hunt said that the modest Dunn doesn’t think he has done anything unusual, but he has been a huge source of support for her daughter.

“There’s something so compassionate about him that he wanted to do this for her,” she said.

Hunt, a single mother, adopted Kaymi when she was 7 months old. The girl was born addicted to alcohol and cocaine. Her medical problems have mounted since then. Her latest diagnosis is encephalopathy, a deterioration of the brain, Hunt said.

“Her cognitive skills, like her muscles, are deteriorating,” Hunt said.

So every moment Kaymi spends skating is precious.

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