At deliberate speeds

There is just something about recasting a thing in quantifiable values that brings it on home for me sometimes. Whether it’s the ease with which numbers confusedly impress my writer brain or how a hard-and-fast quantity crystallizes ethereal intangibles into actual data, I don’t know. But what I DO know is that I didn't realize just how many skating friends I've made until this year's Sectionals had me obsessively refreshing results pages like I was watching Election Night play out from a newsroom bullpen. I couldn’t believe my heart actually skipped a beat so many times when familiar names—the same names that pop up in text alerts and have been recast as social media handles—corresponded to a podium number or were accompanied by a personal best.

But as much as I loved cheering on my skating family from afar, I gotta admit that I wanted to be there, too.

I never really saw or even thought about my skating journey intersecting with the competition world, but the more I consider it, the more I think the adrenaline-junkie, deadline-haunted part of me that gravitated to print journalism in the first place needs some external motivation to nudge the unambitious ruling majority that’s dictating my life choices toward actually hauling a little ass for once.

I am my own worst critic but I'm also easily convinced that any sign that any part of me needs a break needs to be acknowledged: I'd rather wait out a short intermission that I willingly accepted than stare down the long-term absences of ignoring too many warning signs. I'm better at loving skating than taking care of myself, but it looks like the latter is a byproduct of the former, which, like skater's butt and better posture, is among the positive secondary benefits that do eventually start to make up for this sport’s notoriously hard-won primary ones. I want to skate for as long as humanly possible and, ungh, fine, I GUESS I'll take better care of my body if that'll help.

Having a reason to push ahead and really bear down on serious goals would mean far fewer snooze-button mornings away from the ice: I CAN grab even a little bit of ice time seven days a week if I really want to make room for that kind of dedication, and I need to stop letting myself off the hook when I’d rather sleep in or nurse a hangover or devour my weight in morning pastries. There will always be friends and family and responsibilities that eclipse skating, whether by choice or by necessity, but that number is an ever-dwindling one as the ice gobbles up more and more real estate in my heart.

After watching Sectionals instead of participating in them, I think it's time I start treating this sport a little more seriously because I DO want be a part of the competition scene next year. It’s a safe place, hanging back while remaining emotionally and physically uncommitted to Eastern’s outcome since I’m indiscriminately cheering for all the people I love without actually putting my own ass on the line. This is just another comfort zone, and I’m so tired of confining myself to those. I let myself slack off too much last year but, more dangerously, I let myself be ruled by fear too much, too. And, even though I'm not a naturally competitive person, I AM stubborn, I've worked hard to better myself every time I skate, and I badly want to see this thing I love from a whole new perspective.

I know I have a lot of work to do if I want to feel confident enough in putting myself out there, and a good chunk of it is perfecting my form so I look more graceful and less like the on-ice version of someone who habitually falls up stairs. Working on poise and flexibility are two main goals I’ve zeroed in on for this year, and I hope the objectivity of whatever judges are stuck watching my PB FS and Bronze MITF tests lends some additional insight beyond my coaches’ honest but sometimes too-gentle feedback. I have a hunch that someone who isn’t so invested in my feelings might be best equipped to tell me what I need to hear to make a few more of those “AHA!” moments happen.

It’s not just watching Sectionals from the sidelines that lit the fire under my lazy ass: It’s being forcibly kept off the ice post-surgery, too. The worst is over (not showering with my hand in a duct-tape-reinforced plastic bag or latex glove for the first time post-op was a downright rapturous joy), but what I’m most excited about is that skating is no longer an act of rebellion against the surgeon’s orders to stay off the ice ‘til my stitches come out—but, hey, skater achievement unlocked there, yeah?

But, oh. Pulling into “my” spot at my weekday rink that first time back on the ice was A Real Moment for me. I almost started crying between my car and the lobby doors because I could not wait to get back on the ice and couldn’t believe the distance between me and skating again was rapidly diminishing. I hope the way this sport feels like exactly where I belong and the sense of coming home never stops catching me off-guard with their twin intensities.

I spent a total of eight days off the ice, and only ventured a skating session when I had my regularly scheduled lessons. I was more worried than I wanted to admit about falling and busting open my stitches (though if rough-housing with my dog couldn’t do it…) while deliberately disobeying a medical professional’s advice, so I took everything much more slowly and deliberately than I usually do.

And the results were pure heart-eye emoji.

I feel like so many things just “clicked” because I broke them down so minutely and precisely. I definitely push myself to run before I can crawl, and I didn’t fully realize the extent of all the extra, needless frustration I was visiting upon myself: Slower spins meant stronger centers and more revolutions (and justifying a gaggle of sit spins by telling myself, hey, at least I’m already close to the ice if I fall); more deliberate cross rolls and chasses meant producing some mightily echoing rrrrrips that had me looking around until I realized that, hey, that was ME!; more concentration on power pulls meant bearing down on the coordination between my skating and free legs and knees; increased all-over awareness meant really finding my body’s rhythm so I was skating with my all of me, which has been revelatory when it comes to these nascent two-foot twizzles (gave ‘em their third go this morning and, duuuuuuude, am I ever falling in love here). Everything felt so good, in fact, that I went from promising hubs that I wouldn’t hot-dog my way through Saturday’s group lessons to immediately asking my coach to teach us how to hydroblade (which, for trying exactly once, is another thing I instantly found myself smitten with, the next day’s dead thigh not even being a sliver of a dissuasion from mastering that shamelessly showboat move).

I wanted this year to be my Sectionals debut, but, honestly, I’d rather wait another year and learn to (patiently) identify the areas I need to work on in order to be happy enough with my progress to launch my perpetually behind-the-scenes sensibilities from the safety of anonymity to the vulnerability of the spotlight. By being more inclined to chart my progress in words and feelings than checklists and video, I don’t have the nifty side-by-side comparisons that so many other skaters do—but I have noticed that my warm-ups include more and more of the elements whose mastery (or proficiency) I used to ascribe to “good” and “real” figure skaters. The horror of freestyle sessions has melted into uncharacteristic gratitude for Daylight Saving Time’s return because driving to the rink in the dark has become my new normal. I’m trying moves and elements that I would have balked at and refused to attempt even six months ago. And, most of all, I’m determined to meet my goals head-on instead of slyly moving them back another month and another month.

I will get to Lake Placid with two more tests under my belt. I will keep being a fixture at morning freestyle. I will grind away at the things I’ve struggled with and marveled at and wished I could do—because I can. And I will be among the competitors nervously filing into Ardmore in just a skosh less than a year from now for Sectionals and my first taste of being a competitive figure skater.

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