Saturday, December 26, 2015

Asleep at the switch.

This is what happens at my home ice the morning after Xmas when I decide to sleep in and bag the 7am Free Style session:  "Three time US National Champion and Olympian Ashley Wagner stopped by the Bowie Ice Arena today! Pictured here with Bowie ISI team member Alexa Cruz and her coach Rebecca Robertson."  Photo credit:  BIA.  Can U believe it?!  Sigh...truer words where never spoken--Ya snooze, ya lose. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Skating 101 with Meryl and Charlie

Skating 101!  Freshman intro to ice dance lifts?  Ha, this seems more like Skating 604--a graduate level seminar, but that's just me talking.  The two kids, Alina Letova and Dakota Delcamp, are not your typical birthday party kid skaters.  These two are obviously battle hardened veterans who probably started skating seriously at, oh, age four or so.  Having said all that, this little video is fun to watch and has some useful coaching tips for lunkheads like me to think about.  A little Xmas Bon-Bon.  Enjoy!


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ice Halo update

In the recent past when I visited the Ice Halo website I could not find mention of their products complying with any test standards.  People told me that this statement of fact was buried somewhere on the site, but try as I might, I could never find it.  The other day I went back to the Ice Halo site and there it was right on the page which describes the standard Halo: "All our Ice Halo Products are tested in one of the top impact testing facilities in the world, using the Hockey Helmet Standard (CSA Z262.1-09 (April 2009) Annex A, Impact Drop Testing). Our products pass the standard requirements for front, side and back impact."  I guess enough others must have voiced their hesitation such that the manufacturer of the Ice Halo decided to place the test statement in a more prominent position.  But don't take my word for it, see it yourself.  

CSA stands for Canadian Standards Association which is a non-profit organization dedicated to product testing for consumer safety and protection.  The CSA is much like the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials.

Knowing that the Ice Halo complies with a reasonable standard (one deemed appropriate for hockey helmets) gives me a little more confidence to try out this product.  As I pointed out in an earlier post my current skateboarding helmet while adequate does tend to draw my eyes towards the ice rather than ahead and one must cinch the chinstrap fairly tightly in order for the helmet not to move around on the head.  So, I will now place an order for an Ice Halo and see if I like that any better than the  Bern Watts helmet.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Bern Watts helmet update

So I've skated five busy public sessions while wearing my green beanie and can comment on its suitability for figure skating.  It does stay in place while skating if the chin strap is properly adjusted.  This includes during single foot spins.  I have not tested jumping while wearing the helmet but my expectation is that the helmet will be fine when I do start jumping again.

One thing that surprised me is that I don't get sweaty while wearing the helmet.  The sessions I've skated are two hours long so that's another check on the plus column.  Lightness is another positive feature of the Bern Watts.  Weight-wise I'm barely aware that I'm wearing it. 

The short visor which my helmet came with is perhaps the only point that I don't like.  The little brim does have the tendency to direct one's eyes down rather than ahead.  Where the eyes go, the head follows, so this is not a good thing while skating.  If I could hit the rewind button I'd order a Bern helmet, without the visor.  They offer them.

Last Sunday while skating I bumped into a father-daughter combo whom I know and the daughter was wearing the standard version of the Ice Halo.  This was the first time I got to see and touch one up close.  Basically, it's high density foam covered with a synthetic cloth and it comes as a flat strip with a velcro closure which one can adjust for head size when placing the halo around one's noggin. 

The daughter didn't like it at first (she's about ten years old) but now no longer notices it when skating.  I must admit, the Ice Halo looks a lot less geeky than my helmet.  I may order one although I'm a little reluctant to wear safety equipment solely based on appearances.  I'd really like to see some test data or learn if the Ice Halo actually complies with a pertinent safety standard--I can't afford another TBI at this point in my skating career.  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Back on the ice.

