Behind every strong woman is a whole lot of even stronger women

On this International Women’s Day, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to the especially awesome women I am so lucky to have in my skating life and who have played considerable roles in my return to the ice, whether they know it or not.

My fellow adult skaters are as myriad as they are wonderful. There’s Sharon on Wednesday mornings, who skated right over to me when I fell hard yesterday, made sure I was okay, and reminded me that it’s not only okay to fall but also something that happens to all of us. We both laced back up around the same time after years and years away from the ice, and she remains one of the few people I’m happy to chat with well before I’m fully awake and caffeinated. She was among the first to commiserate with my adult-skater woes and who assured me that we all beat back the same intimidation that comes with sharing the ice with kids a fraction of our age but who could skate literal circles around us. There’s Bonnie on the weekends, who might be an actual superhero and whose months-long absence from the ice was one I actually felt in my heart. Her readily supplied advice and genuine encouragement exemplify the support I’ve found in the adult skating community, and I have caught myself marveling at how ageless and agile she makes 50 look. If my power pulls ever look as choreographed and elegant as hers, I will die happy—and when she complimented mine this past weekend, I had a legit fangirl moment. I've never met someone who isn't a coach but is so personally invested in everyone's skating success as she is.

There are the scads of ladies I’ve “met” through Instagram who have made me feel like I can take on the world and win, and whose assurance that spins are the actual devil went such a long way in bolstering my confidence and helping me keep pushing forward. In fact, the comments and conversations we’ve all bandied back and forth were the germ of this blog idea. It has been such a special, unexpected sisterhood to share in our respective progress and milestones, and I have loved every second of cheering them on just as much as they do for me.

Most of my coaches have been women. I’ve had a revolving door of instructors at my Sunday rink (some are much younger than I am, which is a strange feeling), and I have to credit them for providing all kinds of “Here, try it like this instead” moments that yielded some welcome and much-needed breakthroughs—and especially for being why I can finally spin again. This past Sunday, the coach I worked with was patiently critiquing my still-in-progress loop jumps and said something like, “It seems impossible now, but you’ll love this jump when you start doing doubles.” And I just had to take a second because this girl wasn’t looking at me like some kind of daft older broad with misguided dreams: She assumed double jumps are in my future, and it was such a quietly empowering moment that resonated so poignantly.

The instructor I work the most with is my Saturday coach, Pat, who I wouldn’t know was in her 60s if she hadn’t casually mentioned it in one of our countless chats and who gives me hope that I’ll still be skating 30 years from now. I would follow this woman to the end of the world and will sing her praises as often and as loudly as I can. She has been instrumental in my progress as a skater, and I am so grateful that I have someone in my corner who can be totally honest with me while making me feel like I actually have a future in ice skating. One of my biggest hurdles in skating lessons is my learning style: I am both a visual learner and a tactile learner. The former makes it hard because I want to break everything down piece by piece to examine each element individually; the latter only compounds my frustration because no one can manipulate my body for me as I try to learn each skating component perfectly and, instead, have to settle for approximations and trial-and-error. I once tried to explain this to Pat, not knowing that she has a background in education, and she immediately adjusted her teaching methods accordingly—right on down to properly positioning my skates whenever she can. She has suggested various off-ice practices, instructional resources, videos, and tips that have all consistently paid off, and she perfectly balances the limitations of an adult skater with the expectations of a firm but supportive coach who is wholly invested in her students’ success. I am beyond grateful for a coach I can also consider an inspiration, and hearing the pride in her voice when I finally find success in a longstanding pain point, be it spins or LFI three-turns, is one of my biggest motivations to keep going.

But I would have never gotten back on the ice in the first place if not for one of my best friends, Eileen. The story leading her to the ice is not mine to tell, but believe me when I say it is proof that this incredible friend of mine is one of the strongest people I have ever loved. I happily drove an hour to spend Saturday mornings skating, chatting, and drinking ice-rink coffee with her because that guaranteed time together was the balm my winter-savaged and work-stressed mind needed. Having a friend in my first group lessons in years made it easier to take the plunge; having her there for the freestyle session before our lesson was sometimes the only thing getting me on the ice when my knee-jerk reaction was to run away because the intimidation was so strong.

When she relocated to another state this past summer, I absolutely grieved my loss. I knew it wasn’t the end of our friendship but I felt our bond had found new closeness via a sport we both loved, and here I was poised to lose the physical proximity that half a year skating together had reinforced. It didn’t help that I couldn’t be there when she got hurt states away, and I spent a few months feeling (needlessly but persistently) guilty that I kept on skating while she was temporarily sidelined.

But she just skated in her fist exhibition and keeps me updated on her progress and lessons and freestyle hours, and it just warms my heart that someone I love this much is also as wildly passionate about skating as I am—and I am so proud of her for never letting anything stand in the way of being the straight-up Wonder Woman she is. We chatted through the Olympics, we picked out patterns for skating dresses that her infinite talents are determined to create, we compare notes about what we’re learning, we share a devout love of legwarmers, we make Monty Python jokes about how unassumingly ruinous the bunny hop is. Support is still support even with hours and miles between us, and it is like a secret club that we two share because no one else in my life Gets It like she does. The only thing better than loving something this much is sharing it with someone you love even more. And I am lucky for a lot of reasons, but that twofold good fortune is something mighty special that I know better than to take for granted.

I have a lot of wonderful ladies to thank for making me feel so at home on the ice, and all I can ever hope is to both reciprocate and pay forward that kindness, support, and camaraderie. You never know who needs a word of encouragement or some advice from a new perspective or just a little extra support, just as you never know how far a little bit of positivity goes. I am so grateful for all those who saw either potential or themselves in me, and it is my fondest wish to offer that same sisterly solidarity as selflessly as so many did to me. After all, we're all in this together because empowered womem empower women.

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