Longtime trends have shown that quality community recreation is a driving force for attracting new residents to a city while retaining existing ones. From Oglebay Park and the Wesbanco arena to Centre Market and the Heritage Trail, there are plenty of options for anyone looking to do something fun in Wheeling.
But one of my favorite things about Wheeling’s recreational landscape is how creative people can get when we give folks with big ideas a little support.
I spoke with Lena Slivchenko, co-founder of All Year Sports Galaxy, one of the biggest synthetic ice rink companies in the world, about her amazing journey to West Virginia and her perspective on the city of Wheeling itself.
“We are from Ukraine.” Lena remarks joyfully, “both of us were married there. Vadim was a professional Hockey player where we grew up and traveled around the world doing what he loved.”
Vadim Slivchenko is Lena’s husband of almost 30 years. Slivchenko played Hockey throughout the 1990s and competed with Team Ukraine at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Vadim retired from professional Hockey in the mid-2000s.
After living and working in Canada for some time, Vadim was invited to play for a team in North Carolina ultimately setting the couple on a path to Wheeling arriving in 1993.
Lena is one of approximately 27,605 immigrants living in the state of West Virginia. This number accounts for only 2 percent of our total population, making West Virginia the state with the lowest number of immigrants nationwide.
But, despite the dismal stats here in West Virginia, the Slivchenko family have found their adopted home to be a friendly one.
“We love Wheeling because of many reasons, but the people are what we love most. Lena says, “You can live anywhere you want but when you find the right people in the right place you feel comfortable.”icerecr
While Slivchenko’s children were born here in Wheeling, some have decided to move out of the state. Lena, however, believes they are visiting the city more often and for good reason.
“My daughter left seven years ago because she didn’t really like Wheeling. Now she seems to keep coming back.” she laughs, “Maybe she doesn’t want to admit it, but Wheeling is cool now and she is seeing that every time she comes back.”
It’s exciting to see people discover that Wheeling is in fact cool and has been working hard to offer big-city amenities with a small-town vibe.
“My daughter likes the small-town eateries, breweries, and other places in the surrounding area. Seeing smaller businesses open up is what we like.”
Following Vadim’s retirement from professional hockey, the couple found their children weren’t getting enough “ice time” and that driving to the nearest rink every other day proved to be a hassle. They soon decided the best idea might just be to build their own rink.
After the Slivchenko’s constructed their own backyard ice rink, the community took notice. People began to suggest the couple start developing their idea into something bigger.
And like many Ohio Valley success stories, a little vision and community support, goes a long way.
“After Olivia Litman and Frank O’Brien from the Wheeling CVB noticed we had a small rink set up in our backyard, she decided to book my first rink in the Highlands. I was like ‘Wheeling, really?’ but she believed it would be great.”
“It’s all Olivia’s fault” Lena laughs.
Shortly thereafter, All Year Sports Galaxy was born. The company opened in 2007, offering authentic ice rinks, synthetic ice rinks, and roller rink rentals too. Today, the family business is active across the country, even catering to celebrities such as Steve Harvey and the Kardashian’s.
Finally, as I am one to do, I asked for a favor. I asked Lena to describe how she would “sell” the city of Wheeling to potential newcomers.
To make a long story short – why Wheeling?
“I would talk to new people about real estate here – because it’s amazing. You can buy any kind of home for an affordable price. The second point is safety – we have a pretty safe area here in Wheeling.”
Lena, who loves to travel, also spoke about the importance of our proximity to an international airport.
“I think the affordability and convenience of Wheeling is really incredible. I travel a lot and being this close to Pittsburgh is amazing. We are so fortunate here. I love West Virginia”
It just goes to show how much a little luck, a lot of hard work, and a friendly city can change your life.
• Rosemary Ketchum is a member of the Wheeling City Council representing Ward 3. Rosemary is associate director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Greater Wheeling Drop-in Center and on the boards of several organizations including the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. She has served as a guest on MSNBC and has been profiled by several publications including Time Magazine, CBS and CNN for her work in community organizing and politics.