Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ice Skating: Getting the Bug

I probably got the bug to learn ice skating back in 1980, while watching the United States ice hockey team and their improbable victory over Russia, setting them up for their gold medal game. I was 12 years old. On top of the heady feelings of patriotism and sports pride, I know that I was very bitten by the sport itself, and its central skill: ice skating.

I was also fascinated by Eric Heiden, and the speed and grace of his powerful strides. Anything with the ice drew my eyes, including figure skating, but it was ice hockey that stayed with me.

Back then, I imagined that hockey players came from either Minnesota, Massachusetts or Canada. I knew that hockey players didn't come from Jersey City, NJ where I lived. So when I went to high school, and found out that we had an ice hockey team, I was very surprised.

During one high school rally, the ice hockey team was brought out, and they darted around the gymnasium wearing roller blades. I was dazzled by their speed, as they did loops and turns on the basketball floor before sliding to a stop to watch the rest of the rally. I kept my eyes on them, watching them bounce on their wheels. I wanted that.

I told my friend James McDermott about my interest. He promptly suggested visiting an ice rink, and generously gave to me a pair of black figure skates that didn't fit him. I love that he helped me with both a pair of skates, and his knowledge of where to skate. We went to the Pershing Field Ice Skating Rink, an outdoor rink near Journal Square. It was there that I encountered the slippery nature of a sheet of ice.

I don't remember my efforts at Pershing Field too much. I know that I went there on my own a few times. I know that at least once I drove there only to be turned away because the rink was closed or in use. Like most beginners, I probably hugged the boards, and like most beginners, I must have fallen a lot, trying to reproduce the smooth turns that I saw on television. I know that I wanted to "master" the ice. I wanted to be able to glide without effort, and to turn without falling. I wasn't sure where this desire was coming from, but I didn't question it.

Maybe that same winter, or the following winter, I was taking out the garbage, and noticed a small puddle of frozen water in my backyard. I touched my foot to it, and it was indeed a small ice patch, the kind that you might slip on if you stepped on it. I went back inside, grabbed my skates, put them on, and then I gingerly stood on the ice patch. I could feel the blades slipping over the tiny surface. Standing on the ice felt like levitating. Every tiny twitch of my leg muscles brought a smooth motion, before the blades reached the border of the ice patch.

It's said that every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but for me and ice skating, it probably began with that one moment of me just standing on a square patch of ice in my backyard. Unable to glide or move, I was left to stand, and in standing there I let my imagination hurtle forward to the time when I could ice skate for real.

For the month of January, I'll be blogging about ice skating, and my love for it.

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