Two states, three rinks, five days

It’s been one whirlwind week both on and off the ice, which means there’s a lot I’ve been meaning to jot down but haven’t had a chance to tackle. Let’s try some easily digestible bullet-points because my brain isn't in any condition for an ostensibly fluid narrative, yeah?

“Every figure skater has a place during freestyle”
One of my favorite adult skaters is a high school teacher, so our paths only cross on the mornings she doesn’t have to be at work before the sun rises. We got a good couple laps around the rink together one day during her spring break, and it turned into a confessional itemizing all the ways being an adult skater is one eternally intimidating endeavor. I mentioned to her that it had taken me a solid year to work up the courage to attend a freestyle session without the safety net of a lesson… which she mentioned to our shared coach.

That next week, said coach gently chided me for letting the fear dominate my ice time (or lack thereof) that much. “You have every right to be on the ice,” he reminded me. “Every figure skater has a place during freestyle.”

It was so surreal hearing exactly what I’ve been trying to tell myself for months come from someone I’ve trusted with my skating instruction (and a former Olympian, no less). I didn’t know how much I needed that assurance, even though all I ever feel like is that I’m in everyone’s way—it's what I default to everywhere from my daily commute to grocery store aisles to airplanes to elevators to daily life in general. I try to take up as little space as possible, be as unobtrusive as possible, and stay out of everyone else’s ways as much as possible. It's about time I start being better about claiming the spaces I deserve to occupy just as much as everyone else. I shouldn’t need permission to do that when it comes to my happy place, but I did and I got it. And now I'm running out of excuses not to run with it.

Two states, three rinks, five days
After that unexpected but much-needed pep talk, I went on to get five glorious consecutive days of ice time (it would have been more had I not started last week coughing like a Dickensian orphan and feeling like reheated death but what can ya do when winter doesn’t want to end and your immune system short-circuits accordingly), two of which were the very sans-lesson-freestyle sessions I’ve been so reluctant to submit myself to. It was daunting and it was intimidating… but I showed up, and made the progress I was hoping to with an hour-plus of ice time more than most weeks boast. One of those very quiet mornings had nearly as many coaches on the ice as actual skaters, I think, and having the peace of a mostly empty rink made stepping outside my comfort zone significantly easier to manage.

And I also got to enjoy the longest stretch of days on the ice in a row that I think I’ve ever gotten. Five straight days of hitting the ice might not sound that impressive when there are skaters out there who feel ruined by missing a single day of rink time, but it’s a big deal for me. I can’t believe how physically AND emotionally beneficial it felt to get a comparatively long stretch of skating time. Of course, the original plan was to hit the ice every day for the two weeks leading up to my MITF test: The soul might be willing but the body’s staring down 34 and I have to accept that there will be days when I'm just not meant to fly.

So, yeah. Private lessons on Wednesday, freestyle Thursday and Friday, group then private lessons on Saturday, and synchro tryouts across state lines on Sunday. (More on that last bit in a sec.) But now I have another streak to shatter, starting tomorrow when my primary coach and I give Tuesday night private lessons a shot.

When springtime comes to winter sports
The downside to warmer weather is that it will start getting increasingly difficult to nab some group lessons or practice time because there just isn’t the same demand for rinks to be open as there is September-March.

But the upshot? Saturday’s group lesson time saw six students and two coaches on the ice at peak occupancy—and my class accounted for four of those skaters. Getting the full run of the rink was a treat I have missed, and one I took every opportunity to enjoy. Public skating sessions are about to become mighty sporadic, but their attendance will be sparse and their potential for private lessons will be wonderfully, inversely proportional to that. The spring and summer months are my favorite time of year, and the only thing I love more than ducking into a cold rink on a thickly humid day is the invitation of wide-open ice inside.

There’s a different feeling to the ice in the summer especially, and I am so excited about that almost foggy heaviness in the air that starts settling over a rink come July. I’m sure I’ll wax self-indulgently philosophical about that unique treat on the first day I get to enjoy it. It's really something special that I didn't realize I'd missed until it was a part of my summertime life again.

The utterly humbling experience that is synchro
Hoo, boy. Where do I start with this questionable decision?

