Lake Placid Adult Skating Weekend 2018: Part One

Let's not be coy: My first Lake Placid Adult Skating Weekend just ended and I'm already counting down 'til next year's. I am absolutely, utterly gobsmacked by how much I enjoyed the entire experience.

I'm gonna recap this in two posts: This first one is going to be all about the feels, and the next will be more about the experience itself and the more actionable takeaways I got from it. I came away from the weekend not only feeling like part of an actual community but also having learned so freaking much, which I can't wait to apply to my skating now that it's all had a chance to sink in; both of those are distinct reactions that, to me, merit individual attention.

I think part of why I'm so floored by how much I enjoyed going to an adult skating camp is that, honestly, I was expecting to hold myself back from getting the most out of it. I was afraid I wouldn't mesh with anyone or that I'd default to introvert isolation. I worried that I'd be the lowest-level skater there and that I would be too busy struggling to keep up to at least get my money's/six-hour-drive's worth (let it be noted that it'd've been a five-hour trek if my husband accepted any of my three-dozen offers to drive along the way but, no, SOMEONE didn't want to risk us get pulled over for going 90 in a 65 zone or whatever). I had visions of breaking my own ass in the most embarrassing ways possible on the first night and being sidelined for the whole shebang. I tortured myself with all kinds of worst-case scenarios because why not make yourself suffer for no reason, right?

But everything was just incredible. On the first night alone, I met an instantly likable veteran skating-weekend-goer who helped me get un-lost on my way to the Meet and Greet. I initiated a handful of conversations. I gratefully hugged the only person I'd met before and tried not to glom onto her too awkwardly much. I participated in the most encouraging locker-room talk ever, which consisted of people saying things like, "In adult skating, you get more applause when you fall and get back up than when you skate a flawless program" when my idea of ice-breaker conversation was rambling about how terrified I was about feeling like the outsider I so often let myself be. I small-talked during that evening's on-ice warm-up session and actually enjoyed it.

By the end of the first full day, there were already people I'd be so relieved to see in class because that wave of OMG A FRIEND easily trounced any fears I had of being uncomfortable or feeling too vulnerably on-display. And when I ran into a table full of just-seated skaters as hubs and I were leaving our last-night-in-town dinner, I felt like I was saying hi to old friends. (And then having them tell me to check my Instagram and being greeted by a rush of their follower requests warmed my heart in an admittedly silly but no less genuine way.) Exchanging email addresses, phone numbers, and text messages when I habitually shy away from giving more people avenues to contact me was a "Who am I even?" moment I could really use more of.

Walking away from this weekend with a real sense of community was among the many, many unexpected benefits that stunned me in all the best ways. Beyond the growing bonds, self-deprecating half-jokes, common pain points, hugs, introductions, and overall social aspect of the weekend, we were all there to become better skaters, learn a ton, and skate for miles; the camp was wildly successful on those fronts for me, too. From Thursday to Saturday, I got more than 12 hours of ice time: On the first full day alone, I skated more in one day than I do most weeks. If there was ever a motivator to suck it up and hit the ice more, it was the flow and ease and comfort and maybe actually something that felt like it could become confidence that came with gliding onto the ice after four days in a row of ice time, three of those thanks to the adult skating weekend. 

Of course, a smattering of hyper-focused classes coming from a veritable constellation of overlapping but largely complementary instructors was not an insignificant factor in how much I learned. Skating is inherently at odds with the observational and tactile ways I best digest information: I need things broken down at a near-molecular level because the visual learner in me needs to examine a thing from every angle to see how the whole puzzle fits together, while the kinetic learner in me is pissed that so much of skating is only witnessing how the pros do it instead of being able to directly get my hands on the perfect form and theory.

So I've had to learn what questions I need to ask to hasten the learning process, what to look at when coaches demonstrate something, and how to get my body to best mimic a thing I'm only watching instead of crawling inside of—and I am so happy I figured a lot of that out before I got to Lake Placid so I could get the most out of the classes. There were three or four coaches who knew exactly how to teach to what I need, and a ton more who knew how to effectively economize a wealth of experience into the stuff adult skaters absolutely need to know.

