On Nov. 14, 1916, pioneering African-American figure skater and coach Mabel Fairbanks was born in Florida.
Fairbanks began figure skating in the late 1930s, at a time when African-Americans were not allowed to skate at ice rinks during normal, public hours and could not join figure skating clubs or enter competitions. After watching a movie starring Norwegian figure skating legend Sonja Henie, Fairbanks was hooked on the sport. She bought her first pair of skates in a pawn shop and began practicing in a small, make-shift rink built for her by her uncle.
Eventually, she demanded entry into Central Park’s ice rink where she practiced regularly and was coached in secret by champion skater Maribel Vinson Owen.
While Fairbanks was never fully accepted by the mainstream skating elite during her active career, she made a name for herself by performing in ice shows around the world. Eventually, she settled down in Los Angeles and began coaching. She is credited for the development of celebrated skaters such as Scott Hamilton, Atoy Wilson, Tiffany Chin and 1970s pair champions Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner.
Fairbanks died in 2001. That same year she was posthumously inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame for her coaching work.
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