As soon as Kelly Rish stepped off the ice, she knew she had won.
And now she has the silver medal to prove it.
Rish, a 33-year-old from Concord, has barely taken off her figure skating medal since she won it at the Special Olympics southeast regional ice skating competition earlier this month.
"I was so shaky," Rish said of standing on the podium to accept her award.
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Now sporting her hard-earned medal, Rish is back on the ice, practicing for next year's competition.
Rish, who was diagnosed with developmental delays when she was 2 years old, started ice skating only a little more than a year ago when her friend Nicole Cooper introduced her to the sport.
The two met about four years ago when Rish began attending Concord Women's Fitness, the gym Cooper runs. One day, Cooper told Rish's mother that they were going on an "adventure" but spared any more details.
Cooper took Rish to Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail, where Cooper and her family, who are avid ice hockey players, go to practice. Then she took Rish out on the ice for the first time.
"She just took off like she'd been skating her whole life," Cooper said.
Soon thereafter, Rish joined a Special Olympics group that trains at the center.
The Special Olympics is an international program serving more than 2.5 million people worldwide. In North Carolina, Special Olympic programs reach more than 38,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities.
Cooper had been involved in the Special Olympics before she met Rish, but seeing her advance so quickly inspired Cooper to volunteer with the organization again. She often brings Rish to the rink and helps her warm up for her lessons.
"Where do your arms go?" Cooper asked Rish as she warmed up for practice last week.
Rish held her arms out then carefully picked up one foot, gliding across the ice on one skate.
"You have to break things down step by step," Cooper said. "But she's just so happy here. She's in a totally different world."
Learning a routine like the one she performed at the competition was no easy task for Rish, who has a short attention span. It required a lot of practice and a lot of repetition. She began practicing the one-minute routine set to music from the movie "High School Musical" in October.
But Rish has mastered several skating skills, including skating backwards. The hardest thing she's working on is spins, she said.
Last week, Rish worked on performing a T-stop, a move in which she forms a 'T' with her feet to halt her movement across the ice.
Ice skating has increased Rish's attention span and her ability to communicate, as well as her self-esteem, said her mother, JoAnn Rish.
"Getting that medal - and it doesn't matter what kind it is - that's just so important," she said
Outside of skating, Rish enjoys spending time with her nieces and her two dogs. She volunteers at a soup kitchen in Concord every Wednesday.
But Tuesdays and Thursdays are reserved for her passion.
"It's just my favorite thing," she said, explaining that skating is good exercise and that she's made new friends.
A wide smile is a permanent fixture on her face when she hits the ice, and each week she looks forward to a cappuccino, her reward for finishing practice.
Rish takes a private lesson on Tuesdays and a group lesson with others with special needs on Thursdays.
"It's a really neat community out here," Cooper said. "They make her feel so good while she's here."
Extreme Ice Center doesn't charge the Special Olympics team for their time on the ice, and Special Olympics coach Tappie Dellinger volunteers her time to give lessons. The Rishes have only paid for a pair of ice skates, which they gave their daughter for Christmas. Even the costume she wore at the competition - a purple sequined dress - was donated.
Dellinger has been involved in Special Olympics for 27 years and has trained teams for the Special Olympics World Games, the organization's international competition. She works with Rish every week.
Special Olympics athletes are divided by age and abilities at competitions. Rish competed in the level one division at the regional competition held in Huntsville, Ala. Now she's focusing on learning new skills, Dellinger said, so that Rish can perform in the level two division at next year's regional competition, which will be held at the ice center in Indian Trail.
Rish must learn 10 new skills to compete in the next level, including the T-stop, a two-footed turn and a crossover, a move in which the skater places one foot over the other while skating.
She tried out some of the new moves last week.
"You're doing great," Dellinger said as Rish glided toward her. "Are you working your crossovers? Excellent."
When practice ended, Rish stepped off the ice, grabbed her gear and quickly made her way out of the rink on her skates, waving goodbye to her coaches.
"Now it's cappuccino time!"