Mary Ellen Gabler of Arlington Heights works in the fast-paced emergency department at Northwest Community Hospital, using her training as a psych nurse to help evaluate patients' mental health.
She maintains her own well-being, however, in a unique way: figure skating.
In July, Gabler took first place in the Adult Silver division at the Chicago Open, a competition sanctioned by the U.S. Figure Skating Association. This December, she will be a featured soloist at the Hoffman Estates Park District's winter ice show at its Triphahn Center Ice Arena.
"What an inspiration," says Sandy Manisco, who featured Gabler on the park district's website. "She does jumps and spins and performs in competitions and shows."
Gabler says it was the 1988 Olympics that sparked her interest in figure skating, in particular the Russian pairs skaters Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, who won the gold medal that year and again in 1994.
"My original goal was to be able to skate backward," Gabler says. "That fascinated me."
Gabler was 41 when she enrolled in adult group lessons at an ice arena in Franklin Park. One of her teachers, encouraged by her prowess, encouraged her to test in the U.S. Figure Skating Association's proficiency structure, which she needed to advance to the next level -- as well as compete.
More than 20 years later, she can skate backward and more. Gabler started taking private lessons at the Rolling Meadows Ice Arena, and currently trains on the ice in Hoffman Estates.
She works with former Russian skater Oleg Podvalny, who trains figure skaters of all ages, including the reigning U.S. silver medalist, Gracie Gold, who works with him once a week.
"I'm no Kristi Yamaguchi or anything," Gabler says with a laugh, "but with the encouragement of my coach and the staff I've continued learning and progressing."
During Gabler's sessions with Podvalny, she brushes up on her technique on her single jumps, toe loops, sit spins, forward camels, flips and Salchows.
She used all those elements in her winning program, which she performed to "Como la Flor," by the late singer Selena Quintanilla.
"It was something different to interpret on ice," says Gabler, who researched the young singer, including her movements and fashion designs.
In adult competitions, just as in the senior level of skating shown on television, performers are judged on their technical elements and artistic expression, including originality, creativity and musical interpretation.
All of which adds up to a stimulating hobby for Gabler, who never competed in athletics growing up but finds all kinds of benefits from her skating competitions.
"It's exhilarating and such a good workout," she says. "I just had my birthday and turned 64, so for me, it's a gift to be able to do it."