Sunday, December 21, 2014

Olympic Comments

It happened again last night at Guard Duty. Someone asked me how often I skate, and I told them, and they retorted with, "Are you trying to go to the Olympics?"

I'm making a new Adult Skater Drinking Game: Every time someone mentions Olympics, take a shot. If they do it in a joking or snarky way, take two. This will make it easier to smile and nod.

In this particular instance, as in all of them, I calmly replied that I was too old to think about the Olympics, but I was aiming for Adult Nationals in 2016.

But it's still... stupid. I just have no other word for it.

I even had a coach, when joking about some improbable event, snort, "Sure, that might happen. Who knows, one of you (indicating us group of then Beta level skaters) might go to World's! Harharhar!" That was so.. not funny. Actually kinda mean.

Fortunately the Mean People are rare. Most of them simply aren't familiar with skating enough to know that, yes, there are lots of competitive events for the Seriously Recreational types like myself. For Adults, there's even an International Adult event held in Germany. (Yes, it's in the back of my head.)

But more than that, the Olympic Benchmark of success is short sighted. It removes the skater from the equation. I talk to my friends who do other sports, and they all have their goals: to run X distance in X time, to do some crazy Crossfit thing they couldn't do a month ago, to win a given Martial Arts competiton. None of these things have anything to do with Olympics, these goals are the goals of the Athletes. No one else's opinion matters. They can't. Because when you place the measure of your personal success outside of yourself, you can't win. There will always be someone faster, better, stronger than you. All you can do is be a better athlete than you were yesterday, and keep yourself as your benchmark.

On that note, no. I am not trying to go to the Olympics. If I do, I will be in the stands, likely snarking about music choices like I did during this year's Grand Prix. (No more Phantom, please!) But that doesn't mean I won't be a success. A sit spin and a Loop jump right now mean success for me, and those are a long way off. But I'm plugging away, bit by bit, piece by piece.

Two little girls asked me last night if I could do "that jump where you spin around in the air." I said no, but I did do a few little waltz-tap toes for them, and a salchow. A year ago I couldn't have done that, so I think i'm pretty successful.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Freebies - or - Skating with the Enemy

Every so often you'll see a coach who offers Freebies, for any number of reasons. A Freebie can be a free lesson, a discounted lesson, an invitation to a class for which you did not pay, or an off-ice session at some ridiculous barter rate. It's basically any service falling outside of the standard Coach Responsibilities (education on tests and competitions, equipment assistance) that you don't fork over legal tender for.

Given the expense of this sport, it's easy to get excited about Freebies. Wow! Coach really wants to help me! He must really like me!

Hold on. Not so fast.

On the surface, a Freebie seems like a nice gesture. And maybe Coach really does want to help you in some way with some skill without added expense. But here's the catch: You're now beholden to Coach.

A Freebie serves as a way for that Coach to get their little claws in you, to the point where it's difficult to escape. If you've been taking Freebies for awhile, and then become unhappy with the Coaching relationship, it's no stretch for an unethical Coach to say, "Well, I did these nice favors for you, how dare you talk back to me and complain! After everything I've done for you?" Suddenly it's Martyr City and you're Pilate.

A bad scenario for you as a member of your Rink Community is a Coach sneaking you into a class for which you didn't pay. Rink Management likely wouldn't appreciate that, and other families who did pay won’t see it as a nice gesture like you did. Two skaters can keep a secret only if one of them has a blade in her back.

Sharing Lessons is another nice gesture that can go horribly awry. Again, on the surface it is a nice way to defray costs between students of a similar level. But, as everyone knows, all skaters learn at different rates. When one skater picks up skills faster than the other, moving up before the other skater can, that faster learning skater is more likely to get the bulk of Coach's attention. It rips off lower level skaters in that shared lesson group. Worse is when a "Shared Lesson" exists to subsidize one particularly gifted skater at the expense of others who bankroll a hefty percentage of her skating lessons. (Big clues here are when Coach comments on the family’s finances.) Watch a Shared lesson between skaters of disparate levels and you can usually pick out whose lesson this really is.

What happens when one skater suddenly decides to leave the little group? It throws every other skater in a sudden lurch. Do you cut short the lesson time? Or do you continue on because the Coach "needs the income?"

Tread carefully in "Shared Lessons" and be sure they are, in fact, truly and equitably shared.

Not all Freebies are bad. But be careful. Keep track. Don't put yourself in a situation where you've accepted so many Freebies and Favors that it's hard to back out of an abusive coaching relationship, and you simply have to take the Coach's abuse due to all the "nice things" he did before. Remember, an abuser's pattern is one of cruelty followed by "let me make it up to you" niceness.

Bottom line, Coaching is a business. Be wary of any Pro who doesn’t treat it that way. And there’s no such thing as a Free Skating Lunch. Ever. Don't get burned out there.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Patch Skates: Round 2

As you readers will recall, I had my first try in Patch Skates back in September. It was scary as all get out. Given how scared I was, and with the show coming up, I tabled the Patch Skates until after Ice Show. I couldn't risk injury.

Well, Ice Show is done, so I swallowed my fear and laced them back up. And it was a little easier this time. A little. I swizzled around and eventually picked up to one foot glides. Then I could do FI Edges. The balance point is insanely precise. Go off of it even slightly and skid perilously sideways. I tried FO Edges, and my left side was cooperative, but my right skidded badly. I knew I was not leaning.

