Monday, January 30, 2012

Watching Perfection

No doubt if you're a talented figure skater/ ice dancer or just an aspiring one you watched NBC's live coverage of  the USFSA National Championships this past Saturday.  For those who didn't get the chance I'm attaching a youtube video of Meryl Davis and Charlie White's Free Dance program.  Their short program can also be viewed on youtube.  Forget all the fancy lifts and extra interpretive stuff; if your aging diarist could just cleanly skate the compulsory version of the Viennese Waltz--or event the Dutch Waltz (!) to Strauss' music without injuring himself or maiming his partner that would be amazing.  Anyway, here t'is.  Hopefully your computer has enough memory and processor speed to show the video clip smoothly.  If not, do yourself a favor and view this clip on a good one.  Enjoy!  (NB: Since I first published this post, the video, which is still on youtube, has been blocked.  Copy and paste the link below).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Life in the slow lane

"Skate at your own risk"; how true!
We woke yesterday to a lovely coating of ice on the streets and cars.  We've been experiencing a bit of a snow drought here in Maryland this year.  Generally we get the first dusting in late December and then a goodly amount of snow or ice depending on the track of storms sweeping in either from the northwest or up the coast from the south. But other than a freak storm on Halloween we'd not had anything measurable this season until now.  As I surveyed the scene from the bedroom window I started thinking about the afternoon public session at my local rink and decided to go with the expectation of lovely, uncrowded ice.  That was not the case--the roads proved to be less treacherous than I'd hoped and not only was the usual mob of kids in full attendance but coaches and figure skate students were also getting in their last licks before an upcoming competition.  I was  hoping to find a quiet piece of ice to practice inside edges but doing nice half circles was out of the question.  However I come from the school of thought that says when life hands you a lemon you need to figure out how to squeeze out some lemoncello.  Instead of attempting classic half circles against a line I spent the session perimeter skating, alternating between forward stroking on outside edges and practicing those forward inside edges by doing big, fat, forward inside swing rolls when the crowd of kids pushing E-Z skaters permitted.  My former instructor Mike was there tutoring one of his private student/competitors so I drifted over to say "hello".  In the process of  T-stopping I encountered a toe-pick divot with my back skate and almost collapsed at his feet--nothing like making a classy impression on a coach!  Mike laughed and said "the other day you were blaming the skates, today you're blaming the ice!"  Yeah, excuses--I've got a  million of 'em! I let him get back to his student and I got back to my edge work.  All in all a day well spent, and any public session I can walk away from must have been a good one!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Prom Nite" at the Ice Rink

Good Morning Campers:  Recall that my initial goal was to pass ISI's Beta level skating test by the conclusion of the first set of seven lessons.  Well last night was Prom Nite or perhaps more accurately, Test Night (aka: the final lesson of the series) and yep, I staggered around the ice under the glare of our clipboard toting instructor well enough to make the grade.  At the end of the lesson students were presented with badges and certificates for the various levels they had passed.  This was as good as Cub Scouts!  Hell, actually it was better than scouts--I got badges and didn't have to sleep on the cold, hard ground with ticks and vermin in a leaky pup tent!  Yes, I did have my share of encounters with the cold, hard ice but as of today my hip bruise, which at it's height, was the size of the state of Montana, has now retreated to the size of Delaware or maybe Rhode Island.  With a bit more time I think I could have gotten past the Gamma level test as well but to be honest my FO3 turns are sketchy and my inside edges, required for the Gamma test's inside Mohawks are still AWOL.

One last bit of hilarity: at the end of the previous lesson I had complained to the kids behind the counter that my rental skates were dull (after finding a pair that caused only moderate discomfort I noted their number and asked for the same pair at each lesson).   I suspect that the kids in charge of those skates decided to fix my wagon because on test night those skates were so sharp I could barely get 'em to snow plough stop!  Things did improve as the lesson (and edges) wore on but after collecting my badges I went to the rink pro shop and ordered a good but relatively inexpensive pair of boots and blades.  They should arrive before the start of the next session of group lessons which kick off in a couple of weeks. These boots will be heat molded to my feet (something new to me--a skater from the ancient age of leather) and since these skates aren't way over the top money-wise I won't be reluctant to take them pond skating or to outdoor rinks. With my own equipment and more ice time, hopefully those skills which have abandoned me will soon report back for duty.

