Friday, March 27, 2015

My Landing Knee

My legs have had their fair share of issues since I started skating. When I started off, I had a left hamstring problem that got so bad I couldn't sit down for more than ten minutes without stabbing pain. It also made my back crossovers choppy and everything from spirals, lunges and bunny hops on my left side were out of the question. I then found Dr. Magic and that issue, while a process of ongoing care, has resolved and I am no longer in pain. Not only that, but I have strong spirals on both sides, and hops and lunges on the left are weaker than my right, but coming along nicely. (Dr. Magic does say that my left leg will likely never be as flexible as my right.)

Then my landing knee began hurting. It hurt on the cutback on a left over right back crossover, on jump landings, and anything involving picking in on the right leg. At first I just braced it and stretched it a bit more, but it got worse. I stood up from a backwards shoot the duck on my right leg and almost went down from pain. So I went to go see Dr. Magic.

Once again, he determined it was a glute problem. My right butt is weak, so the hamstring and quad try to take over, ultimately pulling the kneecap out of alignment. He gave me a series of exercises to do in order to strengthen my ass, but in the meantime we had a right leg full of tight muscle.


The Clamshell exercise. This is easy.


  1:03 to 2:10 I do with my lifting leg pressed against a wall and foot flexed out. Starting to hurt...

Then this. This is death.

Three weeks of acupuncture (during which I fall asleep), trigger point (ouch) and electrical stimulation (which is one of the weirdest things I have ever done) and my knee is better. I'm no longer bracing it, and it doesn't hurt on landings or cutbacks anymore. But I'm still on my foam roller after every skate, and still doing glute exercises. Much like my left hamstring, my right knee will likely be an ongoing care project for as long as I skate. Especially as I start doing more jumping and progress on backspins.

But surprisingly, during one of our sessions, Dr. Magic went for my right foot. "The fascia is really tight," he dug in and I thought my foot was going to come off. "Are you taking care of your feet?"

"What? No. Ouch. Please stop."

He did not stop.

My feet have their fair share of skater's corns and such, but I don't pay much attention to them unless they truly hurt. Dr. Magic insists I need to do some foot care in addition to leg care. Everything, from boot to butt, has got to fire correctly or I risk more cumulative injury. Now when I get home from skating I work my butt, roll out on the foam roller, get some coffee and catch up on the internets while rolling a tennis ball under my feet.

It's really weird to see the kids just jump on and off the ice and skate, when as an Adult Skater, there's very much a physical process going on that makes this happen. But it's worth it. Maybe someday I'll get that Stag Jump, and I'll have all these butt workouts to thank for it.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Rolling Stone Asks Why We're Losing

The Thirteen Votes are in, and I'm disappointed in the 67 of you that didn't vote, but that's okay. We had a lot of votes for "Experience" and "All of the Above." So, Experience seems key for a lot of people. And of course the comments brought up the all-important "How well they work together" factor.

But here's an article from Rolling Stone that is relevant to our discussion:
"Why is American Figure Skating Losing the Cold War?"

From the article:

"They don't teach individually in Russia from the beginning. They don't have private lessons for six year olds, seven year olds, eight year olds. They have basically group lessons," Vlassov says. "Working in a small group, they start to compete against each other. And kids like to compete.

In other words, competition is completely entrenched in a Russian skater's training. Not only that, Russian skaters must attain a particular rank in competition to advance to the higher levels. This is wildly different than the USFSA testing system, in which skaters show that they can complete the elements in a noncompetitive setting and are even permitted a certain number of re-skates for failed elements. It's all very nice to get second chances, but there are no second chances in real competition. The FFKKR, Russia's figure skating federation, knows this. It's one reason that they schedule their skaters to compete within the country far more often than is customary in the U.S.; they want their skaters to practice competing. They don't want to bestow gold stars. They want fierce competitors.

The American A-for-effort ethos isn't just a problem in terms of testing either; it's a problem with coaching too. At the Basics Skills levels, some coaches have few qualifications, and even at higher levels, coaches in the U.S. need only pass four online courses, buy liability insurance, join the USFSA and complete a background check. "I can call it babysitting, very expensive babysitting," Vlassov says, explaining that when foundational skills aren't taught adequately, it can mean a lot of retraining later in a skating career."

