Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Surviving Skating when you Live on Hoth

It's cold everywhere in the US these days. My Southern relations are posting dire, panicked photos of 3" of snow on the ground and calling themselves struck with Cabin Fever. This makes me laugh. They are also posting images of their phones telling them that it is ten degrees, or five degrees, or something, and this also makes me laugh.

Where I live in the northern US, we have a pretty persistent snow on the ground about a foot deep in spots. But the snow isn't bothering me because the roads and sidewalks are mostly clear. The real issue for us right now is the cold. We had what is hopefully our last truly cold day yesterday, with a wind chill of twenty below. Earlier in the season we got down to thirty below in the wind, and daytime highs of -10F.  Last year was worse. The cold snap lasted about a month, with multiple days below zero, wind chills of fifty below and it went on for so long that water mains 3 feet (1 meter) below the ground froze solid. Our rink also operates as a warming shelter, and we had some interesting folks in the lobby for awhile. The only benefit to this was that I couldn’t keep weight on and was enjoying avocados four times a week with no repercussions.

Skating in this kind of weather does happen, and the maintenance crews at the rink say that "The Die Hards will always come." Well, I'm a Die Hard, and I always show up for my early morning skate. I won't get to Adult Nationals by snuggling under my covers and whining that it's cold, so off I go.

When you step inside the Rink Door, the cold hits you bodily, freezing up all your joints. If your coach is with you, he's got on snow pants and a parka and a hat and thick gloves, but you've got to have a dancer's line somewhere, so no snow pants for you. The ice is really hard, you can see your breath in the rink, your MP3 player freezes up after about 30 minutes and you have to give it a little handwarmer cozy (not joking) and the north garage door has a layer of frost on the inside. But it's skateable, and you can do it without mugging your coach for his snow pants and parka.

Layer up.

T-shirt, long sleeve shirt, cotton fleece and a windbreaker on top. Skating tights, base layer and leggings on the bottom. You can always remove a layer when you get warm. Two pairs of gloves, legwarmers, ear warmer... the list goes on... Some skaters are swearing by The Puffy Vest. I have a Puffy Vest and I get mixed results. It usually only works down to a certain degree and then I'm wishing for sleeves again. Skirts are out until we get above 30 outside. Cotton is your absolute best friend.

Tissues, lots of them

Runners may lose vital fluids through sweat, but skaters lose them through copious mucous production. Spinning with a runny nose is less than glamorous, nor are spirals with a string of snot dangling down. Figures are near impossible when you're being distracted by the fluids on your face. I keep a pack in my pocket as well as a few on the boards. I did make a little tissue pack that fits in my skating binder so I'm not traipsing a box all over. Still, getting snot on your gloves is inevitable, so keep multiple pairs and wash weekly.

Warm beverages

Warm Lemon water in a thermos is wonderful stuff.

Accept the cold

You will never be at an optimal temperature. Ever. You'll heat up with the exercise and immediately freeze when you stop. Embrace it. You are hardcore. You are badass. Wind chill? You *are* wind chill.

Bring Dry Clothes

If you've skated hard, you've worked up a sweat, and sometimes I've found I've soaked through all my layers. This is a serious problem if it's below zero outside. You simply can't go out in wet clothes. So I had to start bringing a dry t-shirt, fleece and gloves to go home in. When I toss my wet clothes in the backseat of the car, they're usually frosty and crispy by the time I get home.

Coconut Oil

I gave up on Lotions long ago, and now just use straight up organic coconut oil on my hands. I still have to use a file on my callouses, but the oil really helps prevent the cracking and bleeding. On really dry days, I use some on my face before bedtime. I know it sounds weird, but I’m a believer.

So there you have it. It can be done, but most of it is just acceptance. It's winter, therefore it will be cold. Pretty soon it will be summer and we'll all be complaining that the ice is slow because it's frosted over and the boards will be soaked in condensation. At least we're not skating outside like the early skaters had to do, right?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Class Levels and Defining Progress

Home Rink is switching from ISI Learn to Skate to USFS Basic Skills. I am ecstatic about this. The Basic Skills curriculum just makes so much more sense to me, as it breaks down complex skills into bite-size pieces over a longer period of time. Backspins, jumps, turns, everything is nuggetized very early on, and I think this makes things much easier to learn and process.

This brought up discussions of Class Levels, since I'm taking classes again. Some of the skating parents I chill with think it's great that I might be ISI FS3 before long, but it's hard to convince anybody that this really doesn't mean anything to me. Presuming I pass FS2, which I'm 2 revolutions away from doing, Home Rink would place me in Freeskate 2 when we make the switch.