Last weekend diaristdaughter and I decided to return to the scene of my crime, the Bowie Ice Arena, for the Sunday 2 to 4 pm public session.  I went to my bedroom closet and dug out the two tote bags which held my skates and various bits of gear.  I hadn't looked at this stuff since the 7th of July: padded shorts, knee pads, bunga sleeves, elbow pads, wrist guards.  It all seemed so alien, so disconnected from my recent existence which featured emergency rooms, CT scans, operating rooms and IC units.  I found myself wondering if I really wanted to do this.  I didn't seem to have the same drive that I had after recovering from breaking my radius three years earlier.  I idly wondered if since my latest injuries included my brain, that perhaps my brain was making me hesitant in the attempt to protect itself from further injury.  Sort of like HAL trying to prevent Dave from interfering with the mission in 2001, a space odyssey.   I also struggled with the inertia from a wife who was not keen on having me resume skating.  After getting dressed I paused at the door for one bit of new kit: a green skateboard helmet.

We arrived at the rink later than I normally would since I normally like to get in every possible minute of ice time.  Value for money kind of thinking.  This time I figured I might have the gumption to skate for a half hour, so a few lost minutes wouldn't matter.  Was this my brain still trying to influence the outcome?

But once I walked into the lobby it seemed like every other person I saw was a skating pal and I'd taken them quite pleasantly by surprise--sort of like a surprise visit from a minor celebrity like the Keebler Elf.  I must admit it was good seeing some of my familiar peeps.  My hesitation started to evaporate.  The young woman at the counter smiled, gave me an ice pass and refused my money.  One of the rink directors came out of the office and half joking, asked me if I'd brought a release form from the surgeon clearing me to skate.  I told him I'd already given that form to the HR folks at work.  He asked me to not louse up his ice with blood again as he returned to his office.  It was good to be back!  I took my skates out of the bag and laced them up.  The session had started five minutes earlier and it was time to find out what skills I had retained before the ice got too chewed up.  I removed the terry cloth soakers from my blades and stepped through the entrance.

The first few glides told me that I hadn't lost everything.  After perimeter skating for five minutes I started to explore t-stops, 3-turns and inside Mohawks.  I still could do them and still had the annoying bias against left side/CW direction elements. For some reason inside forward 3s didn't want to happen at all (I eventually got them to work) and I also couldn't remember how to enter a single foot spin from an outside forward 3.  Little by little things started to come back.  Forward edge pulls were weak even on my normally good side. As I mentally took stock I decided to leave jumps to another day.  I finally remembered the entry for a single foot spin and after doing a couple, I fell out of a awkward slow spin and I think the entire ice rink exhaled as I quickly got back up on my skates. 

Mid way through the session I spied my dance coach.  We briefly exchanged hellos and she said she'd been watching me and I didn't look too wobbly.  Since she had another student in lesson I told her I'd be in touch about lessons once I'd knocked some of the rust off.  I tried to skate a couple of the low level pattern dances that I had known well only to discover that I couldn't recall the entire series of steps--most annoying since just before the fall that took me off the ice, I'd been very close to testing those dances.  Another thing to add to the "they'll come back"  department. 

After the session ended (I skated the entire session rather than the thirty minutes I'd planned) I called my wife to ask if we needed a bottle of wine for dinner.  I think she appreciated the call.  It served two purposes: she didn't have to wonder if she'd get a call from an emergency room, and we did need some wine.  No doubt about it, living with me leads a woman to strong drink.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Favorable Outcome.

So, where am I?  Back on the 10th of September I had my two weeks post-op look-see.  I was hoping to be permitted to drive again and to be told that I could return to work--actually I had already gone back to work, being driven to and picked up afterwards since the Tuesday after the Labor Day holiday.  I was taken aback when I was told that it would be another 4 weeks before I could do either!  I decided not to reveal the fact that, in the absence of a spelled out restriction, I'd already been back to the lab.  I was told that the brain heals very slowly.  On the positive side I could stop wearing the compression stockings, that I could readopt my old habit of crossing my legs and that I could have a small glass of wine or a beer with dinner.

