When the skating slump visits

Last week was not a good week for skating.

I skipped my last Sunday group lesson. I dismissed the alarm for what would have been my first Monday pre-work freestyle session and went back to sleep (and, uh, this week is already following in those dragging footsteps). My Wednesday lesson was cancelled on account of winter's miserable last hurrah (though you’re damn right I drove to the rink just as the Nor'easter was settling in to make sure it was closed, especially since a morning meeting will be preempting this Wednesday's lesson, too).

A week off the ice hurts, but a skating slump hurts even more. Both are bound to happen (which leaves me in awe of adult skaters who’ve figured out how to make room for the sport in their daily lives); it’s the latter that hits harder because I can’t blame life for it. That one’s all on me.

I’m no stranger to either casually or suddenly losing interest in things. The song of my people comprises chorus after chorus painstakingly detailing the things I have wholly thrown myself at, only to come at them in fits and bursts if I regain interest at all. Sometimes it’s simply getting bored with repetition and slow-moving progress (see: craft bags filled with perpetually half-finished cross-stitched creations that peter out in the middle of a monotonous army of monochromatic Xs and sloppily knit legwarmers that are forever halted at the fifteen row of one color). Sometimes it’s balancing out an overload, like how I used to read 50 books a year and am now lucky to finish a dozen. Sometimes it’s the occupational hazard that comes with turning what you love into how you keep the lights on. And sometimes it’s just the way things are, sorry and thanks for playing.

I maintain that skating is a sport you feel in your heart and soul. You have to want it bad to keep getting up and coming back for more. That goes double for adult skaters, whose bodies are in decline as it is, whose time is divided among a seemingly never-ending parade of responsibilities, and who aren't as accustomed to playing the part of a student after putting their formal classroom years behind them. Considering all that, plus the inherent frustration of grinding away for hours to make disproportionately minor progress, it takes a whole lot of drive and fire to keep going some days. And sometimes it's not just a matter of days.

You have to love being on the ice. You have to feel in your deepest part of you that skating is a reward unto itself and that improvement is the journey rather than the destination. But that doesn't mean you'll always be in touch with those feelings.

The group lessons I recently tacked onto my practice schedule were a strange conflation of feelings that I'm still working to understand even after those six weeks have run their course. For being a 10-minute drive if traffic lights and bridge closures were on my side, the rink I was going to was essentially a string of anxieties that started taking hold before I even got there: Did my out-of-state plates make me a target on those agonizingly slow back roads? Would this finally be the time the world's most narrow bridge has an expensive surprise waiting for me? Wait, CAN I make right turns at red lights in this state? And then: Will I be too far behind the other people in my revolving door of a class this week? Are any of these parents waiting to dress me down if I collide with one of their tag-playing, whip-cracking kids during practice? Do I even belong here? These kind of snowballing, utterly self-created worries are partly why I had to inauspiciously fight off an unwarranted panic attack before my first lesson in a new environment.

And, to be honest, it never felt right there. Maybe it's more of that self-sabotage that I'm aces at, maybe some skating programs just aren't harmonious with what I'm looking for. Maybe it's because I'm too accustomed to the quiet of early-morning private lessons and a hockey-centric rink's small but wonderfully intimate freestyle class, and the adjustment to a jam-packed Sunday afternoon environment was too much for my introverted sensibilities. Maybe trying a new place in the throes of Winter Olympic frenzy wasn't the smartest move. But even if I can credit those extra 90 minutes once a week for being why I finally finally finally can spin again, I spent way too many of those lessons thinking "Yeah, I'm not coming back for the next session." 

It wasn't the whole reason why I'm in a bit of a funk but it sure added to this sudden downshift. I am glad I stepped outside my comfort zone by trying group lessons somewhere new, but I'm even happier they're over.

That first lesson after a week off the ice was sobering. My scratch spins suffered (and seeing as my new favorite hobby is examining my spin tracings, this was a double whammy), my balance suffered, my confidence suffered. The progress I'd been making with my backspins was a fight to reclaim; the solace I found in improved sit spins and loops helped ease that quiet feeling of failure while also serving as a brutal reminder that my Wednesday coach is right: I need at least three or four visits with the ice a week to move ahead at a pace where I'm happy and seeing the kind of uptick in ability that keeps me motivated.

Even the things you love most become routine and pesky and lose some of their shine every so often. Nothing is one thing all the time—if there's anything I've learned since falling in love with this sport, it's that. There will be days I will dread doing the drills that expose my deficiencies, there will be days I will lose certain skills after thinking that particular struggle was over forever, there will be days I will fall, there will be days when skating feels less like my happy place and more of an obligation. But that's life. And like life, skating has its ups and downs, its victories and defeats, its rewards and consequences: What matters most is that the positives are always gonna matter more and last longer than the negatives.

Because nothing is forever, this slump will pass. I have a MITF test I wanna trounce in no more than three months from now. And a FS one as soon after that as I can manage (and definitely another MITF test by the year's end). There are skills I have to master, goals I want to meet, and, most optimistically, Adult Sectionals I want to compete in next year—maybe even Adult Nationals, too.

I just have to keep reminding myself that it's okay to fall but it's not okay to stay down when down is not where you belong. Ice skaters are meant to fly. And you don't get there by letting yourself wallow in the doldrums for too long.


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