Thing is, I place myself in Freeskate 1. When we were talking about this in the lobby, a well-meaning coach called this a "demotion." It's nothing of the kind, it's a reality. The Reality is that I don't have Back Outside 3 turns, which are needed to pass Freeskate 1. So, I'm really helping myself by stepping back and learning these basics, preventing more gaps in my skating skills which is how I got into trouble in the first place.

Coach and I worked on BO and BI3's at our last lesson, when I explained my class strategy.

I don't like defining my progress based off of class levels. That's deceptive. It's too easy to fall into the trap of "I did it once, therefore I pass," or thinking that being in a higher level class inherently makes me a better skater. That's just not realistic or safe. I walked into FS1 without ever having been taught proper warmup patterns, and it crippled me for speed for a long time. I'm happy to "demote" myself to learn Back 3's, as 3Turns are in the set of "Must know" skills. Besides, I'm looking forward to completely dominating those little kids with my Advanced Forward Stroking and glorious Edges.

Higher level skills will happen, but without a strong foundation in the basics it's pretty useless. It will absolutely bite you in the ass in the long run. You define your own progress, and the only outside barometer should be your coach. Everything else is supplementary.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Shit gets Real on Patch

Change 3's on Patch ice. My skating buddy is out so all of Coach Yoda's eyes are on me. And I'm struggling with that damn check again. Again. It's getting better, but only because it couldn't get worse. My circles look pretty bad. Not like circles at all, more like lobular beasts found in a pond somewhere. But I keep throwing myself at them. Like I do.

Now, I've heard Coach Yoda yell and be frustrated with the kids many times. And I've always smiled to myself and thought "He doesn't yell at me, I'm an adult."

Imagine my shock when I got a sudden sharp correction upon tapping my toe down to facilitate the checkout. The same sharp tone used with the kids. So I ground into the check physically and made another lobular beast.... and Coach Yoda found this more pleasing somehow.

I don't mind being yelled at. One of the things I tell coaches upon hiring them is that it is perfectly okay to yell. I need that sometimes, and I know and recognize this about myself. (I do not accept name calling on any level, even if it's "just joking." Constructive criticism only on my dime.) But I was so smug in thinking that "Oh, Yoda would never yell at me...." so that when he did, it was a bit of a surprise.

I have to remember that Coach Yoda, like the real Yoda, was a badass in his day. I hired him to impart the secrets of Badassery. Or the "mystique of skating," as he called it later on. Badasses of any type don't always speak softly. The trick to effective yelling is to do it so infrequently that people get shaken up when you do!


"Remark your center, step straight, lean into it! The Edge makes the curve not you!"
And then he taught me the precursor to the loop figure, and all yelling was forgotten.


But finding my tracings in that polar little rink is making me crazy.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Random Thoughts during Program Work

Power Class, for all its associated peril, has made me faster. Much. Faster. So much so that the "slower" program that once felt terrifyingly fast is now leisurely, and I wind up with about ten to fifteen seconds worth of music at the end. And this is after we reworked it to include a new fun/scary step, a bigger lunge and two backwards spirals. (A "double set" as Coach said, which made me squee at having actual big league terms used for my little program.)

I knew Coach was going to want a salchow in that newfound time, but I don't know if that's show-worthy yet, so I have been nudging to do a waltz jump combo. I tried it during our lesson, but like most choreo I put out there, it got a lackluster response.

How about this, boss??

Nope, Coach wanted a salchow. So we worked on Salchow. Did you know that from the entry step to the outside three, that needs to be your body length? Okay, that's no problem, I got that... but then from the outside three to the actual jump, that's another body length? So, I have to hold that edge for 5' before I can swing around into the jump. I'm lucky to hit 3. AND you can't just spin around, the ice print gives you away. It's got to be pretty straight, from entrance to landing. It was maddening. And it was all about the check.

But I worked them again this morning and they were better. I still have trouble with a backwards catch foot spiral, because as glamorous as they look on TV, I feel like a lawn flamingo hurtling backwards at warp speed. I have to get someone to video this to check my position, because seriously I get to laughing and I ruin it.

Coach is either incredibly optimistic or completely delusional about my flexibility, because he's asked me to start really working on those catch foot maneuvers. (Sorry, Dick Button, but I think they're cool, too.) This is a Public Ice thing, because one it doesn't require a lot of ice and two, I just don't like looking quite that awkward on the Practice Ice. He told me to try the stretches on the floor, but that just leads to me to pretending I'm Madonna on the "Confessions on a Dance Floor" set.


This was seriously one of the best albums ever made.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Just a Guard

Apparently one of the big fears from the House Pros about me learning to skate is that I would try to coach. I have said it endlessly: I have absolutely no desire to coach. I want to perform and compete, and nowhere does coaching fit into my completely selfish equation. I let coaches coach, I just skate and have fun.

