The progress and the regression

Not every lesson can be the best one ever.

A few weeks ago, thanks to picking up a second group lesson on a whim, I finally got my spins back. Spins have been the absolute bane of my skating existence for the past 10 months as I struggled seemingly in vain to find my center of balance and my posture, as well as stop instinctively leaning on my inside edge. Had I not had the assurance of some wonderful fellow adult skaters that spins are, indeed, just the cruelest mistress, I would have written myself off as a hopeless cause in this particular endeavor.

I have tried following patterns that my coaches have helpfully marked on the ice. I have watched countless instructional YouTube videos. I have propelled myself across my living room (while earning some pretty awe-inspiring bruises) on a spinner. And then—boom, my first day at these new classes, the instructor showed us how she learned to spin and I nailed it on the first try.

I thought it was a fluke. Spins broke my heart too many times for me to dare get my hopes up, so when I nailed them again in private lessons, it took every ounce of a self-control I didn’t know I have to not break out in either raucous cheers or relieved sobs. All that frustration, doubt, and steadily mounting despair dissolved in an instant as I almost dissolved into a puddle of weepy accomplishment.

Of all the things I love about skating, that rush of victory and a renewed sense of “I really CAN do this!” that rises up to meet every hard-won success is just the most addicting of them. As someone who deals in a creative pursuit, having both a definitive way to measure progress and exacting standards to follow is a breath of fresh air. There is a hardline “right” and “wrong” way to do things, and you know what they are by the quality of results they produce. And the moment of perfectly manipulating your whole body to get all of those little details right for one big display of accomplishment is one I wish I could bottle and sell so everyone can understand what it is to feel like a bona fide champion who overcame what you seriously thought might be an insurmountable obstacle (though I think clawing your way to earning it certainly amplifies some of that dizzying glee).

But you can’t appreciate the highs without comparing them to the lows. And you can’t come off these moments of incredible victory expecting a domino effect of ongoing struggles suddenly giving way to more incredible successes. It’s a path that’s more of an ebb and flow than a progressively upward momentum. 

Since then, my newest coach nitpicked my spirals, waltz jumps, and T-stops for nearly an entire group lesson, which was a little more mortifying than I’d like to admit. I still toe-push more than I should at this point. The Salchows I’ve made so much progress with felt stuck and sloppy this morning. My single loop jump looks more like an awkward hop right now. And the waltz-eight portion of the Pre-Bronze MITF test I’m hoping to take this spring is making me wonder if maybe I’ll have to push that date back because my stubbornly closed hips make checking my three-turns one heckuva challenge (the less we say about suddenly psyching myself out over the RF Mohawk in the crossover transition of that same test, the better).

There will be an end to the things that frustrate me. My logical brain knows this (my emotional brain, however, is pitching one squall of a fit). Other things I’ve struggled with for months—power pulls and backward cross rolls jump to mind first—came with an “Aha!” moment that still gives me a thrill in my soul and a swell of pride, all thanks to some coaches who pushed me to keep working at them and were my encouragement in the times when that feeling of “Yeah, I’m never gonna get this” came creeping back into control. I honestly thought I was going to die attempting the backward cross rolls and now they’re one of my favorite things, partly because it feels so good to finally claw my way past progress, beyond proficiency, and finally arrive at something that looks a whole lot like the first blush of prowess.

This morning’s lesson was not my best ever. Not by a long shot. But a less-than-stellar lesson isn’t a failure, and I need to take that truth to heart more often. It’s still ice time and it definitely exposed the areas I need to work on: I flubbed some basic elements in what should be the easiest skating test I’ll ever take, I feel like my jumps have regressed a bit, and, honestly, I let my own frustrations and impatience get the best of me. Skating will always be a work in progress, and I’ll need to be better at not letting crucial elements stagnate. But, god, my spins. My spins! Even if I walked away armed only with a sense of what I need to practice, that’s more than worth the effort. But the ice I left behind this morning was imprinted with a handful of tracings that prove my spins are only getting better. And of all the things I’ve fought hardest to win back, my spins are at the top of that list. I just need to convince myself that if I can finally feel hopeful about those, things are gonna be just fine.

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