But Mabel's talent could not be denied.
She made her way into shows into her 20s, eventually moving across the country to Los Angeles. From here, she toured internationally, performing in Mexico and Cuba with the Ice Capades and Ice Follies groups that had rejected her back in New York. She even turned down an offer of $1,000 per week to stay in Cuba and teach ice skating.
"Suffer for your art"
That was Mabel's mantra, accordingly to five-time U.S. National Champion and student Tai Babilonia.
Mabel became a star on the West Coast. She performed at night clubs in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and befriended celebrities of the day like Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Cary Grant. In Hollywood, she found a place.
As her teaching career took off, Mabel ran into the same issues she faced back in New York. While parents eagerly paid her for lessons, rinks often did not allow her to skate or teach because she was black.
In 1963, the same year as Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March in Washington, Mabel's pupil Atoy Wilson, a young African-American skater, won his first title by winning the Southwest Pacific juvenile men's competition.
Wilson became the first African American skater to compete at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1965, placing second, and won the novice title a year later. Wilson was her first student to enter top-level competition, but he certainly would not be the last.
It was Mabel who introduced a young student named Tai Babilonia to an up-and-comer named Randy Gardner in the mid-1960s. From the start, Mabel knew she had something special.
Tai and Randy went on to win five national championships, took home gold at the 1979 World Championships, and qualified for the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games. 2018 marks their 50th anniversary as a skating duo.
Part Filipino, African-American and Hopi Indian, Tai and her partner Randy "were a different look." But it was never an issue.
"She [Mabel] protected us from hurtful remarks. I just knew that when I got out on the ice, I had a job to do. And we did it."
So while the Olympic dream for Mabel never materialized, her second career as an instructor continued to flourish.
After the Hollywood Polar Palace burned down in 1963, Mabel mostly set up shop at the Culver City Ice Arena.
With no kids of her own, she often took on a motherly role. Mabel would often have students stay over at her house in the Hollywood Hills so that she could drive them to practice the next day. It was common for her to pay for skates and lessons for aspiring skaters of color.
Over the years, skaters from across the world visited Los Angeles for a chance to learn from Mabel.
She continued to fight the overt and subtle racism in the figure skating world, from calling out biased judges to pushing for people of color to join figure skating clubs, as membership was often required to be eligible to compete and move up the ranks of the sport. One of her students, Richard Ewell, became the first African-American to be accepted into a U.S. Figure Skating member club. Atoy Wilson, Babilonia and Gardner made their impact in the skating world. Among her other students were...
- Debi Thomas, the first black athlete to medal in the Winter Olympic Games
- Kristi Yamaguchi, the first Asian-Amerian to win Olympic gold in figure skating
- Scott Hamilton, 1984 Olympic gold medalist and four-time world singles champion
- Tiffany Chin, the first Asian-American to win a singles title at the U.S. Championships
- Rudy Galindo, the first openly gay U.S. figure skating champion and pioneer for Latino figure skaters
- Michelle McCaddie, who along with Ewell were the first African-American national pairs champions at the junior level
U.S. Figure Skating