Progress in context

It is remarkable what a little perspective does.

My primary coach and I usually do private lessons after Saturday group lessons; if one of us can't make it, we'll try to find another day. When we can manage to link up on the nights she teaches at the rink 10 minutes from my house, it's like the stars align as a choir of angels warbles on.

We’ve managed to catch up on Tuesdays fairly frequently: The first was for the make-up lesson shuffle, but the week after was purely scoring some free ice time while helping with an adult Learn to Skate class she was teaching—and now, apparently, it looks like it's gonna be a regularly scheduled routine.

I've been grabbing all the skating time I can get because I AM taking my Bronze MITF this June, and because I'm simply tired of not giving skating the time I want to be spending with it. I just skated six days in a row for the first time ever earlier this month: If nothing else, learning how to accommodate more skating time in my schedule is having the secondary benefit of finally finally finally teaching me how to navigate better time management because I will do anything—even level up my aggressively lousy grown-up skills—to skate more.

What's more, any opportunity to get the rare treat of evening ice is an absolute gift, since I'm finding that's when I perform my best. No matter how much I learn to adapt to the mornings I've got, I'll always naturally thrive during the after-hours I prefer. And I feel like my jumps are stronger, my strokes are more assured, and my overall execution is just better and smoother and flow-ier when I get to skate with the adult demands of the day behind me. Hitting the ice at a time of the day that best suits everything about me has made that practice time feel like such fertile grounds that propel my progress and are making some long battles feel like they're almost over.

So I’m sitting here on the verge of breakthroughs on my loop jumps, backspins, LFI mohawks, and RFO power threes while cheering on three new but tremendously promising adult skaters, only to realize that helping out with this class was some of the most deeply satisfying fun I’ve had on the ice in recent memory.

This all started when I was getting off the ice and an adult skater five weeks into her journey approached me saying “You look so graceful out there!” and completely blowing my mind in just six words. Me? Graceful? I fall up stairs and am currently sporting two brilliantly hued knee bruises because LFI mohawk drills are masochism in action but, sure, I guess I’m starting to cultivate some on-ice grace. My non-skating friends have told me the same thing, and it’s a struggle to reconcile the skater I presently am with any concept that suggests poise and proficiency. While it's comforting to know that I pass for a capable skater on a superficially untrained level, what I love best about adults who are just starting out is that they're keenly in touch with how hard it is to make our bodies do these things, how hard it is to make it look minimally laborious, and especially how hard it is to keep coming back. And talking to one of the few adult skaters I've crossed paths with who's more of a beginner than I am is another delightful rarity rife with optimistically recontextualizing everything that I take for granted.

We started chatting as we thawed out and unlaced, and I found myself answering her questions with advice I should take my own damn self: You can never bend your knees enough; you go where your hips go; be aware of your center of gravity; use your whoooole body when you skate; the trick is to practice so much that your body overrides your brain—in short, all the things I still have to force myself to do after two years and, like, three months and some change.

My first year of skating was most assuredly characterized by inconsistent effort and fear, and it’s left me with a sense of just not being good enough proportional to the two years I’ve been an adult skater. I see friends walking through their axels to cap off their own first year’s journey, or whose childhood experience with skating came back almost effortlessly. I love this sport and I know my primary goal oughtta be simply skating better than I did yesterday, but it’s so hard to see how good a skater can be with ramped-up dedication and resist the urge to compare that to my middling progress.

And I know I did it to myself. My skating timeline is a slooooow crawl to where it is now: What started with nothing but group lessons once a week (with the standard 30 minutes of practice/30 minutes of lessons breakdown) took the scenic route to adding private lessons, freestyle time, and even yoga in the hopes of improving my nonexistent flexibility. Last summer was when I finally dug my heels in (er, figuratively, of course) and hit up pre-work freestyle a handful of times a week, and it was largely inspired by not only making friends who made it so much less intimidating to be there but also seeing results when I panic-practiced daily to ensure that my waltz 8s wouldn’t result in failing my first-ever skating test. Had I entered the skating world like a fearless bat out of hell, I’d be a lot farther along—but, like anything else, I learn a lot more from disappointment than I do from success. It sounds like a desperately positive spin, but I’d honestly rather learn the hard way (I think both of my coaches could attest to the number of times they told me that I have a real skill for making things needlessly more difficult for myself). I’ve always learned best by knowing how a thing DOESN’T work, and I guess that tradition’s gonna impose itself on my skating life, too.

What I lack in progress, I feel like I make up for in keenly understanding the struggles of finding one’s place in not only the adult skating world but also on the ice in general. Talking to adults who recently became skaters reminded me that, yeah, I actually HAVE improved a lot in two years, but it is still a fight to completely shed the fear that holds me back.

It is strange to have someone ask me all the questions a beginning skater is brimming with when I still have so many of my own that I’m not sure how or who to ask, though I loved every second of remembering how I simply and purely loved skating at the honeymoon stage, when it was so novel to be utterly heart-eye smitten with the same thing I downright resented in my younger incarnation and just wanting to absorb every second I got with this thing I'd reclaimed.

Lacing up was meditative and filled with potential then; now, it’s just one more thing that stands between me and the ice I can’t wait to be on. The drive home after Saturday lessons was a chance to reflect on and revel in the day’s successes; now, more often than not, I’m grumbling about how the job that affords me this hobby is the same thing dragging me away from it on so many weekday mornings at an hour when I used to be plodding through my morning maintenance routine. Each new skill was a revelation; now they’re stepping stones charting the way to the next thing I want to best.

Things are meant to change, and evolution is inevitable. This sport did begin as a hobby, and I loved it in the uncomplicated, love-struck way one adores a thing when the beautifully, uniquely complicated whole has yet to be either discovered or understood. I love this sport now as a challenge and a reward befitting a more nuanced, deeper relationship; that, too, will adapt over time and in a way reflecting how my relationship with skating has taken on an ever-rearranging but always new shape. Loving the whole of skating is easy; loving the progress and promises that herald how hopelessly in it I am and how skating continually intertwines with me to sing of our future together is rewarding in a way that defies every use for language I ever had before this sport hooked its metal toe-claws in me.

In that vein: I am finally down to manageable fixes in my Bronze MITF elements. Literally the only reason I haven’t taken my PB FS test yet is because I’ve barely spent any time memorizing all of its steps; having taken (and passing!) my ISI Open Silver test this past weekend (and memorizing my program literally on the drive to the rink, because you should never let anyone tell you that there's anyone better at cramming for tests than former English majors), however, proved that I am more than capable of hacking my brain to make these things happen. There are fixed goals on the horizon, and I will meet them head-on and with the passion that ice skating has gifted me.

Because I think I want to make my competitive debut at this summer's Hershey Open and I don't want it to be anything less than what I know I'm capable of, fear be damned.

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