Last Thursday, the 8th of October, I had my six week post-op examination and this time both the driving and work restrictions were lifted.  This is a good thing since I've blown through all my accumulated sick leave and have been covering my absence from work with annual leave (Fed Gov speak for vacation) for the last two weeks.  I can tell you sitting around watching day time TV and going for short walks makes for a lousy vacation!  I can now add back activities as tolerated, including skating.  A session with the Chiropractor revealed that my balance is OK but not as good as before my fall.  Reintroduction of skating will be slow.  I know I've gone backwards skill and ability-wise.  Yesterday I went back to my yoga group for the first time and was able to hang in for the entire hour rather than just camp out on the floor in corpse pose after the first ten minutes.

This leads me to thoughts about protective headgear for skating.  As some readers know, there are no industry or government standards for ice skating protective headgear.  I contacted the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and they stated a need to be impartial and wouldn't name brands or models.  They suggested that I contact the manufacturers in question and ask if a given product is compliant with the following voluntary standards:  ASTM F1447,Snell B-90A, Snell B-95, Snell N-942.  

The ASTM info (which one must pay for) can be found here:

The info for Snell (free) can be found here:

I had previously purchased a Bern (Watts model) helmet with an EPS foam liner.  I planned to wear it when my skating got to the point where I was doing more demanding elements such as back threes.  In hindsight that was a huge mistake!  The EPS foam liner is good for one impact (which includes being careless and dropping the helmet on a hard floor) after which the helmet must be retired.  Although the Bern Watts EPS doesn't comply with the standards mentioned by the CPSC above, it does comply with the following standards:  ASTM F2040 and EN 1077 (for snow and ski sports) and EN 1078 (for bike and skate). The "skate" refers to skateboarding not ice skating but at least we're talking a standard which is deemed adequate for concrete sports.  More about EN 1078 can be read here 

This is what I plan to wear until I can learn more about the headgear which is marketed to figure skaters, like the Ice Halo and Crasche Middie.  So far I have found no mention of any of those products complying with with any standards at all.  If this is not so, please leave a comment with a link directing me to the standard(s) with which these products comply.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Week Six. A revolting new development.

I'm six weeks out from the date of my big Swan dive.  My shoulder is very much turning the corner for the better.  However, as I went for my lunch time walk I noticed that I had a "drop foot"  walking gate (unable to lift the toes of my left foot).  Over the ensuing week, this has not gotten better on its own, so I'm back to enriching the pockets of my band of medical professionals--how they must love the sport of figure skating!  My chiropractor wants another lumbar MRI to compare with my previous one done five months ago to the day.  My primary care physician suggested a trip to the neurologist for an EMG (Electromyograph).  The two techniques provide different information about nerve impingement/damage.  I'm hoping that whatever is going on can be treated conservatively (i.e. rest and PT) rather than surgery.  I'm beginning to realize that this blog it getting to be more and more about neuromuscular and skeletal disorders and less and less about figure skating and ice dancing.  Bear with me--I'm hoping all this will bottom out soon with, if not my triumphal return to the ice, at least no more alarming news.  For those new to the blog, earlier installments of this little tale can be found under the labels heading "insults and injuries".

Update: Sorry, More Bad News.

   I did have a second MRI of my lumbar spine.  It was more or less identical with the one I had in March, so additional disc compression (from the fall) on adjacent nerves was not the answer.  I never did have an EMG.  Meanwhile my drop foot progressed to the point where I needed a cane to walk.  Over the weekend I lost my footing and fell in the middle of the front lawn and just like that old TV commercial for "life alert" I discovered that I couldn't get up.  I thrashed around on the lawn, almost able to regain my footing, but kept falling to the ground with heavy impacts.  I told myself I had to stop before I re-injured my right humerus.  It took the combined efforts of  my wife and daughter to get me up and get me inside the house.  I probably scared the neighbor's kids--old man down.  I know I frightened my wife.

