Friday, March 27, 2015

Takin' care of business.

A.  It's Friday.  I didn't need bail bond money and there's no bodies to hide, so overall a good week.  I did have three chiro sessions this week.  And although I know it's a tad early to expect results--I just have to ask if I'm noticing anything.

B.  Don't know about you but I have expectations ahead of each session I skate.  I have a little blue notebook plus pencil in my pocket which goes with me to the rink (pens tend to freeze and not write when I want, which leads me to heave 'em in the trash can.  Yeah, I know, NASA burned through a lotta tax payer's dough designing a fancy ink pen that will write in the cold of outer space.  Trust me, pencils are cheap and write regardless of the rink temps).  Anyway, I jot down a few things that are bugging me ahead of time so not to totally waste valuable ice time.   Here's today's entry of what I planned to work on (raise your hands if you have a few items to work on, either on paper or in mind before you go to the rink).

Edited after publication: A tip of the space pen to Babbette, of "The Ice Doesn't Care" fame for correcting me on the origin of the space pen.  Apparently this is a misnomer not unique to your old diarist. The real story?  NASA did start development of this item but costs soon proved prohibitive and later on the Fisher pen company took on the task of getting an ink pen to work in a zero gravity environment.  NASA bought the pens from Fisher at a reasonable price of $6.00 per pin.  For what it's worth, I'm still sticking to a pencil! 

27. iii. 2015  Today's Practice

1. CCW FI Mohawks as an isolated element (weak direction)--any better?  Yes, my right leg (the entry edge) is the stronger leg, but it's the wonky left leg that just doesn't want to come around to the inset and take the load as the exit edge, and that's the problem.  As a result, my left leg is coming down on the ice behind the skating foot and sometimes a little outside the circle.  I know what's wrong--I just can't fix it!  It drives me crazy and holds me back on a number of fronts because it's the set up element for lots of jumps, etc.   (Ok, I'm being nice here.  After three chiro sessions I would say a skeptical maybe.  They seemed a little better but not by much).

2. FI Mohawks into back cross-overs (both directions).  I know the ones going in the CCW direction are stronger--but it that a training/coaching effect or the effect of the guy yanking on my legs? Can't say. The CW direction is the weak direction for this element.

3.  Back cross-overs on the circle and alternating down the long axis with special emphasis on the CW direction.  Yes!  Definitely an improvement.  I can feel the power during the under push. But mostly on the CCW (strong) side.  At least I'm "sitting down in the chair" and leaning into the circle enough to get off the toe picks and get a decent edge for a change.  CW side is still hit and miss--but better! (Stoked!)

4.  Pre Bronze cross-overs on the figure 8 pattern.  I worked on these but there's still a lot to work on.  Given the public session traffic, I'll grade them a "not bad, work in progress".  I cheat by starting off  to the right so that when I need to do the edge change Mohawk it's on my strong side.  Hey: I'm sure the judges will prefer seeing a clean Mohawk rather than  my impression of a "dead bug" pose.

5.  Canasta Tango pattern.  I should remember this by now but when it's not part of a coached session for several weeks I tend to lose track of the steps.  Dance coach brought it back to the front burner this past Tuesday and I was lucky to remember half of it.  Only a few kiddies with E-Z pushers were brushed aside during the practicing of this pattern today.  (I currently have it again--here's hoping I remember it by the time Tuesday rolls around.  Must ingrain it on Sunday if I get a chance to skate.  Why is it so hard to remember this stuff?)

So, that's it.  My notebook is small.  Mercifully one page can only detail 5 or 6 things to work on plus notes on the fly--and that's probably a good thing.  Moves-coach is off this weekend keeping her chicks in a row at ISI districts over at Talbot, so no 7am lesson for me tomorrow.  Have a great weekend.  I'm sleeping in!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Just a hop skip and a jump.

I'm not a natural athlete.  Try though I might to embrace the ideal, I'm a slacker at heart. Besides, I'm a busy science guy doing busy science guy stuff all day, and so like many working stiffs I usually get caught in a time crunch and have to cut corners which causes me to fall short of the mark.  This is particularly true if we're discussing the subject of warming up prior to hitting the ice.  I've tried various schemes all designed to spit me out on the ice all warm, fuzzy and ready to max out on the pearls of wisdom which coaches are full of-- but I've stuck with none of them.

I've tried cycling to the rink; a nice idea during spring and fall if one can afford the time--I'm  usually hard pressed to just get away from work and on to the rink when public or more expensive free style sessions are scheduled at a time vaguely doable within a work day.  We won't talk about cycling to the rink in the depths of winter or during the baking heat of high summer.  Arriving a tad early (by car) and then walking around the pond next to the rink is a bit better but still not ideal.  But neither is going out on the ice without warming up the legs.  That wastes the first fifteen to twenty minutes of valuable ice time.  What's a working skater to do?