I've just spent a lot of time retraining mohawks and 3 turns, and I'm still retraining back and forward crossovers so they not only look good, but so they don't cause me injury. (Seriously. My landing knee was taking a pounding due to bad crossover form.) It's really easy to gloss over foundational skills when it seems the flashier stuff is more fun, but you do it at your own peril.

 The "Just Group Lessons for Kids" idea nixes the "How well do they click" factor for the younger set. And I think it may push an Individualistic Strength that may carry a skater through a completely insufferable yet incredibly talented Coach. After all, we can't always work with people we get along with. It's not all sunshine and rainbows.

Just my thoughts, but feel free to add your own. All I know for certain is that if Elizaveta wins Worlds I will die of happiness. She is so beautiful, and you can tell she works hard. I love it when a skater gets what she's earned, and all too often it seems USFSA gives a skater what they think she deserves.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Shows and Strategy!

This past show's Tech was brutal. Between a long run time, tech notes and an ongoing problem with a planked floor, stomping actors and a fussy footlight, I wasn't getting home until midnight just about every night. And I was stressed about it for various reasons, but suffice to say it was hard.


The skating had to give. I got precious little practice time, I skipped my power class just because I couldn't handle the kids, and when I did set foot on the ice my only thought was, "Oh mercy, this is slick." After my skating class Saturday, I hit up my local massage place for a quick hit on my shoulders. When he was done, he looked at me and said, "You were really tired." I vowed to rest on Sunday.

Monday hit, and with it I had music and Coach to try and start my solo. I had eight hours of sleep behind me on Monday, so I didn't do too bad, but Tuesday's Patch lesson I had trouble. Trouble physically and trouble focusing. When I went to draw out what little of the solo we choreographed, I had trouble remembering. I likely forgot where that BI3 was, because I'm hoping Coach will forget too. (Still can't do those.)


I realized I was starting the Ice Show Process with a massive accumulated sleep and stress debt. I have to catch up, allow myself to rest, and let go of the previous show's tension so I can focus on Ice Show.

Costuming for Spring Show has traditionally been light. Soloists usually wore their own things and the Group Kids are easy to handle. But this year might be different. I already have three literal Munchkins who might need pinafores. I need a strategy to handle this so I don't get so overwhelmed with outfits that I can't perform.


This morning's practice I worked on choreography, isolating where to focus during publics. Mohawks on my bad side; I have to be able to do those in my sleep. Spinning is consistent when I don't care about the spin; I know that sounds weird but it's true. I played with music and tempo. Afterwards while stretching I mentally mapped out where to put my ice time in regards to Solo Program work and New Material. I scheduled a blade sharpening as I'm way overdue. And I realized I'd have to get my own costume done right away to ensure I took care of myself before I worried about others. I have everything, I just need to sew the skirt, stone the leotard, and add the "magic silks" pockets to the gloves.

It can be done. I have faith. I've done hand sewing on my commuter train lots of times. It's just going to take a plan. And when the holidays hit, we'll do this again, as I'll be doing two holiday shows back to back.

Who says Show Business isn't a sport?


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Be Willing to Suck, I'll love you anyway

I'm winding down my stage show and now I'm looking forwards to Ice Show. We don't have a lot of time to put together a radically new concept (thanks to our new skating director) and things might get a little tight. But whatever chaos doesn't break you only makes you stronger than you thought possible, so bring it on.

I have a solo. It's a step out from the Adult Group Number but it's a minute and it's mine. What a trip it's been to get here.

I started off two years ago with wobbly crossovers and fear of jumping; now I'm a pretty reckless jumper and I'm neurotic about edges. I went from being a quiet, unknown class skater to a known face on practice ice who bitches about her knees. I walked into the rink yesterday and I had costume ideas on phones shoved in my face, then I went to skate my freestyle class, and then I talked about show lights and effects in the office. I never imagined I'd be here.

It's been a very long road of early mornings, long days, and a lot of bad practices. A lot. Beginning skating is a terribly awkward and embarassing proposition. The first time you step out on the ice, and for a long time after that, you're going to look horrible. It's a fact. And you're going to know it. The worst thing about it is that you have to look awkward in public. You're going to think everyone's looking at you and laughing at you, and some of them might be, but you have to learn to disregard them and keep going. No matter what, you've got to keep going. You've got to be willing to go suck, and suck hard, because the only way to get better at skating is to go skate.