The following Monday I had an appointment with my orthopedic surgeon.  My mother-in-law drove me to the office which is housed within the Anne Arundel Medical Center.  He took one look at me as I hobbled towards him with the cane and immediately said "this isn't your normal gate or balance mode-- hell, you're a figure skater."  He also noticed that my speech was slightly slurred.  I was wheeled down to the ER and I told the physician that, in addition to the new MRI, earlier I had been referred to a neurologist and he had ordered two additional CT scans (one without and one with contrast).  However, I had not received any follow up comments from him.  Luckily those scans were done by the hospital's affiliated imaging center, and so the ER doctor was able to directly pull them up on a computer.  Once the images appeared, there was a period of silence followed by a low voice level discussion between the ER doctor and my orthopedist and the next thing I knew, I was being prepped for the OR.


My original brain hemorrhage was either a slow leaker or I re-injured itMy drop foot was a symptom of a subdural hematoma.  The excess fluid was placing pressure on the right side of my brain and if you read the symptoms via the link, you will see that slurred speech and difficulty with balance and walking are numbers 1 & 2.  It took five + weeks for the hematoma to cause me to present with symptoms.  In order to deal with the hematoma I had a crainiotomy. I have a scar in my scalp and a very trendy disc of  titanium to replace the disc of skull which was drilled out in order to access the hematoma (it's non-magnetic--I won't cause compass deviations!) but mercifully no exposed bolts a la Dr. Frankenstein.  For the next two days I had a tube coming out of the extra hole in my head to continue the drainage process.  Yes, I am at a very slight increased risk for bacterial meningitis but I'll take that over the very real probability that without timely intervention I would have spent the remainder of my life as a cripple.  I was very, very lucky to have a positive outcome.  Pressure from a hematoma, if left, quickly causes irreversible nerve damage.   So here we start with the good news:  immediately upon regaining consciousness in the recovery room I realized that I could move my left leg "normally".  After the nurse had me go through some foot flexion and extension tests of my toes and strength tests of my legs I knew without actual confirmation that the foot drop thing was probably in my rear view mirror--however, I was in no position to directly test it. 

I spent the next two days in ICU.  The day after surgery I has another CT scan before seeing my surgeon.  He came by soon there after (about 6 am!) and said that I appeared to be ahead of schedule.  That pleased both him and me.  On Wednesday the neurosurgeon's PA (physician's assistant) came and removed the dressing (and a lot of my hair with it--they had used a glue to close the long opening to the port rather than sutures).  She was satisfied that the drainage had stopped; the remaining fluid coming out was clear spinal fluid and so the drain tube could come out. This last is a tricky decision:  they want most of the fluid out before closing the hole but the longer the tube is in place the higher the risk for infection (I was given "MERSA" scrub downs each evening while in ICU).  She cut the single suture holding the tube in place on the outside and told me to get ready.  She then pulled the tube out of my head.  It felt so good when she stopped.  The hole itself was sealed with the titanium disc plus a thick layer of skin with a dissolvable suture.  She indicated that it would seal overnight and with that the PA departed.  

Soon a physical therapy person asked me if I wanted to go for a short walk in the corridors to test out my legs.  I can report that the foot drop thing was no longer part of my lifestyle!  It felt so good to be able to just walk normally again.  We tried several balance tests including walking up and down stairs (our house is a two level house so this was an important test to pass).  I did fine.  My normal gate was back but I was at times a bit wobbly.  My strength will return with use of my legs and recovery from the surgery.  That evening I was moved out of ICU and into a "normal" room within the neurosurgical department.  This move meant that I was no longer hooked to monitoring devices tracking my blood pressure (the cuff automatically inflated every hour, and then after the first night every two hours--which made sleep very elusive) and other vitals.  They still monitored me, but at least it was every four hours rather than every two.

Thursday morning I had yet another CT scan (I'm sure that over the last two months I've received a life time of exposure but at least the current machines expose one to a lot less radiation than the early instruments).  My surgeon stopped by later and told me I'd be released towards the end of the day.  I had exceeded his expectations.  So figure skating gave me a serious injury but figure skating, as part of my lifestyle, without doubt contributed to my overall conditioning, which in turn allowed me to quickly bounce back.

