Friday, May 1, 2015

2014/15 Season Wrap Up

Sixteen columns of ice pass stickers x eight rows = 128 times on the ice between July 2014 and May 2015.  It scares me to guesstimate the $ value of all those hours on the ice.  Thirty one stickers were for pricy 1 hour Free Style sessions, the remainder are from Public sessions which were either 1.5 or 2 hours long.

Bowie Ice Arena closed for its annual two month maintenance period last night.  No doubt I lost a couple of stickers here and there but those stuck on the wall of my work cubicle offer a good estimate of the amount of time I spent attempting to refine my skating.  The question I must ask myself is:  Am I any better than last year?  In a word, yes.  How much of the improvement is due to shear unsupervised practice time vs coaching inputs vs chiropractic adjustments can be debated but practice, if not making one perfect, certainly contributes to improvement.  Over time, more is better.  Ice time allows one to experiment with all the variables of free arm and leg positions, lace tension, blade position, belly button rotation--you name it.  This list is where I was two years ago.  I really should update the list and move a lot of things around.  Some items are still MIA but that's OK.  Other items such as my three prelim ice dances aren't even on that early list--not that I do them well, but two years ago I couldn't do them at all.  Anyway, I'm looking forward to a new year of ice time and stickers to prove it!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The essence of dance.


I've been taking ice dance lessons for about a year and half.  One would think I'd be better at it by now.  Instead, I'm like the annoying eight year old kid in the apartment directly over yours who practices his trumpet each afternoon at precisely those times when you're trying to nap.  Every day that brat runs through the scales and hacks his way soullessly through the same handful of simple tunes but he just doesn't seem to be improving.  On the rare good days when you're sober and he's at his best, you listen and decide that yeah, OK, his playing is technically proficient--but it lacks emotion.

And that's where I am with ice dance.  After a year and a half of work, like the kid upstairs who knows the notes and timing requirements of the different pieces of his limited repertoire, I know the steps of the three preliminary dances and have a notion of their required timings and where the patterns must be on the ice.  On good days I can even execute the steps in such a way that my coach can watch and (a). realize that I'm skating a pattern dance and (b). not have to squint too hard when attempting to guess which one.  But something is lacking.  That something is emotion or essence or perhaps the best word is expression.

What is dance expression?  Trust me, if I knew the answer this post would be entirely different.  For one thing, I'd be all braggy about how great my execution was and probably I'd be salivating over the prospect of conquering more complex dances.  Sadly, this is not so.  I'm just a slow learning clod hopper from the country without much musicality. 

Now before I totally paint myself in a corner, I'm not totally clueless.  Even I grasp the fundamental differences between a Waltz, a Tango, and the Blues.  The Tango demands crisp movement with "attitude" while the Blues is "swingy" with big easy curves, smooth as molasses.  The Waltz is slower than the Tango or Blues and requires a more elegant and refined approach.  The question is, how does one incorporate these differences into skating elements?  A progressive is a progressive regardless of whether it's done during a Waltz, a Tango or a Blues dance.  How does one shift gears to make a swing roll a Waltz swing roll rather than a Blues swing roll?  I don't have an answer today but at least it's dawned on me that I should be thinking about it.  Hopefully I'll figure some of this out before I'm too old to dance!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A small epiphany.

So it's been three weeks of multiple chiropractic adjustments per week, plus a long and growing list of back/hip/leg exercises with a stability ball every day.  And while it's early innings I can't resist looking cautiously if somewhat pessimistically for signs of improvement on the ice.  Last night I got the first hint when I wasn't looking.

I was warming up my legs during the opening thirty minutes of a busy freestyle session prior to my weekly ice dance lesson.  There are still a few events left in the competitive season and so both our home skaters plus ones from surrounding clubs were out in force getting their licks in before the next fixture on the calendar.  As anyone who has skated one of these sessions knows, being on a collision course with one or more skaters is fairly common.  As I rounded one end of the rink I noticed a young diva heading my way on a beautiful back spiral.  Without thinking, I shifted my weight to my left skate and raised my right skate off the ice in anticipation of a last minute change of course.  In the end we passed each other by a comfortable margin; no foul no penalty.

And then my brain telegraphed this little whisper into my consciousness:

"Dude--you're gliding on a left flat AND YOU"RE NOT VEERING ALL OVER HELL"S HALF ACRE!"

In a "pinch me, I must be dreaming" kind of way, I purposely repeated that left flat glide several times in a row.  Yep, it was the real deal! Fingers crossed that it's here to stay and not one of those skills that seems so solid one session but is MIA the next...

For those of you reading this who have their Axel, Gold MIF test, double jumps, and quiver full of achingly beautiful spins ticked off the list, being able to glide in a straight line on one foot may not seem like a big deal.  Well it is to ME!  Especially if we're talking about my left side.  I can glide effortlessly, with control on my right flat 'til the cows come home but no amount of blade shimming or position tweaking on either my old skates or the current ones could solve that issue when gliding on the left skate.  After the last session of blade tweaking proved unrewarding, Mike Cunningham looked at me and said "There's not much that I don't understand about ice skates or ice skaters, but you're one of them."

So, yes it is the skater and not the equipment.  At this stage of the game I kinda knew that.  But finally an answer and   a glimmer of hope.  Today I can glide on a left flat.  In the future, as the left side of my body responds to continued treatment and exercise, who knows?  I might just be able to confidently commit to a deep back edge on the left blade.  Some day in the distance future I too may posses a scratch-free CCW inside forward Mohawk.

Will I eventually need to have my left blade realigned to a more neutral position (currently that blade is set with the toe well towards the inside)?  Can't predict.  At this stage I'm just thrilled to be able to track down the ice on that leg in a straight line.  I feel just like a wide track Pontiac, fresh from the alignment shop after a long dull winter of potholes!

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 instep 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.