My next goal is to get over the top of Gamma by the end of the second set of lessons and hopefully qualify for Delta by next Turkey Day.  Getting to Delta level will bring me back to the land of creditable skaters and allow me to take to the ice without endangering the rest of the skating public.  From near zero to Delta inside a year; can your aging diarist do it?  We shall see...

I was tempted to ask for the "Tot" 1 through 4 badges as well but wisely decided that the Mistress of Ceremony's sense of humor probably didn't stretch that far...!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

My life as a groupie.

I plunked down my seventy bucks for the next adult's beginner class which was scheduled to kick off on the 2nd of December.  I told my instructor, Mike, a little about my background and said I'd like start over a the beginning because although I retained some of the fundamental skills, I'd certainly lost many others and I'm a firm believer that any endeavor is only as good as it's foundation. At the first lesson, of the four tottery adults signed up, I was the class prima donna--meaning I was the only one with prior ice skating experience.  There was one woman who had a background in quad roller skating and she and I were the only ones not holding onto the boards for dear life.  By lesson six the adult class had basically winnowed down to a private lesson for me as the others dropped out.  A private one-on-one lesson for ten bucks! How sweet is that? I had indicated to Mike at the first lesson that my minimum goal was to test out at the ISI beta level at the end of that seven lesson session.  He watched me skate and agreed as how that very modest goal was achievable.  Now you're probably thinking: OK, hot shot why not test out at delta and jump back into first level free style?  My honest answer is that I can't get my head around inside edges just yet.  Other skills like forward and backward crossovers, FO3 turns, t-stops, etc. returned quickly but I just can't seem to reclaim FI3s or FI Mohawks.  So, I'll be happy with my beta and in the meantime I'll practice edges and those basic forward inside edge turns.  After repeat falls on my left hip I have a bright purple bruise about the size of the state of Montana.  It extends from the hip bone projection to my knee. But I well knew that falls were the price one pays and so far I'm proving to be less brittle than my age suggests...

Part of the problem is that I'm skating in rental skates, and yes, those skates are horrible!  The last pair were so dull that I could just barely stay on an inside edge while on a half circle.  As I'd square to the line on the ice just prior to releasing and dropping to the opposite foot's inside edge I could feel the blade start to chatter and skid.  I'm sure a large part this problem was me performing the element in poor form but part of the blame also goes to the blade.  I think the previous renter of that pair must have skated across concrete.

Mike, like all good instructors/coaches is part analyst and part cheerleader.  He'll watch as I attempt some element he's asked me to perform and say "well, that skill's coming along, now lets move along and try this."  I know that whatever he's just looked at absolutely sucked and he probably should have said "Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot???"  Mercifully he never does--at least up to our last session!  However, our interaction is not a one-way street.  At the end of our last lesson I asked Mike what brand of boots and blades he was skating on and after a bit of hesitation he indicated that his boots were custom made by Klingbeil and that they were twenty years old and he really ought to get a new pair.  I was able to add a bit of useful info to that conversation:  the ice dance email group which I lurk on was recently abuzz with the announcement from Don Klingbeil that due to the current economic conditions he was going to get out of the skate boot business and that if anyone wanted one last pair of boots they'd need to put their hands up by mid January.  Now, I'd love a pair of Klingbeils myself but I just don't have the better part of $700 to punk down--that's just boots, blades are bought separately and are another $200 minimum and more likely $400 to $500 for top figure or dance blades.  I'm sure to regret this after the opportunity is gone but right now I just can't justify the expense.  Since Mike is a past customer, no doubt Don still has molds and lasts of Mike's feet on a shelf in his shop.  Hopefully Mike will make the cut before Don K. ceases business.

Part of the charm of the lesson package is the mixed blessing of seven "free" public sessions.  Basically, at this time of year, public sessions are very crowded.  The only skills that can be refined at a PS are survival skills and maybe forward stroking.  One does backward stroking, back crossovers, any sort of single or two foot turn at one's peril.  The counter-clockwise mob does have the right of way.  I still have one last hole to punch in my ticket before it expires.  Free-style (FS) skate sessions are available a couple times during the week that are compatible with work day schedules but of course those sessions command a higher price: $15/ 45 minutes of ice time vs $5/2hour public session.  The selling point for a FS pick up session is a better quality population of skaters and fewer of them.  I've gotta convince myself that quality ice time is worth both the price and the getting out of bed early for--God, how I miss those free and breezy UDEL days!

