Ariel Isaac approached the skating rink in Wyandanch Plaza on Saturday afternoon with apprehension.
“It looks slippery,” the 15-year-old Wheatley Heights resident said, surveying the dozens of people, mostly kids, gliding across the ice on the rink’s opening day of the season.
Isaac had never skated before. But when she heard that Surya Bonaly, the French figure skating star, would be in attendance, she couldn’t stay away.
“How she did a back flip and landed on one foot was so cool!” Isaac said, referencing Bonaly’s most famous move.
The presence of Bonaly, one of the first black women to climb to the upper echelons of the predominantly white sport, was draw enough for many of the hundreds who attended the rink’s winter kickoff event Saturday.
Those who ventured onto the ice were rewarded with suggestions, encouragement and, occasionally, a steadying hand offered by Bonaly, who now coaches figure skating and splits her time between Minneapolis and Las Vegas.
Bonaly, 43, said she was proud to attend the event in the predominantly African-American community, not least to embolden young people of color to try out a variety of sports.
“People think that black people can only play basketball or do track and field . . . but not skating,” said Bonaly, a five-time European Figure Skating Championships gold medalist and three-time World Figure Skating Championships silver medalist.
Giving young people of color the chance to try out a new sport is one reason why the Town of Babylon and Wyandanch community leaders opted for the rink in drawing up plans for the hamlet’s massive, ongoing redevelopment, according to Anne Stewart, who sits on the board of the Wyandanch Plaza Association.
“We thought that we would like to expose the kids of Wyandanch to this type of activity,” said Stewart, 74, a longtime resident.
“We’re trying to broaden their vision and broaden their activities,” she said.
The outdoor skating rink sits at the center of Wyandanch Rising, a 15-year, $500 million revitalization project that has brought new housing, stores and amenities to the neighborhood, considered one of the most economically distressed on Long Island.
“This is the epitome of what we are trying to accomplish here,” said Jacqueline Gordon, a Babylon Town councilwoman who attended the event along with other Babylon and Suffolk officials.
“What this says is you can be good at whatever you want to be good at,” Gordon said. “You just need access — access and opportunity.”
After some gentle prodding from her mother, Ariel Isaac skated out onto the ice for the first time, arms out for balance, ankles pitched inward, smiling.
“It’s fun but then it’s scary,” she reported back to her mother, Katina Isaac, who watched from the edge of the rink.
“I wish it was me out there,” said Isaac, 43, who was more cautious than her daughter.
“I don’t want to fall and hurt myself,” she said. “I have to work on Monday!”