I've been eying the better young skaters at my rink skipping rope for five or ten minutes and thought to  myself "This would be perfect if you weren't such a klutz."  It's something that can be done indoors, out of the heat or cold and it definitely would warm me up.  The operative word of course is klutz.  Over the weekend I bought a jump rope at a local sporting goods store and gave it a whirl (first time I've tried to jump rope in over 60 years) and discovered that I couldn't do it!  Rather than give up on this idea (hey, I've got $9.95 plus tax tied up in a fancy jump rope here) I decided to seek advice from the youtube oracle and this is what she's offered up:

I can do steps 1, 2 & 3.  Even if I never get to step 4 (stop laughing!), step 1 would actually suffice as a warm up.  Just indicate to the curious that you're miming someone skipping a rope.  If that doesn't get 'em off your back just wrap the rope around their neck.  As Roy Rogers and Dale Evans might have said: "Happy rope jumping (and warming up) to you until we meet again."

Monday, March 23, 2015

This ain't no party, This ain't no "disco", This ain't no foolin' around.

So I went to a local chiropractor and showed him my dexa scan.  He was unimpressed with the small amount of scoliosis in my spine.  He said that almost everyone has a small amount of twist.  After confirming that my left leg has only about half the strength of my right leg he sent me off to an imaging place for a couple MRIs.  I'd never had an MRI before and so the first one was novel if a bit noisy.  The second one was boring and I left wondering why someone hasn't figured out how to put a small movie screen in the cover that's an inch or so above your nose.

The next day I returned to the chiropractor after he'd looked at the images and he indicated that a big part of the reason why my left leg is wonky is related to the fact that I have a herniated disc between L4 and L5 plus a bit of stenosis (a narrowing of the passages from which nerves exit the vertebrae).  This was news to me.  Because of this the nerves aren't communicating properly with my hip and leg muscles on my left side.  The MRI also revealed that at some point I had a compression fracture in one of my vertebrae.  This last was probably the product of an automobile accident from 45 years ago when a guy in a Chrysler Imperial rear-ended my Triumph TR-3 (think very small sports car) while I was stopped, waiting to make a left hand turn.  I did suffer a concussion from that incident but was unaware of any other effects--either I'm an insensitive brute or my body doesn't feel like telling me about every little jot and tittle.  Probably just as well that I decided to cancel riding the motor cyle enduro which I was entered for that following weekend...

What the chiropractor didn't explain (or maybe my short attention span brain didn't focus at the right time), is if I have a herniated disc why don't I have more pain than I do?  After returning home I googled "herniated disc" and came to the conclusion that how a disc ruptures has a lot to do with whether or not one experiences serious pain or not.  Pain is experienced by those unfortunate souls in which the ruptured disc, in turn, compresses a nerve. The stenosis part means that the opening for the nerve has also narrowed, and so the muscles in my left leg and hip aren't getting the same signal strength as those on my right side. 

Additionally, in the three years after breaking my right arm, I've been carrying my wallet in my left back pocket rather than the right one.  I'd earlier noted some tingling in the toes of my left foot and just before consulting with the Chiropractor, came to the conclusion that prolonged sitting on that bulging wallet was a big part of that smaller problem.  Currently I've moved the stuff I normally carry in my back pockets to the side pockets of my zip-up fleese jacket.  Spring's here and with warming temps I'll soon have fewer pockets available to spread out this collection.  OMG!  I'm having a fashion emergency!   Along with a chiropractor I'll probably need a freakin' purse for all the pocket stuff that's part of my daily life. 

But, aside from a small amount of pain I've experienced and the inconvenience of not being very swift about turning CCW on ice skates, the conclusion I've drawn from all this is that your old diarist has been pig sh*t lucky--so far.  This could be very much worse.  Maybe all those downward dogs I've been doing at yoga have had an unrecognized benefit.  Anyway, I'll be having "adjustments" three times a week for the next few weeks to see if  the Chiropractor can improve the weak nerve firing on my left side and also advise me about how to strengthen my core so to keep that disc better protected and hopefully avoid going down that painful, compressed nerve highway.  If nerves are intent on firing it would be appreciated by management if they'd just do their job and fire so that associated muscles move appropriately rather than merely being a source of complaint.

So, the Chiropractor will be looking for improved left hip and leg strength as we progress through this treatment plan. The metric which I'll be using is whether or not I see marked improvements in those pesky skating elements which heavily depend upon the left side of my body.