My wife picked me up about 5 pm that day.  We stopped at the grocery store to have prescriptions for ACE inhibitors (basically a blood pressure medication--my BP is normal but they don't want any spikes during recovery) and a pain med.  I found a chair and waited for my prescriptions to be filled.  While waiting I saw a woman pulling a cart behind her.  She waked with the unmistakable gate of an individual with drop foot.  It was painful to watch her pass, realizing that I very nearly could have become just like her.

So I'm home now, wearing very fashionable "old man's" compression stockings (to minimize blood clots in my legs) and going on numerous prescribed 10 minute walks.  People in the houses which I pass who don't know me probably think I'm casing their joints.  I have a follow-up appointment in two weeks with the PA.  No driving until she says so.  It will probably be a few months before I'm back on the ice.  It remains to be seen how much of the skater I was before the fall reports back for duty.

Here are a couple of pix for the Skating Club bulletin board (your diarist--a picture of health).  Don't expect this costume at the rink.

The thin tube containing red fluid, coming down from my head, across the right side of my neck is the drainage tube from the craniotomy.  There's a small receiver bottle in the pocket of the gown.  Every now and then a nurse would give the soft plastic receiver bottle a half-squeeze to create suction--not too much, just a tad.  There are lots of cables monitoring lots of functions which we take for granted.

Not a good hair day.  Lots of liquid sutures matting down my hair.  I'm still in ICU at this point.  I can wash my hair with shampoo which contains no conditioners or oils.  They want the glue to remain intact for a while and at some point it's supposed to slough off like a scab.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Want to improve your working memory? Go climb a tree (but not while wearing your skates).

Press Release for Wednesday, July 29, 2015

UNF Researchers Reveal Climbing a Tree Can Improve Cognitive Skills

Media Contact: Joanna Norris, Director
Department of Public Relations
(904) 620-2102

Climbing a tree and balancing on a beam can dramatically improve cognitive skills, according to a study recently conducted by researchers in the Department of Psychology at the University of North Florida.

The study, led by Drs. Ross Alloway, a research associate, and Tracy Alloway, an associate professor, is the first to show that proprioceptively dynamic activities, like climbing a tree, done over a short period of time have dramatic working memory benefits. Working Memory, the active processing of information, is linked to performance in a wide variety of contexts from grades to sports.

The results of this research, recently published in Perceptual and Motor Skills, suggest working memory improvements can be made in just a couple of hours of these physical exercises. “Improving working memory can have a beneficial effect on so many areas in our life, and it’s exciting to see that proprioceptive activities can enhance it in such a short period of time,” said Tracy Alloway.

The aim of this study was to see if proprioceptive activities completed over a short period of time can enhance working memory performance. Proprioception, the awareness of body positioning and orientation, is associated with working memory. It was also of interest whether an acute and highly intensive period of exercise would yield working memory gains.

The UNF researchers recruited adults ages 18 to 59 and tested their working memory. Next, they undertook proprioceptively dynamic activities, designed by the company Movnat, which required proprioception and at least one other element, such as locomotion or route planning.

In the study, such activities included climbing trees, walking and crawling on a beam approximately 3 inches wide, moving while paying attention to posture, running barefoot, navigating over, under and around obstacles, as well as lifting and carrying awkwardly weighted objects. After two hours, participants were tested again, and researchers found that their working memory capacity had increased by 50 percent, a dramatic improvement.

The researchers also tested two control groups. The first was a college class learning new information in a lecture setting to see if learning new information improved working memory. The second was a yoga class to see if static proprioceptive activities were cognitively beneficial. However, neither control group experienced working memory benefits.

Proprioceptively dynamic training may place a greater demand on working memory than either control condition because as environment and terrain changes, the individual recruits working memory to update information to adapt appropriately. Though the yoga control group engaged in proprioceptive activities that required awareness of body position, it was relatively static as they performed the yoga postures in a small space, which didn’t allow for locomotion or navigation.

