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The force behind Santa Fe’s skating boom

November 28, 2018

Behind every successful nonprofit is the do-it-all volunteer who fills the three-ring binders, runs the three-ring circus(es), sweats the details, officiates the meetings, navigates the politics, absorbs the criticism and stares at her shoes in embarrassment when someone offers praise.

At the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, that person is a hyper-aware, hyper-driven dervish named Tammy Berendzen.

Though she’s president of the Santa Fe Skating Club, you’ll almost never see her on the city skating rink at the Chavez Center. In part, the reason is obvious: Berendzen moves around in a wheelchair, and the last time anyone checked, a wheelchair is to an ice rink as a Zamboni is to pastureland.

But it’s more than that: Berendzen has work to do. And with a warm smile, a penchant for organization and an inner compulsion to make life glassy-smooth for the people around her, she’s helped make skating one of the cool things to do in Santa Fe.

For that reason and maybe a hundred more, that’s why she’s one of The New Mexican’s 10 Who Made a Difference for 2018.

“I have a desire to do good,” she says simply — a sentence that’s more about a life’s work than a club’s success.

Her admirers say Berendzen, 46, has been the central figure in helping solidify the skating club — and growing the sport — among both the young and old in a high-desert town. “She’s made more of a difference in six years since she’s been the head [of the club] than anybody,” says Mark Tamoglia, who himself had been president of the club before Berendzen arrived on the scene.

“… Her dedication, her love of skating even though she can’t skate, it’s just remarkable,” Tamoglia continues. “She’s done more to promote skating and the love of skating than anybody.”

The Chavez Center, blessed with a top-notch ice rink but located in a warm-weather place that can go into hibernation when two snowflakes have a committee meeting, is alive with skaters these days — in part because Berendzen’s efforts have grown the club’s Learn to Skate Program from just a few dozen to nearly 100 people in the most recent session.

Young and old, snowbirds and thrillseekers now glide — well, sorta — across the ice as coaches teach them basics that can last a lifetime.

“You’re gonna fall down,” Berendzen observes. “And you’re gonna get back up. It’s the first thing we teach all beginner skaters, no matter what your age is — the correct way to fall down and get back up.”

Getting up, even while sitting down, is a Berendzen specialty.

Born with spina bifida, a defect of the spinal cord, her days are largely spent in her wheelchair, though she can use braces to move around. She’s never skated, of course, though she notes she has made an appearance twice in the club’s annual December show. An American who grew up in Canada, a nation where skating is an involuntary reflex, she doesn’t hide the longing.

“Oh, I’d love to,” she responds when asked about the urge to lace on a pair of blades. “I’d love to.”

She acknowledges her involvement with the club, to an extent, was a happy coincidence: It allowed her to be active and still have time to be a stay-at-home mom. But it’s the active part that amazes her friends and family, because Tammy Berendzen leaves no T uncrossed.

“Of course, everybody knows about her organization,” says Berendzen’s husband, Joel. “But what people don’t know behind that is, she listens to people and asks their opinion. … And then she also uses a lot of imagination. The organization is obvious; the imagination I get to see.”

Instead, she channels the energy into others — the club, the Learn to Skate program, her husband Joel and daughter Annisa and a twice-a-week volunteering gig in Kathleen Rodgers’ second-grade classroom at Piñon Elementary School. At first, she helped kids who were struggling with reading. Now, her role has expanded to math.

Even now, she’s not exactly sure what happened.

“I don’t know if it was that Annisa always had her homework done, or what. Who knows what it was?” Berendzen jokes.

Rodgers says Berendzen is a natch for education — always prepared, always cheerful, always anticipating what a kid or, for that matter, an adult might need.

“I’m like, ‘Lady, you need to become a teacher,’ ” Rodgers says.

So, there it is: Tammy Berendzen wants to help people, regardless of whether they have a set of skates strapped to their feet. She thinks about her time at Syracuse University, where the motto of her policy studies major was “Go Out, Do Good.” She thinks about her grandparents, Gordon and Lela Patterson, who ran the Grange hall meetings in Ohio, where one would handle the agenda and the other would be making the coleslaw. She thinks about all the good folks she’s met along the way as the skating club has literally lifted off the ice.

Yeah, maybe you fall down once in awhile. Everyone does. But Tammy Berendzen gets back up.

Coming up

Today: Tammy Berendzen

Thursday: Kenneth Salazar

Friday: Meryl Lieberman

Saturday: W. Peyton George

Sunday: 10 Who Made a Difference, a special publication featuring the 2018 honorees

If you go

• For the third year, The New Mexican will celebrate its 10 Who Made a Difference honorees with a dinner and awards presentation at La Fonda on the Plaza. This year’s event is at 5 p.m. Dec. 6. Tickets are $80 and can be purchased at ticketssantafe.org.

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