Getting over the fear, getting even more love

The summer can make for scarce ice time and scary rink conditions, but I am, for the most part, having a run of great luck squeezing in more practice time than I usually get. I’m still in awe of how welcoming a rink can feel when it’s not just the ice itself that feels like coming home, and cannot get over what a difference it makes when freestyle is less a sea of anonymous skaters who can stroke circles around me and, instead, becomes a constellation of skating friends (and LOTS of other adult skaters!) who make our icy second home a parade of warm welcomes.

Slooooowly coming out of my shell was definitely a year-and-a-half long process, and while I’m a little miffed that it's my own damn fault I missed out on meeting lots of fabulous people sooner AND benefiting from oodles of early-morning skate times, I’m glad it’s something I can better understand because the freestyle fear is so real for adult skaters. I cannot believe how many of these amazing ladies who are my Adult Skating Idols will readily admit to being intimidated by younger, better skaters when I’ve been quietly inspired by their progress and tenacity this whole time. It’s a strange perspective shift to realize that the folks who give me faith in my future are the same ones who are grappling with their own. We, on a whole, just never seem to be happy with our progress no matter what goals we trounce and breakthroughs we’ve most recently enjoyed.

Getting over my trepidation of sharing freestyle ice with skaters who have dedicated so much more of their lives to the ice than I have has definitely been a huge step, and it’s paid me back in progress, more ice time, and feeling like I’m finding my community. It’s also taught me the importance of realizing how to set goals that motivate and push me without overwhelming myself into paralyzed inactivity. 

Whoever said that figure skating attracts perfectionists only to torture them is 100-percent correct. And it’s hard to appreciate the painstaking, long-slog, and maddeningly incremental progress that is the hallmark of this sport when your eyes are constantly on the next prize, or you’re battling it out with your own aging body to contort and rebalance yourself inch by inch to get a little higher of a jump, eke out a slightly more complete rotation, or manage just one more revolution. I think it’s especially frustrating to be an adult, presumably going about life thinking you’ve cultivated all the innate knowledge you’ll need as a foundation to support the gradual, inevitable growth you acquire with age, only to throw yourself at a hobby where you’re finding out how long it takes to crawl, then walk, and then finally maybe run at something with more than a shambling half-gallop.

My primary coach once told me that so much mastery of this sport comes from complex moves becoming unthinkingly automatic, and she’s absolutely right. I fell in love with this sport for a lot of reasons, but the emotional distance it grants me from life off the ice and the opportunity to just focus on skating is a significant one. I think I got so obsessed with the big goals, with getting myself on par with people who had a mighty head start on me, with pushing myself to get better faster that I lost sight of simply loving the sport. And it’s hard to love something as whole-heartedly as it deserves when you’re constantly stressing about being better at it rather than giving yourself to it without a shred of mental resistance. The journey is such an important factor, and losing sight of both the beauty of progress and doing something simply for the joy does the whole endeavor an undeserved disservice.

A couple of weeks ago, I managed to drag myself from bed at 5:15 to get at least a solid hour of skating in before work every day. And it was amazing for a lot of reasons. My body felt incredible (any time I think I can crack walnuts with my thighs makes for a rush of feel-good feels), I was making some awesome skating progress, and it was proof that if I can just tweak my goals for realistic expectations, they seem a whole lot less insurmountable and a lot more within reach. I cannot emphasize my morning struggles enough (I am fairly certain I’m not really a person until noon, or at least my second cup of coffee) but it is amazing how much easier it is to wake up and jump out of bed at 5:15 when there’s skating to be done than it is to wake up more than two hours later and pep-talk myself through my pre-work morning routine.

I’ve yet to repeat that Yahtzee of workweek-long success: It’s actually been a week since I’ve been on the ice because, man, does adulting love interfering with skating. But that’s okay. I’m finding out that my love for the ice absolutely grows with both proximity and progress, but letting myself miss it is turning out to be a mighty effective motivator, too. There will be other weeks to fill with skating to stave off the early-morning scaries.

The things is, this summer turned into my own personal 2016—prodigious body count, shattering hopelessness, the whole demoralizing shebang—right in the middle of my week of pre-work skating. I grieved, I clawed my way back to a fa├žade of normalcy, I mourned a fresh loss, I went to a funeral for a high school friend who was less than three months shy of her 33rd birthday. (And that was just the first week of this surreal torrent of too many early—and sometimes altogether unspoken—goodbyes: There was still another funeral and a Shiva coming hard and fast on its heels.)

I usually have no problem turning into an immovable blanket burrito of self-care voluntarily marooned on the safely solitary desert island of my couch when I get emotionally overwhelmed, so turning outward and seeking not only solace in my skating community but also an emotional escape on the ice was the most unfamiliar territory ever. But the catharsis was beyond anything I expected. When I would have usually purged my feelings through epic crying jags, I sweated them out instead. When I would have comfort-ate my way through my entire kitchen and half a bakery, I pushed my physical limits instead. When I would have isolated myself as I took stock of what was whirling around my beleaguered heart, I talked it out with a few sympathetic adult skaters instead.

I still had to work my way through the grieving process on my own each time it started anew, but bringing my hurt to a skating community that’s safely removed from the intimate effects of each loss helped me own my heartache in ways that feel selfish to me when other people I love are hurting at least just as much. I carry around a lot of guilt that the tiny slice of my rational mind knows is largely baseless but the much more dominant irrational part of me is awfully persistent in ensuring that I always feel like I’m letting someone down by not being stronger or more present or however else I can convince myself that I’m just not enough for the amazing people in my life. Not having to fight the impulse to comfort others first and deal with my own ish later was essentially like getting permission to be selfish with my heart. And I needed that more than I’ve been wanting to admit to myself.

As trite as social media and treacly memes have rendered otherwise helpful self-care axioms these days, it IS impossible to pour from an empty cup. And both my fellow skaters and skating itself helped ensure that mine does, indeed, runneth over with love that I could gratefully pay forward to those who’ve needed it even more than I did.


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