What to Expect: Ice Skating

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While I have been skating off and on for over 40 years, competed in numerous events and am currently a mentor for adult skaters, I recall the very first time I stepped onto the ice. I was just nine years old and was so excited to experience the ice for the first time. Of course, back then I wasn’t doing it for the physical and mental advantages of the sport. I didn’t know any of that stuff – I just wanted to glide around and have a terrific time, the way all those figure skaters seemed to have fun on TV. Little did I know that when I took those first wobbly steps, I was beginning a lifetime love affair with the game of ice skating!

On this first day, I had no clue what to expect. I had roller skated a lot around my area, but had a feeling that ice skating could be totally different. As there are a lot of unknowns when you pick up a new sport or hobby, I’d like to share with you my initial experiences back then, and just how much things have changed now for beginners. More importantly, I want to share with you what, as a new skater, you can expect when you venture on the ice for the first time.

I still remember that day, when my mother took me to the ice rink one summer day. We drove up to this big old building with a sign that read,”Ballard Ice Arena” on it, in big blue letters. The ice rink was located in Seattle, Washington, in an older part of the city, so the building had that old classic look you would expect from Rocky films. As we opened the door, I remember looking into a gloomy reception and being unimpressed. It looked so much older on the inside of the building than it had been on the outside.

I approached the skate counter with my mother by my side to receive my first pair of rental skates, and almost started giggling when I was handed these gloomy and very unattractive skates. They were nothing like the gorgeous and glamorous white skates I imagined. They looked as though they had been through a war–with many gigantic feet!

As I sat down and started lacing up my skating boots, they felt as though they were just two foreign objects attached to my feet rather than like a comfortable pair of sneakers. They pressed my toes in all the wrong places, and they felt pretty heavy for a 9 year old girl. Then, when I stood up for the very first time I remember thinking,”How on earth do people walk in these things, let alone skate in them?!”

Gradually, and ever so carefully, I proceeded to wobble down the hallway to the ice with my ankles trying to balance over the very thin blade, trying to not seem like the beginner that I had been. I remember how chilly the air smelled too, as I progressed to the ice, but yet it had a clean and crisp quality to it, because of the cold temperature. It’s still a smell I love, even today, because of all of the beautiful memories I associate with it.

Ahhh, finally!

Yes, I understood ice was slippery but, wow, it was really slippery!

As I started to get a better sense for the blades, I slowly began shuffling my feet forward, in a walking-like movement. I was still hanging on to the rail, but as I moved along, I realized that skating was very similar to going forward on roller skates. So, I began to push off with one foot a bit as I skated. It got easier and easier as I went until I finally could let go of the railing.

While balancing on skates was initially challenging, what was a surprise to me is how simple it was to maneuver. Much easier than roller skates! I could turn in various directions easily and the gliding felt nearly effortless.

But just like the pavement outside, the ice was not completely flat. Since the rink was old and there was a little dripping coming from the ceiling, the moisture froze, and accumulated into lumps on certain parts of the ice, especially around the edge. I remember going over the bumps and it seemed a bit like the moguls on skis-something to be avoided at all costs! Hey, I just learned to balance myself; anything more than that was too much!

While falling was still another possibility, I seemed to be able to balance pretty well. So I continued skating for about 45 minutes or so before I had to sit down for a break next to my mom. She asked how I liked it and I told her,”I really like it!” My mother was really happy for me, since she found a new activity for her daughter to keep her out of trouble for the summer!

While I rested on the sidelines, I saw marginally older skaters perform all kinds of cool spins and spins in the center of the rink. They were amazing! I laughed at myself as I only struggled to stand and skate forward in those contraptions known as”ice skates,” and here these children were almost dancing on the ice! I remember thinking to myself about how much I would love to learn how to do that!

Well, that first experience might have been a very long time ago, but I can still relate to new skaters as well as the challenges of starting in a new sport. Of course, it was different for me as a child than it is for my adult students. But I have to say that after looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Skating has been a big part of my life and a huge passion. But a lot has changed in skating and like all sports it has evolved-thank goodness!

One huge change is that ice rinks today don’t tend to be dingy and old, but are typically either stand alone buildings, or are part of a sports complex, or are smaller places in shopping malls. They are often preserved well and are beautiful. Rinks were often family owned and there was a certain amount of prestige associated with learning to skate in a dingy place and ending up in some large, glamorous contest. It was mostly about competition, and amenities beyond the principles were thought to make you soft. Hey, if you couldn’t skate in some run-down construction with just the bare essentials, how can you stand the pressure of a huge crowd in a competition?

The ice was also distinct. These days, many rinks have more than 1 sheet of ice and are open all year! There are even some rinks that are outdoors, like one place in Vail, Colorado. I once skated on an outdoor rink in Canada at a park surrounded by a shopping area that was quite lovely, and had a friend who skated at a rink in New York that she said is in a building high above the city! That is a far cry from the rinks 40 decades ago.

Today, the ice is frequently just as amazing as the rinks. It’s often cleaned each one and a half to two hours in many rinks today so there should be no lumps on the ice and the temperature is maintained so there are no drips from the ceiling making the obstacle course which I experienced in the old Ballard Ice Rink. And surprisingly, the temperatures in most rinks are fairly warm.

The one thing though that’s still questionable is the skating gear, specifically the rental ice skates.

Some rinks have excellent rental skates and maintain them well, while others… well… not so much! As a trainer, this bothers me because plenty of people get frustrated if the equipment is worn down, since it causes pain for the new skater and they don’t stick long enough with the game to give it a chance. Often skaters will stop, thinking that it’s their ankles which are the problem, rather than the poor equipment that is not supporting their foot correctly. (A little trick to help with that would be to bring to ACE bandages to wrap the ankle for support before placing on the skate for extra support.)

A whole lot of rinks even have games and amenities in the lobbies such as snack bars and skating shops. They are quite pleasant today and do a lot more to make the newcomer feel welcomed and valued.

Ice skating is a wonderful sport and holds something for everyone and individuals of all ages. I did the majority of my skating as an adult and it kept me fit and in excellent shape for years. It’s great exercise! However, it’s also a game that builds character, teaches grace and makes you strong. And, it is so much fun! I invite people of all ages to give this sport a try and see the difference it makes in your life; physically and psychologically.

Happy skating!

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