But out on Public Skating Sessions, there seems to be some misunderstanding that Rink Guards are there to "assist" beginning skaters. At least once per public session I get one parent or grandparent who flags me down and asks if I can help their child/grandchild, because it's their first time in skates.

I really can't help. Skating is all up to that person. Either they want to do it or they don't, and if they don't there's nothing anyone can do. I cannot help a crying toddler, a reluctant pre-teen, or a ditzy boy falling all over himself. I just can't. And really, the first few tries on skates are truly just an exercise in staying upright. And as a Guard, I'm just there to assist the fallen and harass people about their dumb phones. (Stop taking Selfies... it makes me crazy.)

Further, I can't help from a legal standpoint. Coaches are all insured in case someone gets catastrophically hurt. I'm not, I'm just a volunteer. So, my limitations on "helping" that new skater involve general words of encouragement and "stay on the wall until you're comfortable!" and "Just try walking." I promise the parent/grandparent that I'll keep an eye on the subject, and that's about the best I can do.

What's more fun are the parents and grandparents who do ask me to be a coach. Yes, it happens on occasion.

Here's how it usually goes: "Excuse me, but are you a coach here?"
"No, I'm just a rink guard."
"Oh. Because you skate really well and my daughter likes you, so I thought you could give her lessons."
"No, no. I'm not a coach, I'm still learning. But you can talk to that person over there," I point to one of the coaches who works during publics. "They are a coach. I'd be glad to introduce you."
"How much do they charge?"
"You'd have to ask them, but rates go anywhere from $40 to $100 an hour."
"That is way too expensive!"
"Well, if you want to learn to skate, they can do it. Or you can start with the group classes offered by the rink."
"How much are those?"
**I name the price on a 10 week class session.**
"That's still expensive. Do you take classes?"
"Yes, and I do private lessons with my coach."
"How much does *he* charge?"
**I name coach's price, which is not cheap.**
"Holy crap, are you going to the Olympics or something??"
"Or something, sure."

Wait a minute, just a second ago you said I skated well!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Best Lessons Ever

So we got a major surprise snowstorm. And I gave myself fifteen extra minutes to clean off the car at 5am, but gave up just by looking at it and hoofed it to the rink. I'm spoiled rotten, I live just 3/4 a mile away. I walked in the dark, empty streets, past walls of snow and keeping an eye out for plows. I made it in just as the Maintenance guy opened, and we shared some laughs at the massive drifts blocking the entrance. I skated for a little over an hour, again spoiled rotten by having the rink to myself a lot, and coach called me midway through to say he couldn't get out of his parking lot. I told him not to worry. My knee was bugging me anyway.

I texted him when I was done, asking him if he was okay. I hadn't heard from him and the newscast on the rink's lobby TV was full of accident reports. I walked home and settled in to enjoy my snow day. I got a surprise day off, too.

Coach called me later on and said he was fine and could take me during the public session later on in the afternoon if I was okay with it. I said sure.

So I walked back, this time down cleaner sidewalks and thinking how lucky we were that this late in winter to be getting this, and how it was going to warm up later on this week, too. I could kinda deal with this.

And I skated for an hour on the public and waited for coach to finish up with the girl he was working with. It was fun. Just really relaxing. I worked, but just not with the same intensity of a true Practice Ice. By the time Coach got to me, I was really warm and loose and ready to GO.

And go we did! I had asked to revisit the slower program for auditions for Spring Show, so he started revamping, and talking, and told me I already had everything I needed to lush up whatever I did. Big pumps, bug pushes, let it glide and flow... and I inadvertently learned a new turn in the process. For thirty minutes I was in absolute heaven on ice. Just watching him and trying to imitate as best I could, and for a few fleeting moments I had it.

Now, I'm not a fan of freestyle lessons on Public Sessions. It's hard. There a lot of distractions. And just as we were finishing up, with two minutes left in the session, a man went down hard face first. And he laid there.

I'm a "take charge" kinda gal, so I reluctantly broke the magic spell we were under to see if this dude was okay. He was not. He pushed up and blood pooled under his face, a massive gash on his eyelid area. I begged him to stay down, lay down, wait for help, but he got up anyway. Coach and I helped him to the hockey box, I stayed with him while Coach went for help. Rink staff came out with forms and towels and help, and we backed off...

Coach got his coffee and asked me to step through the program again, since there would be some time before the Zam came out while the paramedics were coming. And I smiled and stepped back and tried again. "There is blood on your jacket," Coach pointed it out. I stifled a laugh and tried that backwards catch foot spiral again. "Look behind you, you can look for your blade," he kept talking, kept on magicking. And we kept working until the gurney was rolled out with big dudes in big jackets looking at us funny.

Magic, as long as you can make it last.