“This research suggests that by doing activities that make us think, we can exercise our brains as well as our bodies,” said Ross Alloway. “This research has wide-ranging implications for everyone from kids to adults. By taking a break to do activities that are unpredictable and require us to consciously adapt our movements, we can boost our working memory to perform better in the classroom and the boardroom.”

For more information about the study, visit

UNF, a nationally ranked university located on an environmentally beautiful campus, offers students who are dedicated to enriching the lives of others the opportunity to build their own futures through a well-rounded education.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Week five. Yes, I think it's getting better, a little better all the time.

My arm still hurts, mostly in the morning after I've slept on it, but with each passing week I can do things which were off the table the previous week.  In the too much information dept: last week's little victories included being able to once more have enough rotational range of motion to cut my toe nails.  I can now also hoist an ear of corn up level with my chops and gnaw the kernels off the cob.  This week I can put on ( and just as importantly, remove a Tee-shirt unaided)  People occasionally ask me how the broken humerus compares with the broken radius (at least in terms of my right arm I'm becoming something of an oracle).  Let me review;

When I broke my radius I wore a series of casts.  The first one extended from my elbow to my knuckles and pretty much took my right arm and hand out of commission for the better part of five months.

As time wore on the cast got shorter and lighter but my right hand was useless until the final cast went away.  At that point my right arm had lost a lot of strength and it took lots of PT to gain that strength back.  Additionally, with casts bathing and showering are a bit tedious due having to keep the cast dry.  If one is a broken bone novice, as I was, one quickly goes up the cast learning curve with kitchen trash bags, then plastic wrap and duct tape until finally discovering that drug stores stock form fitting cast sleeves with water resistant elastic cuffs.  When the final cast was removed I had one weak, smelly arm.

With the broken humerus I didn't get a cask.  Instead I started off with this soft sling, courtesy of the ER. 

But quickly graduated to this semi-rigid "clam shell" (for lack of a better descriptor) brace.  My orthopedic surgeon supplied this during my first office visit after I got home from the hospital.  As long as the fracture doesn't require surgical reduction most orthopedic surgeons allow gravity and mother nature to take care of the task of bone mending with just minor immobilization.  After the first week I didn't have to wear this contraption while sleeping (not like one gets a long stretch of unbroken sleep, yawn).  Unlike the broken radius, the fractured humerus didn't completely take away the use of my right hand.  I could still write with that hand provided the angle of the document didn't require movement in a painful direction.  I quickly learned to elevate the pad of paper to a comfortable level with my left hand/arm.  I also learned to stand over the keyboard when pushing complex key combinations such as "control alt delete".  I did revert to shaving left handed.  I'm now reintroducing my right hand to that task so far without loosing too much hide. My dancing skeletons shirt once again is proving to be quite popular with x-ray technicians.  I'm now weening myself away from this brace--just have to be careful not to bump the shoulder into things or it's straight to the moon, Alice.

This is the pose that my guardian angel (and long suffering wife) adopt when I start talking about my return to the ice.  Today I had my first session with a physical terrorist therapist.  I'm already at 90 degrees with a lot of the assigned exercises but I have a long was to go before I'm pain-free over the full range of motion.  I'm hoping that the inflammation in my supraspinatus muscle/tendon doesn't lead to a level of impingement requiring rotator cuff surgery. Been there, done that with my left shoulder.   How's that for motivation to keep up with my PT "homework"?  I'm hoping to have a functioning right arm/shoulder by mid-September so that I can race a boat at the Classic Moth Boat Association National Championships.  I'll attend even if I can't race.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tough start to the new season.

"Risk" indeed.  You don't want to wake up in the ER wearing this wristband.
The new skating season for Bowie Ice Arena always starts with the rink's early July reopening after the annual two month maintenance shut down.  This year that meant Monday, the 6th of July.  Looking at the rink's schedule, there were no convenient times that date so daristdaughter and I deferred until Tuesday's 6:45-8:45p.m. public session.