I related all this to Coach K. at our Saturday morning session and we spent that day's lesson working on left forward inside Mohawks (the element which cost me a busted arm three years ago) and consecutive back inside and outside edges which I need to clean up (big time) prior to taking the pre-bronze Moves test.  By the end of the lesson we were seeing small improvements in all of the above but I've got a long way to go before I'll be happy with any of them.  Even a simple backward C push using the left leg takes a lot more effort and produces a weaker push than the mirror image move using the right leg.  The right leg seems to do it's thing subconsciously while the left leg requires my brain to think about what needs to be done.  Somehow I've got to shrink the lag time between my brain thinking about an element and my left hip and leg actually executing that instruction.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Something new to think about.

Some readers will recall that I have mixed results when executing elements in the CCW direction.  Some days the magic works and other days it doesn't.  I have rationalized all that by way of being a repressed and confused leftie forced to live a right handed lifestyle.  However, it appears that I also have a slight curvature in the lumbar region of my spine which, upon reflection, probably plays a larger role.  This was revealed to me when I volunteered to be a test subject when the lab needed to recalibrate the Dexa Scanner used in some of our human nutrition studies which deal with the effects of diet on bone density.  Perhaps this is the actual root of my skating problems--aside from me being old, stiff and generally difficult. 

A Dexa (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) Scan of my carcass.  Note the kink to the surgeon's left in the lumbar region of my spine.

I plan to see a chiropractor for advice on how to compensate for this little aberration in my bone structure.  At my age I doubt that the affected bones will move at all, but perhaps there are exercises which will help me strengthen the left side of my body.  Anyway, another interesting anomaly brought to light by figure skating!  With a little more appreciation of my personal chassis I may yet learn the joy of turning left without all those horrible scraping noises.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Unexpected find.

I'm a casual Olympic pin collector; mainly sailing (summer games) and of course skating pins from the winter games.  I was idly trolling "flea-bay" about a week ago and spotted this unrelated pin:

The seller though that this was a pin issued to and worn by ice dance judges.  However I think a more likely explanation is that this pin was awarded to skaters after they passed the tests for the three preliminary dances (Dutch Waltz, Canasta Tango and Rhythm Blues).  Today I showed the pin to one of my coaches and although she has never seen one of these, she agrees with my guess.  I wonder how old the pin is?  I'm guessing perhaps it dates to the 1950s.  Can anyone reading this post add to the story?

The pin is extremely well made and features a stick pin and moveable lock rather than the "tie tack" stud and keeper common to more recent pins.  I attempted to read the maker's stamp on the back but my eyes aren't good enough.  I think part of the mark reads "New York".  I'll take it to work and look at the stamp with a tissue culture microscope in my lab.  After showing this to my other coach next Tuesday, I will add the pin to my pin board and not wear it until I pass those three dances.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Taking it outside

Today the temps in Maryland hit 60 degrees in many locations.  It was too nice a day to go to a crowded indoor public session, so diaristdaughter and I decided to head to a nearby outdoor rink in Annapolis at the Quiet Waters Park.  I reverted to my old skates since I have a dance lesson on Tuesday night and wouldn't have a chance to have my blades sharpened if the grit on the ice was bad enough to dull the edges.

We arrived at 2:30 in the afternoon.  Quiet Waters is a very pleasant county park, popular with walkers and cyclists.   The rink wasn't as crowded as I thought it would be.  We paid our fees and laced up our skates.  Diaristwoman and her mother went for a walk.

As is normal with outdoor rinks, there were a lot of compression ridges in the ice as well as standing water in places.  It took me about a half hour to get comfortable with the feel of my old skates.

You can see the standing water in the center of the rink.  The far end was also a tad on the swampy side.  You didn't want to fall!

The ice was very slow.  I tried a couple of spins and quickly gave up.  The mushy ice just wouldn't permit the blade to spin.  I limited myself to forward stroking and swing rolls with a few Mohawks and 3-turns just to keep things interesting.  After an hour and a half my legs were beat.  Mother-in-Law suggested dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant.  It didn't take much arm twisting.  I'd like to try this rink again when conditions are more favorable.  I plan to have the blades on my old skates moved to match the location of the blades on my new boots so that I can transition between new and old skates with minimum foot reeducation.  That way the old skates will be perfect for outdoor adventures.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Reshuffling the deck. Warning: some rambling will be encountered.