For the past few months, I’ve been “meeting” some wonderful fellow adult skaters on Instagram, since it’s apparently one unexpectedly tight-knit, supportive community constantly sucking in newer entrees and showering them with support. I’ve actually forged some delightfully fast friendships that range from discovering a shared demented sense of humor I haven’t seen since my college friends started realizing that there’s more of us out there than we dared to hope to a whole lot of “YAAAASSSSS GURL LOOK AT YOU CRUSH IT” gushes of encouragement to fretting over how no one’s ever happy with their progress in this sport, since, as I recently read, ice skating has a way of attracting perfectionists and then summarily torturing them.

One of the fabulous souls I’ve met through a medium that I never once expected to yield actual in-person meetups belongs to a local synchronized skating team—which is a thing I’ve been wanting to try ever since “Slap Shot” became one of my top-five favorite movies, even though I knew damn well I’d be that skater hopelessly trying to keep up with everyone else. And what started as a casual “oh, yeah, that could be fun” whim had me driving an hour to a rink I’ve been dying to visit to try out for a thing that I felt like someone should be calling my bluff on at any minute.

And to say I was in over my head would be the biggest understatement of my second chance at skating. I fell on my ass—twice—and discovered a whole new breed of intimidation I haven't yet faced in the past 15 months.

But you know what? I challenged myself. I did a thing that scared the absolute bejeezus out of me and I lived to blog about it—and have I ever got the blossoming butt bruise to prove it. And, as mortified as I was to find out that I was so out of my league, my perseverance in this sport is proof that I actually can stick with a thing even when I’m not instantaneously proficient in it.

All the team members I spoke to assured me that it’s normal to feel totally lost on one's very first attempt at synchro. And then I realized that almost everyone there has at least demonstrated the proficiency to pass the Bronze MITF test—which isn’t even on my radar yet. So I might not have skated my best, but I showed up, I got back up, and I didn’t run away screaming even when I started clock-watching.

And then the team captain offered me a sub spot in what is probably the kindest, warmest email that ever included the phrase “your skills are not yet quite strong enough.” I wasn't expecting a thing I did on a lark to snowball into an actual commitment so this is a surprising turn of events.

Six days ‘til my Pre-Pre MITF Test!
With nary a moment to spare, I finally feel like I won’t die on my left spiral AND I can get through my waltz eights without two-footing it while actually tracing the prescribed shape. My coach hasn’t yet said, “Uh, are you SURE you still wanna go through with this?” (In fact, when I asked her if she’s seen worst tests than mine pass, she actually laughed and then regaled me with all kinds of testing horror stories where the skaters in question blew it hard and still advanced to the next level. The ways she balances no-bullshit honesty with genuine encouragement just makes me wanna follow her to the ends of the earth if it ever came to that.)

Anyway. I feel like I might actually pass this test. So, like... can I just take it now so I can stop worrying about it and dry-heaving with nervousness if I obsess over it for too long?

Then again, after Sunday night's utterly unimpressive display at synchro, I had to confront how ruinous those unbridled nerves can be to my on-ice performance. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy that undermines any proficiency I know I have, and I'd rather have that terrible reminder coincide with my first-ever attempt at something beyond the scope of my ability than in the throes of a test I have both practiced for and agonized over for months.

So maybe these next few days would better spent mentally steeling myself for this test so I give myself the chance I deserve rather than crumbling under the pressure of judged scrutiny. The only thing worse than failing for lack of skill would be to fail because I have a wicked knack for self-sabotage, and I want this too badly to do that to myself. 

Everything you wanted to know about adult skating but have been too afraid to ask
Being an adult skater can be an awkward, scary thing, and those people who are brave enough to overcome its never-ending parade of emotional hurdles deserve extra assurance that they're not alone in staring down all the ways being an adult skater can be brutally intimidating and occasionally discouraging.

I want to start a weekly series tackling the range of questions that people have about skating as an adult, or that adults have about this sport. The more I talk to other adult skaters and realize that I'm not alone is an incredible feeling that fosters a sense of belonging to a truly supportive, empathetic community that absolutely every one of us deserves, and I want to try to offer that to others who may not have yet found some much-needed IRL support. There is so much I wish I either knew to ask or had explained to me sooner, and I want to mitigate those feelings for whomever I can however I can.

The fine folks of r/FigureSkating (and a few IRL pals) have supplied me with some of their most pressing questions about adult skating, which I'll start tackling later this week soon—and please keep 'em coming either with comments here or via the privacy of email by dropping me a line at mad.mac.on.ice@gmail.com. We've got one incredibly supportive, wide-ranging support network, and I'm really excited to apply what I've learned so far to contribute to that warm and inviting community. Stay tuned for that inaugural post!

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