I hadn't been able to skate much during the shut down so I emailed my coach to indicate that it would probably be good if I skated solo for a session or two before resuming lessons just to knock the rust off.

I can tell you all about the various skating elements I worked on up until "the lights went out" but there's a 15 or 20 second long section of my memory bank which was scrubbed clean.  I doubt that I was doing anything heroic--probably I was just clumsy and tripped over my picks.  Anyway, I "came to" on my back next to a small pool of blood.  I knew the blood was mine.  I was carted off the ice and into an ambulance for a short ride to the local health center ER.  After an x-ray and a CAT scan the attending physician told me he had good news and bad news.  The good news was that although I had managed to fracture the top of my right humerus, it didn't appear that I'd need surgery.  The bad news, which he delivered while putting eight stitches in my head, was that I had a minor brain hemorrhage and that he was going to pass me on to Medstar Washington Hospital.

Medstar put me in a room in their neurological wing. The combination of aching body parts plus a chorus of beeping monitors did not add up to a restful night.  The next morning a second CAT scan revealed that the hemorrhaging had stopped.  I was provided with an anti-seizure medication, some pain pills and instructions to follow up with my primary care doctors and orthopedic specialists.

Now just to add an extra layer of complication to this tale, my wife had a plane ticket for Sweden, leaving that same afternoon.  She was going home to help her mother, who had sold her apartment, with the packing up.  She didn't like the idea of leaving me to my own recognizance but I reminded her that she had $1500 dollars invested in the ticket.  She needed to go help her mom, and she could always deal with my carcass upon her return. Besides, our son is a registered nurse and our daughter is also in a position to help her old dad.  And so, in the end, our son drove her to Dulles airport that afternoon and then collected me from Medstar on the rebound. 

Enough time has passed that I can report that the stitches are out and my orthopedic surgeon (same one who patched me back together when I broke my right radius  three years ago) concurs with the ER doctor's assessment that surgery will not be necessary.  What is left is a six to eight week recovery period before I can return to the ice. I'm mildly annoyed with all of this because at my last lesson way back in June my coach told me that I was very close to being test ready for the three dances I've been working on for what seems like forever.  Some of that progress will surely be lost by the time I return to skating.  Also, unless I find someone who saw the fall I'll never know what caused it or how to avoid a repeat.   Finally, from now on my non-skating bride will be nervous each time I grab my skates and head out the door.

On the plus side, unlike the episode with the broken radius, this fracture does not require a cast.  Instead I alternate between a removable hard plastic splint and a soft arm sling.  The downside is that the marginally supported fracture immediately lets me know when a given movement doesn't suit.  This includes when I turn in my sleep.  Currently I wake up with a sharp jab about every thirty minutes or so.  Hopefully I'll be less of a night time whirling dervish by the time my wife returns or I may find myself relegated to the sofa!  

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Timing is everything

I had my finally lesson of the "off season" over at Piney last Thursday.  Dance Coach and I will reconvene when Bowie reopens after the 4th of July.  Things being what they were, I hadn't skated a lick between one Thursday lesson and the next.  I figured this would be the skating equivalent of me having to tell my Coach that, um, I'm sorry but the dog ate my homework.  Oddly enough if turned out to be one of my better lessons.  Coach said the pattern, timing and even the tuck behinds for the RB were much improved.  So, is less really more?  Maybe someone should tell all those elite kids who skate twice a day, six days a week to just go to the beach or goof off or do something completely different every now and then.

But back to the title of this post: timing.  One thing the became apparent when we skated together is that every now and then my timing for the first tuck behind would be off.  Coach had me skate the dance solo and said "when you count you're getting confused at the inside swing rolls."  The swing rolls in question come immediately after the lilt step sequence in the dance:


If one looks at the dance pattern, the lilt sequence starts at step 5 which is held for two beats; steps 6 & 7 are one beat each and step 8 is held for two beats.  So, if you're counting 1, 2, 3, 4--the lilt sequence goes 1,2,3,4,1,2.  This means that the two inside swing rolls (steps 9 and 10) start off at the 3, 4 count--as in you start the swing roll at the 3 count of your 4 count beat rather than starting the beginning of the swing roll on the 1 count which is how most other dances (granted I've only skated the first three dances) treat the next new skating element.