After the start of the second month of the new year I came to the realization that my skating progress was going backwards rather than forwards.  I've been taking group ice dance lessons since last September when the rink offered them after a long hiatus of not offering dance at all.  At first only myself and one other adult, a lady, signed up.  We had a wonderful set of semi-private lessons, given by a top notch coach.  But, as any number of melancholy songs remind us, after a glorious September the days grow shorter and grimmer as winter tightens its grip.   Indeed, after the September lessons, there was a coaching change and with that came a horde of kids.  My adult lady skater fell hard during the first session of the next flight of lessons and withdrew from the group. This left me as the sole representative of humans over four and a half feet tall.  The new coach was fine and I learned a few things but frankly the kids had attention spans even more limited than my own.  Our poor coach spent a large part of lesson time goat roping and attention refocusing.  Additionally, it seemed like the group acquired a new kid or two at each lesson and thus we'd plow the same ground over and over in an attempt to bring new students up to speed.  When we did finally return to dances other than the Dutch Waltz, I found myself blanking in mid-dance as to what the next steps were--these were dances that a couple months earlier I knew stone cold.  So, although I wanted to support the rink's efforts in ice dancing, I came to the conclusion that the group lesson format just wasn't working for me. So, at the conclusion of the current set of lessons I elected not to sign on for the next set.

Besides, as we head deeper into the calendar I know that I would have been unable to attend many of the Saturday classes.  Even in this month of February I would have missed two Saturdays and it gets even sketchier after that as the weather warms and other demands cut into the weekends.  Since I also take private lessons early on Saturdays I had a heart to heart talk with my long standing private coach.

Coach K. took a full time "regular" job back in the fall and currently is available only on Saturday mornings and Tuesday evenings.  Additionally, recent changes at her husband's work now prevent her from teaching during the Tuesday evening FS session that is a fixture on our rink's calendar.  Kids--somebody has to watch 'em.  After discussing our up-coming schedules, Coach K. and I agreed that I'll continue to take privates from her when I can and that she didn't object to me seeking another coach with a possible mid-week time opening.  Long story short: I contacted Coach A., a relatively new coach at our rink.  She's a Gold test level ice dancer who still competes, and she had an open slot during that early Tuesday evening FS session.

A problem I've had with ice dance lessons, regardless of them being private or group, has been the lack of opportunities to skate with a partner.  I did at one point have a partner, V. but long term readers will recall that she deserted me for a horse.  Pattern dances take on an entirely different personality when skated "two-up".  For one thing, paired skaters, because of the fact they're holding on to each other, have less freedom of motion than single skaters.  At the same time they barrel down the ice with roughly twice the momentum.  Managing all that in a manner that whispers a soupcon of grace and elegance offers up an interesting challenge.  Layered atop this skating confection is the notion that the two linked skaters should be capable of exhibiting "pair unison".   If you don't skate regularly with a partner you don't get to practice those aspects of the sport.  To review:

  • the pair of you have less control than a solo skater
  • the pair of you have more speed than a solo skater
  • both of you are supposed to be doing things like leg extensions and toe pointing to the same extent, at the same time while maintaining nicely arched backs (no slouching, no breaking at the waist!) and crisp elegant lines.

Although Coach K. has a dance background, she hasn't partnered in about ten years and is now a trifle hesitant to do so, especially with a student who might probably pull her down.  In all the private lessons I've had with her we only tried it once and actually during those early lessons I had enough to think about just remembering the steps and patterns of the three beginner dances.

Coach A. on the other hand has none of those fears.  We started our lesson last night with her watching me skate solo so she could gauge exactly what I was bringing to the party and then before I knew it she took my hand and said "Let's do some forward stroking and swing rolls in Kilian." I was immediately told to bend my knees more and also told that I needed much deeper edges if I expected to have any hope of staying on pattern.  What?  The fact that deeper edges (which are derived from deeper knee bend) contribute to staying on pattern had somehow never been pointed out to me in a way that made the penny drop in my brain.  I thought I had reasonably deep edges.  Apparently not.  It suddenly dawned on me that the take home message was this: if my edges are shallow, then the lobes which I skate during say, a forward swing roll will be bigger and in turn, move me off-pattern in certain instances.

An example that comes to mind is the final swing roll in the end pattern of the Dutch Waltz which occurs right before the last two steps.  Your dancing partner will no doubt resent it and probably have a lot of very unkind things to say if, as a consequence of your shallow edged swing roll, the lobe skated is a bit larger than the amount of ice remaining and, in turn, you scrub her off against the boards at dance speed as the two of you desperately attempt to make that last pair of steps in the dance happen.

Back when V. was my partner we always had trouble right at that very part of the DW, probably because of shallow edges.  In hindsight, perhaps all those near misses with the boards were what made horseback riding seem so appealing...

So, anyway, coaching value for money spent, straight out of the box.  Our thirty minutes soon ended.  Coach A. moved on to her next student and I left the ice with this thought: "that young lady is going to beat the demons out of my sloppy skating--either that or a certain old man on ice skates will soon be in traction."  There it is then.  Elegance or the Emergency Room. Deep edges or Deep Doo-Doo.  It'll be one way or the other.