If you were to meet PALCS 8th grader Dottie McLean today, you would meet a strong, healthy, 14-year-old figure skater, dancer, and student. However, that was not always the case.

At 5 years old, Dottie found herself with excruciating headaches. She had a condition called Chiari Malformation with Syringomyelia, a condition where brain tissue extends into the spinal canal and cerebrospinal fluid enters the interior of the spinal cord. Dottie even began to lose feeling in her feet due to the pressure on her brain. As she continued to suffer, her mother, Donna, decided something had to be done. In January of 2011, at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Dottie underwent neurosurgery was 8 years old.

Following the surgery, Dottie developed scoliosis and required physical therapy. Her physical therapist suggested Dottie get involved in activities to keep her core strong, which is where her journey with dance and skating began.

After her first 3 ice skating lessons, Dottie she fell in love with the sport and found a deep admiration for professional figure skater Ashley Wagner. She now skates at Rostraver Ice Garden and the Alpha Ice Complex, located right next door to the PALCS Western Regional Office. Dottie belongs to the Ice and Blades Figure Skating Club of Western PA and is coached by Barb Gahagen and Bob Mock.

Dottie competes several times a year and tests often for the US Figure Skating Association (USFSA). She recently passed the Fox Trot, which is a pre-silver ice dance level test for the USFSA. Her next goal is to test the European, which is the last pre-silver ice dance test. She will continue to test ice dance until she receives her gold medal.

Dottie also dances (off-ice) for Laurel Valley Academy of Dance with Mrs. Angela Guidos. Since getting into dance and skating, Dottie currently has no evidence of scoliosis.

Between dancing, skating, and schooling, Dottie has learned that time management is the key to being able to do the things she loves as well as keep up with her studies. She transferred to PALCS in February of 2017 when she was in the 7th grade and has really enjoyed the freedom and challenge that the curriculum offers.

“There is one teacher in particular that stands out, her French teacher,” says Donna. “She has really helped Dottie with time management and taken an interest in her, even coming over to watch her skate. It is this kind of commitment from a teacher that helps a student do well.”

We are so proud to have the Dottie represent PALCS and want to thank her and her mother Donna for taking the time to share their story with us. We cannot wait to see where her skating, dancing, and academic career takes her!