(I legit fangirled over a few of the instructors who not only took less than 20 minutes to improve things I've been agonizing over for months but also brought palpable enthusiasm to their classes, which made for some of the most blissfully enjoyable lessons I've ever had. Like, can I just gush about the salchow and toe loop classes' coaches for a sec because HEART-EYE. EMOJI. F'DAAAAYS. Witnessing by-the-end-of-class improvements in my own salchows and hearing the approval in the toe-loop instructor's voice after I did one without knowing she was watching PLUS having her assure me that I don't pre-rotate were all some Seriously Proud Moments for me.)

But the thing is, a lifetime-skater-turned-instructor skates like they breathe. It's second nature to them. The good ones know how to distill their careers' worth of knowledge into effective lessons for a range of students, but it is hard to translate your own intense education, lived experiences, and trial-and-error discoveries into a whole new language for an audience with a whole different perspective. I do not envy the elite skater who has to explain the foundational elements they learned as a little kid (and then spent decades building on) in bite-sized spurts to a bunch of adult skaters who are comparative newcomers looking for tips. Bridging the gap between what they know and what we need to know is freaking hard, and the coaches who do it well are redwoods among saplings.

Which is what makes the strength of the adult skating community such an asset at something like this. Helpful people who speak native Adult Skater are priceless, and it's absolutely a beautiful thing to see them in action. So many people were so quick to offer up everything from practice tips to itemized ways that yoga works literal miracles for skaters that the in-the-trenches education I got just from chatting with my fellow attendees was invaluable. I even wound up imparting everything I know about loop jumps to one of the skaters I liked the most, and it's apparently a lot because she was freaking crushing it by the end of the lesson. And it was like, yeah, I still can't get my loop jumps to look like anything better than an awkward hop but at least I know I'm working with great advice that I just need to learn how to execute AND used it to help someone bypass the demoralizing struggle I kept fighting via common, stubborn mistakes. A lot of people made my heart sing, but being thanked for being a good teacher was one for the highlights reel. (Though having someone tell me that they read my blog still blows me away—hi, Lisa! You made my day with that one, and I can't even begin to thank you enough for it.)

The other thing that made the whole communal aspect an unexpected benefit was that it made the classes so. much. less. terrifying. Meeting other skaters on my level or who are stuck on the same things I am, or just finding out that we're all there to cheer each other on diminished the fears I had about flubbing my own attempts at the turn, spin, jump, or move at hand. It made shedding my self-consciousness long enough easier than I thought, which helped me focus on progress so much better.

While on-ice classes only ran from a little after 9 to a little after 2, the freestyle time was seemingly endless. I pretty much went into vacation mode after the day's on-ice classes were done and only headed to freestyle to warm up before the day and if there was a class I wasn't taking, but there is something special about skating on historic ice that did not escape me every time I glided onto it. I have been to the Herb Brooks Arena—it's the site of the 1980 Olympics, most notable for hosting the Miracle on Ice team—many, many times before, but I've never skated on it 'til this weekend (though I have skated on the nearby speed skating oval, which is such a neat experience that even my cranky teenage self knew to appreciate it). Finally seeing the arena from such a uniquely inspiring vantage point and being able to do it because I wanted to be there was a rush I wasn't expecting. It absolutely made me want to do the ice justice and step up my game.

If nothing else, I fell in love with skating all over again in Lake Placid—and also realized that early June marked a year and a half of getting back on the ice for me. This is an ebb-and-flow sport, for sure, but I've never felt time just melt away like it did during the adult skating weekend. I enjoyed every second I got of ice time, and rediscovering the sport's little victories and sheer joy of flying was the lightest my spirits have been in ages. Doing a thing I love in such a supportive, awe-inspiring environment is a thrill that can't come back soon enough.

Fifty-one weeks 'til the 2019 camp!

(You can find Part Two here.)

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