Friday, January 13, 2012

In the beginning there was a very rusty geezer...

The geezer is me and my name is George.  As a kid growing up in rural Pennsylvania my ice skating experience was limited to pond skating on a cheap pair of department store hockey skates.  Like the other kids I got along without the slightest hint of instruction. If anyone had asked me if I was an alpha, beta, gamma or delta test level skater I wouldn't have had the faintest notion of what they were talking about.  So, point number 1: this isn't a blog about a promising youth skater, diverted from the true path of skating greatness only to return as a wistful adult.  No, this is the account of a guy who didn't start with formal lessons until his mid twenties, an age when many competitive skaters are "retiring".  Further, after hoisting himself up to a middling level on the recreational skating food chain this latecomer to the skating scene walked away for the better part of 35 years.

So, let us begin at the more formalized beginning.  After being discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard in 1975 I picked up the pieces of my interrupted college education and started working on a Master's Degree at the University of Delaware.  Now as a kid I have to admit that I was never much of an athlete. Team sports bored me and about the only competitive sport that I was interested in was racing small sailing dinghies and even at that I was a mid pack competitor.  I started racing Moth Boats because my father pushed me and after getting past the initial scary beginner's learning curve I actually discovered that I liked it and I'm still racing those little boats to this day.  Those interested can read about Moth Boats, little British Cars and my miscellaneous wanderings up and down the eastern seaboard on my other blog: here.

But I digress.  As a University student, like all students, I had to pay a "student activity fee".  In the past that was just wasted money from my perspective.  As a returning student with limited amusement funds I was determined to get my money's worth and so scoured the University activity list for something, anything that might give me a break from monotony of studying for the next test.  In doing so I discovered the UDEL Ice Arena. My fellow student skaters and I were spoiled--our student activity fees gave us daily access to uncrowded ice and we skated every day at lunch.  I was soon hooked and before I quite knew what was happening I found myself directed to the pro shop at the Skating Club of Wilmington where I bought my first set of halfway decent skates: Riedell Gold Star boots and Coronation Ace blades.  By taking lessons and practicing daily I quickly moved up the skill brackets and was close to testing at the first level of free style.  However that was to be my high water mark for about that same time I had to prepare for my thesis defense and then, after successfully completing my MS, I moved down to Maryland in 1981 to start on a PhD in genetics.  The University of Maryland didn't have an ice rink and I didn't have time even if the University indeed had had one.  I got on with my degree research and didn't think too deeply about my rapidly eroding skating skills.  I gave away my skates.  A career, marriage and family pretty much accounted for the next 35 years and even though there is an indoor ice rink in the town where we live I just never gave it much thought.

That all changed this past Thanksgiving when my wife's brother and his family, which contains two young nieces, came to visit us for the holiday.  The day after the traditional gut stuffing dinner the young lassies were chock full of energy and bouncing off the walls.  I reluctantly agreed to take them ice skating in an attempt to burn off some of that.  Looking back, this trip to the rink turned out to be more important for me than them--the two girls are basically wall huggers (although I hope to change that) and they look at ice skating as just another diversion.  For me, however, this trip back on the ice was  both appalling and electrifying.  I was simultaneously appalled by how much I'd forgotten and electrified by the sensation of the semi-graceful gliding that I some how still retained from my long ago days at UDEL.  On the way out I paused by the bulletin board and picked up a brochure detailing group lessons.  The next group was starting in a few days.  For reasons I still can't explain, I couldn't resist.

So here I am, just past my 65th birthday attempting to pick up where I left off.  Will this be yet another aging skater blog laced with rants about crowded public sessions filled with pimply-faced boyz on hockey skates zooming around the rink well above their skill levels?  Or, perhaps rants about free style sessions filled with 14 year old pony-tailed terrors in frilly skirts who's attitudes quite often seem to be "Well, brittle old man, if you can't stand the pace then get off the ice"?  Na, it'll be about ME, not them!  They just come with the territory and for the most part I can already skate around 'em.  No, this will be a journal which allows me to record my personal learning curve back to the ranks of being a creditable skater.  My goal is to claw my way back to the point where I can explore ice dance.  Stick around.  We're at the ground floor.  It can only get better from here.