Saturday, December 28, 2013

Day 230 - Ice Skating

I have never been ice skating. Considering I grew up on a body of water in central Wisconsin, that fact is surprising even to me. However, growing up in a small town with little retail outlets made finding ice skates a challenge, and the only real outlet we had to try the sport was on the ice of the nearby river or on the inconsistently maintained ice rink on the borders of the public school property. As a result, my opportunities to ice skate growing up were fleeting, and on the rare occasion they would come along I would always express my disinterest in trying the sport. After a very close friend of mine died falling through the ice of the Fox River when I was child, I developed a sort of aversion to ice sports in general. Even in circumstances where I knew the events would take place on rinks frozen all the way through, I didn’t have any interest in partaking. To me, it was better to stay safe and warm, even if it meant missing out on a new experience.

As I grew older, I realized this perspective was one that I likely needed to change. After all, my new hometown of Madison boasts some of the most beautiful and unique ice skating locations I have ever seen, from Tenney Park Pond to the rooftop ice rink on the Madison Children’s Museum. Despite this point of view, with each passing winter I consistently failed to follow through with my intentions. Even after moving within two blocks of Tenney Park several years ago, I never took the time to finally learn how to ice skate. As a result, I moved into my “I have never...” year with this long standing objective still on my “to do” list of life experiences. In turn, I resolved to make learning how to ice skate a part of my “I have never...” journey. One way or another, I was going to take to the ice this winter.

The Hart Park rink

In the midst of my new experiences winter came quickly this year, which inspired me to start the process of pinpointing the perfect opportunity to try ice skating for the first time. Although I thought this was an event that would likely occur at one of the many ice skating locations in and around Madison, about a month ago Rachael made me aware the location hosting her extended family Christmas had an indoor ice skating rink. Realizing the location would provide me a safe way to experience ice skating for the first time on a day that it would otherwise prove challenging to squeeze in an “I have never...” experience, I quickly committed to the idea. With that, I had decisively pinpointed the first time I would attempt to ice skate after more than 30 years of life. The feeling was strange, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to finally take to the ice on a pair of skates.

Lace 'em up!

When Rachael and I arrived at the location of the party, Hart Park in Wauwautosa, Wisconsin, we wasted little time finding our way to the ice rink. Although we originally thought the facility offered ice skate rentals, we were quick to find this was not the case. Fortunately, Rachael’s sister, Sarah, happened to have a pair of men’s ice skates that fit me perfectly and was willing to let me use them. Relieved I avoided a potential event-ending scenario, I happily took Sarah up on her offer and set to work lacing the skates to my feet. Although the feel of the skates was a bit odd at first, the stiff sides and lifted support of the boots reminded me of the rollerblades I had in my youth. As a result, I was quick to acclimate to the skates in the safety of the seating area just off the rink. All that was left to do was to step onto the ice and learn how to put the skates to use.

After waiting a bit for Rachael’s brother-in-law, Zeke, to prep his skates, he met me near the door to the rink and gave me a few last minute pointers. Reminding me to focus on balance and to make small swiping movements with my feet to move forward, Zeke took a step through the ice rink door and turned back toward me. “Just step on out,” he said waving me in. His direction seemed simple enough, but the very real possibility of my slipping and falling upon setting my skates on the ice caused me to hesitate a moment. With a deep breath, I took one last look at the rink and placed my hands on the inside of the doorframe. “I guess it’s now or never, huh?” I said looking back up at Zeke. “Yeah, I would say so,” he replied with a chuckle. With that, I slowly lifted my right foot and guided it through the door where it met the ice. Feeling a greater degree of grip than I expected, I promptly followed suit with my left foot and let go of the doorframe.

The first step

With both my feet planted on the rink I felt my body coast forward across the ice, causing me to brace myself for the worst-case scenario. With a bit of a wobble and a smile, I slowly lifted my body upright to find my balance. To my surprise, the effort was relatively easy, which gave me hope my first experience ice skating would be a success. Of course, that meant I needed to do more than simply stand in place on the ice. As a result, I looked up to Zeke for a little more direction on putting my body into motion. My body language was enough to tell Zeke I needed some assistance. “Alright, now just start moving your feet out like you are rollerblading,” Zeke said demonstrating the motion. Following suit, I began to slowly fan my feet from side to side across the ice, which caused me to inch forward into the stream of skaters circling around the rink. Realizing I needed to continue moving to avoid becoming an obstruction for the other skaters around me, I continued moving my feet in short strokes and Zeke coasted along side me. With that, I was ice skating for the first time in my life, which caused an immediate feeling of joy I will likely never forget.

Getting some pointers

...and some encouragement


Over the next 30 minutes, I slowly became accustomed to the feelings and motions of ice skating as Rachael’s brother, Dan, and his wife, Audra, joined us on the ice. With a little more direction from Zeke, I quickly learned how to turn and stop on the skates, which greatly increased my comfort on the ice. With time, I found myself becoming more stable on the skates and increasing my speed as we moved in sweeping circles across the rink. Although the extended effort caused noticeable aches in my leg muscles and shins, the fun I was having made the effects easy to ignore. Sharing plenty of laughs and dabbling in a bit of the ridiculous, Zeke, Dan, Audra, and I whirred around the ice for some time, all but ensuring my first experience ice skating would be one to remember.

Getting better


Picking up steam

By the time my first experience ice skating was drawing to an end, I found myself much more comfortable on the skates than I ever would have expected. Eventually, I was working around the rink at a relatively high speed and was making sharp turns with a moderate degree of control. My comfort and confidence on the ice encouraged those in our party to start challenging me to new techniques on the ice. Standing on the sidelines of the rink, Rachael and Sarah called out stunts including backward skating, skating in a perfect circle with another skater, and standing on one foot while in the ice. In response, Dan and I did our best to follow through with each action, which proved generally successful. During the course of the challenges I tumbled in my only fall to the ice of the day, but I figured out the basic movements of each trick with a little bit of effort. The results only added to the day’s experience and made me realize I had been missing a lot of fun by waiting this long to ice skate. I was so much more entertaining than I expected it would be, and as an added benefit, it was one heck of a workout.

Such grace...

Taking a tumble.

Some awesome people... and me, of course.

My time ice skating was a long time coming, but I couldn’t think of a better first experience than the one I had today. I had the opportunity to learn how to skate from a group of awesome people that were equally interested in making the most of the experience, and they were more than willing to act a little ridiculous to add to the day’s fun. After spending some time on the ice today, I can go beyond saying it is likely I will skate again and instead state that I can’t wait to get on the ice again. While I figured the experience would be a good one, I never anticipated it would be so much fun. It took me more than 30 years, but I was finally able to discover the joy of ice skating; all thanks to the goofy idea of a trying a year of new experiences.

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