Then there were the ones that I never wanted to leave. When the magic happened, things worked and sometimes the elements weren't quite there but I had a start and that's all I needed. And more often than not, those mornings happened when I got a kind word. A smile. A positive vibe that cut the awkward nervousness and allowed me to let go a little. Which is why I've made it my personal mission at the rink to be the kind word, the smile, and the compliment that my fellow beginners may need. Especially for the ones who aren't the Precious Ice Princesses, because I'm not either. I know how much courage it takes to go out and suck badly at this sport while being the sore thumb, and I know how it feels to be unsupported and alone at it. I don't want anyone else to go through what I did.

I survived not just the skating, but all the dumb rink politics it took to get here. I realize that no matter what's happening in the lobby, once I get on the ice nothing else matters. I just have to get on the ice. Ignore the politics. There will be people and things you can't change. There will be people and things you can. Align with the people who support you, be civil to everyone else, and keep going.

Next month may be one of the hardest in my Ice Show collection. But I'm a gal on a mission. A mission to create a culture of Positive for Beginners, because that's how Beginners get good.

And a mission to skate an incredibly kickass solo.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Coaching from the Boards

We've all seen it. Some of us have experienced it. Coaches who do all their instruction from the boards. All. Of. It.

Now, I understand that there may be circumstances under which a coach may have to not wear skates. Injury. Pregnancy. Illness. I get it, and I completely understand.

But a coach who does not consistently wear skates is questionable to me. Here's why:

1. Demonstration
Words only get you so far. Sometimes a skater has to see an element to understand the desired result. Youtube can fill in the gaps, but seeing it right then and there is so much better. ("Coach YouTube," I would frequently joke when I'd been coached from the boards.) Plus, it's inspiring to see your coach performing something beautifully. Even working at the boards, a coach can serve as a "mirror image" to help you understand what you're aiming for.

2. WHAT!?
When you're halfway across the rink, flying fast and hard, it's hard to hear correction that's being shouted at you from forty feet away. You literally have to stop what you're doing, truck back to the boards, get the correction, and start over. This is time wasted. Remember, private lessons are a dollar a minute. You're paying a dollar for every minute you're trucking back and forth, just because your coach doesn't feel like wearing skates. Who is benefiting from this arrangement? Not you.

3. Hand holding
Yes, for some of the newer elements, I have hands to hold. It helps. I like to let go as soon as I can, but for those first few tries, a hand helps. A coach at the boards cannot hold your hand. Also, my coach is a gentleman. He takes my hand like a lady's, which is nice. Theatre work taught me that physical contact establishes trust, and trust is absolutely essential for a solid working coaching relationship. If coach is behind the boards, there is a literal barrier.

4. Physical correction
And sometimes words are not enough. A coach out on the ice with you can literally correct you physically. This was unnerving for me at first (because I'd been coached from the boards for two years) but it goes back to the Trust issue. I can now trust to be touched and moved while at speed and know that Coach isn't going to upset my balance. And it has carried over into other coaches, too. A class coach threw me into a spin and pairs coach threw me rather high by surprise, and I didn't freak out. A year ago I wouldn't let anyone near me.

5. General encouragement.
One of my favorite lessons was when I was trying edge pulls while Coach told me all about Alexi Yagudin, his style and the person. My head was exploding, because Alexi is one of my all time favorite skaters. And I didn't mind the talk because he would throw in "do this better" while going on about Alexi. Such a thing would have been unthinkable if he were in shoes and behind the boards.

I can't explain it, but my confidence took a huge upswing when I got a coach who wore skates. He was right there, talking, moving, demonstrating, pushing, pulling and working magic. I had to move fast, too, just to keep up. "Pretty soon, you'll skate like this," and off he'll go looking like a rockstar and I think, "Yeah, let's look like that!" and I'll try my rockstar best. It was a huge psychological boost.

6. What are you doing over there?
It's all too easy to check a phone under those boards. Or have a conversation with another coach, or check out other skaters. Especially while you, the skater, are forty feet away and trying something hard. Is that coach really paying attention? Remember, this is time you have purchased. If they're spending it doing other business on other skaters, catching up on rink gossip or (the worst) encouraging their other students, you're getting ripped off.

I heard some rumor that some Skating Insider Folks believe that Coaching without Skates is somehow better. As a Skater, I could not disagree more. I've been coached from the boards and coached from skates, and being coached from skates is 1000% better. A coach in skates shows investment in you and your goals.