Patch Coach came in and sighed. He had me try FI8's. My right side was easy, but my left inside edge was hard. Skid, skid, skid. Scary scrape at the pushoff.

He had me just do edges.

FI were no problem. FO... skid, skid, skid. Scary Scrape as I tried to push with a nonexistent pick.

He sighed and called me back over. "Did you bring the old ones?"

I frowned. Was this defeat?

He told me to bring the Freestyles and Figures for a few weeks while I make the transition. Start in the Freestyles, then switch to Figures, then back again. He gave me simple sets of swizzles and slaloms to do in the Figures. Find the balance point, learn to push from the knee and be on my heel.

"Now try backwards swizzles," he said.

"What, no." I do not like to go backwards in these things. Yes, I can snowplow backwards, but that little drag pick does drag!

"Just go slow."

So I did, painfully aware of my position on the blade. "DONOTPITCHFORWARD.... DONOTPITCHFORWARD... DONOTPITCHFORWARD.... DONOTPITCHFORWARD...." my swizzle pattern echoed my thought process. I could feel my back, ramrod straight. "I can't stop," I squealed as I came perilously close to the wall, but my foot dug into that shallow edge and stopped me, safe as peaches. Coach Yoda laughed.

I did a few laps, and then we did backwards slaloms, also terrifying. But I could feel the backwards balance point. I may not do actual Figures in my Figure Skates until the New Year, if that, but progress was made.

In the lobby, Coach Yoda then decided to tell me that "back in the day," they didn't start in actual Patch Skates until 3rd test... when they started doing Loops. Now he tells me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rink Review: The Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon!

In case you haven't heard, Chicago is now home to the world's coolest skating rink. Down by the lakefront, just past Millennium Park, is Maggie Daley Park. And on the north end of the part is the Skating Ribbon. It's a quarter mile loop of ice, about 25' wide (give or take) for your skating pleasure. It curves and bends and winds itself around the (still unfinished) Rock Climbing Wall, and even has some soft inclines for a little adventure! Yes, it's just shy of five feet up and down (Twice!) over a 300' distance. When I saw it, I was a little unnerved! Skating downhill??

But be brave, skaters, and get out your skates! This rink is not for jumping or spinning or any of your repertoire of tricks, but rather just for an outdoor skating session to chill your cheeks, give you a real workout, and make you crave a hot chocolate. The day I went, it was unseasonably warm for December in Chicago, so the ice was very soft. And because Chicago in December is packed with Tourists, it did get crowded fairly quickly. But just to push up the hill and then glide serenely down and around was very fun. You'll skate past casual observers and enchanted children, the usual set of rink rats out for the day, frustrated Figure Showoffs with nowhere to spin, and plenty of newbies struggling up and panicking down.

"But how do they make ice on a hill? Is it real ice?"

Yes, it's very real and I have no idea how they do it. I don't care. It's amazing, and if you have the misfortune to visit Chicago in winter, go visit. It will be unlike anything you've ever skated before, I promise. It made me think of how skating began: Outside, cold, travelling around on a frozen river, touring peacefully in winter. Just casually stroking, hands in my pockets and smiling. It was a lovely thing to do after Ice Show.

Just be sure to stretch afterwards. Those inclines make you work more than you realize! Also, there is a coffee shop inside the lovely Chicago Cultural Center right across Michigan Avenue. Step in to warm up and take in some beautiful art and Chicago History, looking like a total boss with your skates slung over your shoulder.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Another Show in The Books

Ice show is done. I'm catching up on Grand Prix Final videos and relaxing. Overall, this was one of the best ice shows I've ever done. The stress level was mainly caused by overzealous skating moms, which is to be expected and can be contained.

My spins were not happening. I don't know whether it was the long skirt flipping me out, the new sharpening done by a stranger which I didn't trust, performance anxiety or all three, but I couldn't spin as well as I can in practice. But I let it go. If it happens, great. If not, I know what I need to work on. The shows are a great way to find trouble spots.

I had a great time sewing for the girls, and my costumes were a hit. I'd like to remake more for next year, as our stock holiday costumes are really showing their age. It was nice having artistic license in costume creation.

And it was friendlier. There was a camaraderie in the building that I hadn't felt before. No one was running around saying, "Have you heard..." and there was no one threatening to quit. We were laughing at the folks who were trying to stir up trouble, and we let it go. I avoided people I just didn't want to deal with, as it was just easier that way. "If you don't have anything nice to say" and all that.

Why the big change? Lots of reasons, but one big one in particular: We got rid of one big bad apple. She left and it was like everyone could breathe again. We were free to do stuff, make decisions, and make changes. And it worked.

This morning I skated with Coach and we did Moves, and I told him how happy I was with my skating. I was skating so much better than I was last year, and for the first time in a show I could relax about the skating elements and smile. People kept stopping me and telling me how great I looked. He laughed. But it's me working hard and having someone who works hard with me consistently and fairly, not tossing me table scraps from the skating supper. That's made all the difference in the world. Last year when the show was over I felt horrible, but this year I feel like I skated strongly, worked hard, and contributed to something amazing.

I'm thinking now that if I can come this far in 8/9 months, this upcoming year promises to be fabulous. Coach says he will teach me to Skate, and I want that. After my lesson I hung out and played some fun music, playing with steps and moves. I love that I can play now. People catch me playing on public's and ask me what step it is, and I laugh and shrug. It's fun, that's what it is. Skating is fun.