Skating By

I’ve never been particularly athletic.

Actually, I don’t know if that’s a fair statement. From age three to eighteen, I barely ever sat still. From soccer to cheerleading to basketball to softball to dance to musical theatre, I was always doing something that involved moving around and sweating. So let me start over.

I’ve never been particularly coordinated. That is to say, yes, I did all those things, but I was never particularly good at anything that didn’t involve music. OKAY FINE I WAS BAD AT SPORTS. In soccer I preferred to play with the white chalky grass than run TOWARD the crazy group of flying cleats. I was actually pretty good at cheerleading until we got to the age where anything more complicated than a cartwheel was necessary (back handsprings looked like a surefire way to break your neck to me). The only thing in basketball I was good at was setting picks (aka standing totally still and letting another girl run right into me). And in softball, while I only struck out twice in my four year career, it wasn’t because I was getting hits (I’m really good at walking…aka not swinging).

So I honestly am not sure what possessed my mother to sign me up for ice skating lessons one winter. I was about eight years old, which is before a few of aforementioned failings, and I had only fallen down the stairs like once at that point, so maybe I was still under the impression that my brain was good at telling my body what to do. It’s entirely possible I begged my mother to take the lessons. Maybe a friend of mine was doing it. I don’t know. I just can’t imagine it was her idea, because she hates the cold an unreasonable amount for someone who was born and raised in New England. Whatever the case, there I was, eight years old, strapping blades to my feet, and almost immediately regretting agreeing to this nonsense.

I was bad at ice skating. I fell approximately every four seconds. I had zero balance. Possibly negative balance. I wouldn’t be surprised if I actually caused some sort of gravitational rift, that’s how uncoordinated I was. The instructor kept saying, “Glide!” like it was a totally natural thing to understand how to do, like “sit up straight”. And do you know how scary it is to fall on a neverending sheet of ice amidst other eight-year-old first-time skaters? All of a sudden all of your FACE is level with other wild and unpredictable bladed feet.

I probably gave up the idea that I was going to learn how to skate by the end of the first lesson. From that point on, it was just about surviving. While the other kids had moved on to skating backwards and turning around, I was still staring straight down, legs wide, arms out, trying to will myself forward without having to move my feet, lest they slip out from under me. I’ll admit, those glorious seconds between when the instructor gave me a little shove of a headstart and when I fell flat on my ass were usually pretty fun. It felt a little like flying. It’s probably why I didn’t quit. I think I thought I could learn by osmosis – maybe one day I would show up and just be better at it. (It’s also possible that, at that point in my life, I had no idea “quitting” was an option I had in anything.)

Anyway, needless to say, I didn’t go on to join the US Olympic figure skating team. But every week, I’d go, I’d try not to die, I’d successfully not die, and I’d be rewarded by hot chocolate with marshmallows by my mother, bless her heart, who somehow stuck it out in the freezing, smelly indoor rink.

By the last day, I had gotten so good at not dying, that I managed to survive the entire lesson without even falling on my butt one single time. I didn’t skate backwards or in circles like the other kids, but I definitely moved forward at least a little, and not falling was gold-medal worthy in my book. I was so excited. SO EXCITED. Then the instructor announced that we were going to get to see a performance by professional figure skaters! In real life! Right now! Before our very eyes! We were so excited! She guided us like little frozen ducklings over to one side of the rink and told us to sit down on the ice.

Uh…what? Excuse me? I just spent the past hour trying to not do exactly that and SUCCEEDED FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER. Because you know what, not only does falling down hurt and also make your life, however short, flash before your eyes, but getting up is really hard! Ice is slippery! And you’re only 75% sure that you’re not about to lose a finger every time! And now you want me to sit down?? ON PURPOSE?

It felt like a cruel joke. I’m not even sure I enjoyed the performance, I was so incensed. (Just kidding I probably loved it because sparkles and twirling.) It forever tainted my experience with ice skating and if I’m going to be made to sit on the ice anyway WHAT WAS THE POINT and whatever it’s not like ice skating is a life skill you ever NEED. When you’re in college and your friends all go ice skating and promise they’ll teach you but then skate away as soon as you get to the rink, it will be fine because a park employee will take pity on you and try to help you out and laugh what he probably thinks is mock panic but is actually your fear and frustration being manifested into mania and make you feel better about the whole situation.

So even though I didn’t quit mid-season, I definitely did not return to ice skating lessons. And I still think it sounds like an insane thing to do (BLADES on your FEET on the SLIPPERIEST SURFACE AVAILABLE) and I’m not sure how more people aren’t decapitated yearly by it, but to each their own.

I’m sorry if you thought there was going to be some kind of lesson or epiphany involved in this story. There isn’t. And it probably went on way longer than it needed to. But I never have been very good at knowing when to quit things.

~ by Valerie Anne on 01/22/2014.

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