Mabel Fairbanks - African American Figure Skater and Ice Skating Coach

Ice Skating Pioneer Mabel Fairbanks

Mabel Fairbanks
Mabel Fairbanks. Photo Courtesy of Harlick Skating Boots

Mabel Fairbanks was an African-American figure skater and ice skating coach. Her strength and determination paved the way for African Americans and other figure skaters from minority backgrounds to be part of the sport.

Mabel Fairbanks was born on November 14, 1916, in New York City. She once saw a Sonja Henie figure skating movie. That movie inspired Mabel to try figure skating. In 1938, Mabel bought a pair of black leather skates in a pawnshop.

She paid $1.50 for the skates. The skates were too big, so she stuffed the insides of the boots with cotton.

Mabel first skated on a frozen pond in Harlem and then went to Central Park to practice. Due to her race, at first she was not allowed to skate at indoor ice rinks, but, eventually, indoor arenas did let her come inside to practice. Due to racial prejudice, those indoor ice rinks would not allow her to practice with the general public.

Maribel Vinson Owen, a figure skating champion and coach of champions, trained Mabel in secret. She taught Mabel for no charge during the hours the ice rink was not open to the public.

Mabel was not allowed to join a figure skating club because of her race but did pass figure skating tests. She also was not allowed to compete because of the color of her skin.

Since Mabel Fairbanks was not allowed to compete, she decided to be in professional ice shows.

She was not allowed to be part of certain ice shows, so eventually, she created her own ice shows. In the 1940s and 1950s, she traveled all over the world and performed.


In the 1960s, Mabel began coaching skating. She was able to see talent in many young skaters. She developed many young figure skaters that eventually did rise to the top.

She is well known for being the person who paired up Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner who went on to win the United States National Pair Skating title five times and the World Championships in 1979.

She coached Atoy Wilson, the first African-American to win a national event. She also coached Richard Ewell and Michelle McCladdie, who were the first African-Americans to win a U.S. Pairs title.


Mabel Fairbanks was inducted in the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1997. She was the first African-American to receive that honor.


Mabel Fairbanks died in October of 2001. She was eighty-five. She coached ice skating until she was seventy-nine.

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Farris, Jo Ann Schneider. "Mabel Fairbanks - African American Figure Skater and Ice Skating Coach." ThoughtCo, Feb. 26, 2017, Farris, Jo Ann Schneider. (2017, February 26). Mabel Fairbanks - African American Figure Skater and Ice Skating Coach. Retrieved from Farris, Jo Ann Schneider. "Mabel Fairbanks - African American Figure Skater and Ice Skating Coach." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 24, 2017).