This little anomaly repeats during the second swing roll (step 10) and finally resolves itself at the progressive (steps 11 through 13), just before the first tuck behind.  But until my Coach pointed this out I was getting thrown off course--I think the times I actually got the dance correct were the times I miscounted beats!  Somehow I'd not picked up on this.  But that's why coaches are so valuable! 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Summer Doldrums

Summer Doldrums are better than Summer Tantrums but only just.  Since my home rink closed for it's customary two month maintenance routine I've gone from skating four to six times a week to maybe twice a week if I'm lucky, when the alternate rink's (Piney Orchard) schedule and mine align.  One of those times includes an ice dance lesson so I'm guaranteed to get on the ice at least once a week.

Once a week is barely enough to hold my place let alone advance my skills so coach and I are attempting to refine small aspects of my skating.  Over the past several lessons we've been working on improving knee bend and free leg extension.  Remembering to point the free toe.  Remembering to bring the feet together before the next push.  Remembering that the two beat step of the Rhythm Blues lilt sequence should be executed while heading towards the boards rather than along side the boards.  Working on flattening and stretching out the RB's inside swing rolls in order to get down the ice for a full pattern.  Lots of stuff to think about and maybe even remember!

Last week she decided to tidy up my notoriously sloppy forward inside Mohawks.  I tend to bring my free skate to the heel of the skating boot rather than to the instep of the skating boot.  She had me glide on an inside edge while bringing the free skate to the instep but without placing the blade on the ice.  I do have enough hip turn out to do this.  I just don't like it.  We worked on this in both directions until I decided it didn't feel odd.  At that point she told me to remember (that word again) to bend both knees before placing the free skate on the ice.  It actually worked!  Of course the time I tried it in my weak direction it didn't work at all, but subsequent attempts in the CCW direction did show improvement.

So, there it is folks.  The Summer Doldrums won't quite go away even after my home ice kicks back in after the 4th of July holiday.  Bowie, like most rinks, holds an endless parade of summer camps for kiddies.  The normal schedule doesn't take its rightful place until September.  Even so, based on last year's schedule I should be able to skate more than once or twice a week.  One thing I will miss about going to Piney is a little BBQ shack just up the road from the rink called Expressway Pit Beef.  Maybe it's just as well that Piney's schedule limits my access!

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.

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. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Two Inspirations

This past Saturday found your diarist on the Jersey shore.  Of course I brought my skates along and as luck would have it, I was able to make the 12:30 to 2:30 pm public session at a rink in Atlantic City.  As is the case at most rinks this time of year, the Flyers Skate Zone was heaving with skaters, mostly either in rentals or hockey skates.  Crowded though it was, one could sneak in useful practice by being patient and being positioned in the right place at the right time.  I worked on single foot spins either in the center circle or just outside of it.  After a couple of wind-ups the kids with EZ-skaters tended to give me a wide berth. 

The population density was high enough that rink management decided to do an ice cut at the halfway point.  I took this pause as an opportunity to retie my boots.  I found a seat in the lobby and was attending to that task when I overheard a conversation between a 12 year old boy and his father.  The boy had on skates and was nagging his dad to rent some and come join him on the ice.  Father: "Na, I'm too old for that stuff.  I don't wanna fall and get hurt."  Boy: "Dad, come-on, you're not that old; I mean like there's this really old man out there.  He's waaaay older than you are and he's doing pirouettes and stuff."

"Pirouettes" indeed.  Sounds terribly balletic when applied to a stiff geezer skater.  Sigh, it always warms my heart to learn that I've been an inspiration for someone!

Which leads me to inspiration Nr 2.  Upon returning home and going through the accumulated newspapers I found the following article in the Washington Post's KidsPost section.  Perhaps you can share it with a young skater or two: