Bruised bodies with grateful hearts

(Hi, Liz! Thanks lots for being my muse today. You're why I finally got around to finishing/posting this.)

Hooooly bejeezus, I swear this blog and I are still mostly alive.

Things were going so well. I was skating more days than not, I was super motivated, I was making tons of progress, and I was actually committing my Pre-Bronze FS program to memory, bit by slooooowly sticking bit.

Then work became a pre-show whirlwind. And the end of summer freestyle hours meant that my lovingly cultivated coterie of adult skaters all resumed their normal schedules. And then, less than a week before I was scheduled to leave for my biggest work event of the year, some kid ripped the front bumper off my car by running a red light and smashing right into the front of my poor old girl (RIP Faith, whose 13-year run was pretty impressive, especially considering that she was surrounded by other Jersey drivers for most of her life). I actually got myself back on the ice not even 48 hours after being thrown across my steering wheel earned me an impromptu medical exam in an ambulance: It seemed like a good idea until my lower back brought down the thundering clap of aching reality later that day. But, hey, now I can say that not even the aftermath of a car accident could keep me from my Wednesday lessons.

So I gave myself most of October off, only lacing up my skates for private and group lessons. Which was probably what my body needed but it fed into one wicked skating slump that was just a beast to overcome.

In that time, though, I feel like a lot of my skating friendships really cemented themselves as significant parts of my life (are you even an adult skater if you don’t have a meme-filled group chat with some of your favorite fellow rink rats?). What started out as “Yo, do you have any tips for…” or “Hey, are you gonna be at freestyle tomorrow?” have become actual friendships and joyful collisions of on-ice hugs and shared enthusiasm and more support than an ultra-reinforced sports bra, and it still just bewilders me to think that my introverted nature has glommed onto a skating family I now can't live without. Like, my weekday rink hosted a hockey tournament a few weekends ago, which meant freestyle hours were morning-session-only that Friday. And what would have been crowded ice that made me turn right back around a year ago was a straight-up reunion of my skating sisters. I didn’t even care that I couldn’t practice because just doing laps and catching up with the women who have filled an ice rink with incredible, familial warmth was the jolt of motivation I needed to put my most recent bout of the skating blahs behind me.

As demoralizing as the slumps can be, they really do have their purpose. It’s getting harder and harder to resist the temptation to compare myself to the other adult skaters I know, most of whom are nailing their axels or perfecting their change-of-foot spins or handily earning medals at local competitions while I’m sitting here procrastinating at pulling the trigger on my PB FS test and still grappling with the finer points of the Bronze MITF (that high-speed mohawk in the middle of the power-stroking element is the stuff my nightmares are made of, I swear) and wondering if my loop jumps will ever look as good on-ice as they do on my living room floor. Never mind that I’m kind of loving power threes now—whoever said that what you struggle with today will be your warmup tomorrow was freakishly on point—and that I’m actually getting somewhere with the backspins that have been torturing me for, like, a year and the scratch spins that stubbornly elude fine-tuning while feeding me to the cruel mistress of centripetal force. It is so hard to focus on the progress I AM making while agonizing over the sticking points that I’ve been at the mercy of for far, FAR too long, which is why I really have to get back to taking video of my practice sessions. As humbling and mortifying as it was to see myself skate, it really opened my eyes to the areas I need to work on.

Invariably, a much-needed perspective shift (which has most recently been coming as encouragement and support from other skaters) is all it takes to get me back to freestyle sessions and skating like I left my heart on the ice. And I am grateful that, given my notoriously flighty ways, I always keep finding my way back to skating and falling in love with it all over again.

And with Thanksgiving coming on fast, I’ve been thinking about how lucky I am to count all the blessings of skating among the many, many things I appreciate in my life.

I am grateful that my body even lets me chase this wholly fanciful pursuit at all. It’s been a fight to open up my hips, find my balance, increase my flexibility (thanks, yoga!), and just get myself into a mindset of I CAN instead of I WISH, and it has been more than worth the setbacks, the doubts, the frustrations, the constellations of Roy G. Biv bruises, and those stretches of “Will I EVER get the hang of this?” to claim every inch of progress I’ve seized upon along the way. For every time I’ve let myself wallow in self-pity about not being as good as the adult skaters I admire, I’ve had well-timed reminders gently nudge me into realizing that OF COURSE someone who’s been skating for four years and trains harder than I do is going to be busting out doubles all over my IG feed. Every skater is on their own journey: For me and for right now, skating is a passion second and a hobby first. I love this sport more than my gutter-palate, couch-potato, and utterly hedonistic nature has ever loved anything even remotely active, but it still takes a backseat to my marriage, my dog, my friends, my job (however reluctantly), and the host of responsibilities that come with adulting. And that’s okay, because coming to that realization has made stalled-out progress and plateaus easier to accept. I’ll get there, but I’ll get there on my own timeline. And it’s okay to feel inspired by the skaters I aspire to; I should not, however, let myself be intimidated by them. Even though my waltz jumps could always be bigger, even though I still don’t have my backward threes let alone brackets, even though I have to work twice as hard to get my spins to look half as good, I’m a better, stronger skater than I was this time last year. And I am grateful for my body letting me skate better at 34 than I did at 16.

I am grateful to have a hobby that is a passion. I could be fumbling my reference here, but I wanna say it was Elmore Leonard’s deservedly acclaimed 10 Rules of Writing that taught me how one of the most reliable tactics for besting the hurdle of writer’s block is setting a timer for 15 minutes and writing until the alarm goes off; even if you don’t still feel like writing by the end, you’ll at least have written for 15 minutes that day—but it’s usually a pretty solid brain-hack for kick-starting the creative juices and those 15 minutes become a drop in the bucket when you’re still frantically scribbling three hours later. Skating works in a similar way for me: Even on those days I don’t feel like skating, just setting the course to drag my tired ass to the rink is enough to get me looking forward to flying across the ice and practicing whatever stickling point was getting me down at the last session. Like so many other things, you have to want to be a better skater to sustain the long, unforgiving journey to an always-moving finish line. There are so many things I awkwardly threw myself at, promising that I’d feel like a Real Figure Skater if I can just get proficient at this one thing, and that one thing is never enough (see: backward cross rolls, which were one of the first things I struggled valiantly against, briefly considered a success, and now just keep obsessively perfecting/trying to do faster and faster). Every one move is the result of hours and weeks and months of training and tweaking and occasionally grunting the most ladylike compound profanities, and it takes a whole lotta love to celebrate glacial progress instead of getting beaten down by seemingly stalling out on a move for tiny eternities.

I am grateful for the experiences that skating has given me. The Lake Placid adult camp is STILL one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and it’s proof that my comfort zone is made to be challenged. But skating has been so much more than getting to soar across the same ice as incredible talent at the top of its game. It’s been overcoming the things that scare me. It’s been dragging my seasonally depressed lump of a self out of bed because lessons start at 7:45 and I said I’d be there. It’s been summoning a dedication and commitment I didn’t know I was capable of. It’s been meeting new people and making new friends and finding a second home and trusting the body I have abused with reckless abandon to do things I never thought I was mentally tough enough to pull off. Because of skating, I know I can do some pretty cool shit all because I wanted it badly enough. Things like confidence do not come easily to me, and feeling like I belong on the ice is, in and of itself, one of the most remarkable victories of my adult life.

I am grateful that my loved ones support my decision to throw myself at skating. My friends have had to schedule Saturday outings according to my practice schedule and have never once responded to “I can’t, I have lessons” with sass or dismissive snark. Whenever I travel for work, one of my college friends invariably volleys an “OMG ARE YOU COMPETING THERE!?” message my way within minutes. When I passed my MITF test in April, I spent the day veritably overcome with emotion because I had no idea how heartwarming it is to have screens and screens of capslocked “I AM SO PROUD OF YOU” messages flying in from all directions because the people I love the most were openly stalking my social media pages and waiting for the test results. And my husband is a goddamn trooper who, among other things, drove the six hours to and from Lake Placid because I wanted to go to a grown-up skating camp for a long weekend, comes to watch me skate during the lessons that I can’t imagine are that exciting to observe (and always has some wonderfully astute observation to make about how I’ve progressed since the last time he watched me skate for two hours), constantly asks if I need any new skating gear, boasts about my progress, and has uncomplainingly said goodbye as I scamper off for Saturday skating when our weekend time is a precious commodity. If I learned anything this year, it’s that being an adult skater is monumentally easier when you have an enthusiastic support network cheering you on. And I am beyond grateful to the people in my life who don’t need to understand exactly why skating makes my heart skip a beat to understand that it is my happiest place.

But those people who DO Get It are awfully special ladies, and I am so so SO grateful that I have found skaters at my home rinks, skaters in Lake Placid, and skaters all over the wide reaches of the internet to share all the ways the ice lights a fire in our hearts. There is something quietly magical in talking about skating rather than trying to explain it, and I am so grateful that my skating family is a kaleidoscope of talent, perspective, goals, and experiences that, no matter what, doles out support and advice and encouragement like inspirational PEZ containers. Because, most of all, I am grateful to the skaters who come to me for advice: This sport makes us all so vulnerable and so in need of having a friendly force of support that not even solo adult skaters can go it completely alone, and it means the world to me that I can make a difference to anyone just as so many incredible souls have been there to make sure I keep going or who relentlessly text me until I get out of bed and set my course for a pre-dawn rink. As I meet more and more adult skaters, each new bond is a new emphasis on how building each other up, helping each other up, and keeping one another’s spirits up is just as important as getting up.

(And, if all goes well, I'll be posting soon about grateful I am for the brand-spanking-new Jackson Fusions that are my long-overdue foray into Real Figure Skater skates—fingers crossed that those positively bloodthirsty toepicks don't savage my ankles in their quest for meaty sacrifices.)

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