Sticking the Landing

Mark Hamilton. Katarina Witt. Torvil and Dean.

Between them, they made pure beauty happen on the ice during the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo. Not even ballerinas could rival the skaters’ fantastic grace. I devoured every minute of television coverage, just like I did every winter Olympics.

It was as close as I ever got to actual ice skating.

I’d gone to an ice rink once, as a teenager. I expected to be reasonably good at it, for I’d spent many hours on roller skates, gliding on sidewalks and parking lots, but that in no way prepared me for the complete lack of friction inherent in ice skating. I clung to the wall as I laboriously inched around the rink, and my ankles always wanted to bend outward in my rented skates.

And that was it—just the one time. My family usually didn’t have the money for things like lessons. I got some swim lessons one summer because Grandma sent the money for them, but most of the time, if they didn’t have a class at school, I was out of luck.

So later, when I had kids of my own, I vowed things would be different. My daughter and sons not only had gymnastics and swim lessons, they also took piano or guitar. And they had skating lessons.

When the older two took their intro classes, I cheered them on and got to live a little vicariously. Okay, so maybe I never got to take skating lessons, but they did, and in some ways that was even better.

And then my youngest hit first grade and got his turn in the beginner class. I had nobody to sit with and talk to anymore. All my kids were on the ice, either practicing or in class.

For a couple of weeks, I sat on the benches, wearing my parka and watching as the primary-age kids struggled with keeping their ankles straight in the intro class. All the adorable little-graders lined up next to their much taller adult teacher. Parents cheered their kids on and offered sympathy for their frequent falls.

An adult on the ice would be totally out of place. I’d been there for years and had never seen a parent skating.

But the longer I sat there, the less I cared.

I asked at the office. No, there wasn’t any reason I couldn’t join my son on the ice. And the teacher didn’t mind having me in class.

So I bought my own pair of skates and discovered the ankle support was way better than with the rented ones. I went out and skated during regular practice sessions so I didn’t look like a complete idiot later in class. And then I sallied forth to join a bunch of first- and second-graders as we all tried not to disgrace ourselves on the ice.

I learned to swivel my legs in and out to build speed. I also learned several ways to stop (very important). And I learned that I didn’t die of embarrassment by being the only adult in a kids’ class.

The teacher actually liked having another adult to talk to, I think. Like me, he was in his thirties and had learned to take unusual events in stride. My son didn’t seem to die of embarrassment having me there, and I tried to treat him like any other kid in the class (DON’T RUN OVER THEM). I had plenty of my own stuff to work on, just staying on my feet. Like the kids, I ended up on the ice plenty of times. Being slippery, the ice had one huge advantage over the sidewalk—I didn’t skin my knees when I fell. That part was nice, although the ice was every bit as unyielding. At least skating slowly meant I didn’t hit the ice that hard when I fell.

I loved it. I had no illusions about trying to replicate the spins and jumps I’d seen on TV—that sort of thing takes many years of dedication. But I learned to skate backward, first with swivels, and later pushing off. When I turned around and glided forward, I could even hold one leg up so it looked particularly graceful. I could trace simple figures (like an arc) on the ice. And I even learned an easy, one-time-around, quick spin and stop.

This required a fair bit of practice on my part. Skaters merely circling the rink, whether forward or back, stuck to the perimeter. People actually crashing were surprisingly rare, although I used to picture many very worried-looking guardian angels getting a good workout, hovering over their kids.

The center of the ice, though was rarified territory. That’s where students worked on spins and jumps. And that’s where I headed to work on my simple standing spin.

I’d gotten quite a bit faster over the months that I’d been practicing, enough that good braking skills were a must. I spun about in my one easy spin, over and over, grinning as I felt myself move so gracefully.

And then—bam—I was on the ice. I don’t even remember what I did wrong, but gravity happens fast. And it wasn’t my knees that got the worst of it this time—I’d landed right on my tailbone, and that’s a surprisingly tender area.

I wasn’t sure I could even move. The very idea seemed like a complete impossibility. My only consolation, as I tried to explain to my body that it had to get up and skate out of there, was that my backside was at least getting iced. A little numbness would definitely help me get to my feet.

And then a cute little girl, maybe six years old, in a pink stating suit with matching boot covers, zoomed over and skidded to a perfect stop. “Are you okay, lady?” she asked, concerned.

“I’m not sure, but I think so,” I said. Sacrificing the very last of my pride, I gratefully accepted the little girl’s protection as I literally crawled forward on the ice to get to my feet again. I couldn’t stand up straight, so I skated off to the benches hunched over. When I got there, some gal was telling her kid to get out there and try again. I wanted to tell her that she should try it first.

There was no way I was skating any more that day. Several hot baths stood between me and normal walking again.

It was worth every bit of it, though. Hey, I could actually ice skate. And to this day, I can still skate, forward and back, although I don’t attempt spinning anymore. I’ve felt myself glide over the ice, miraculously graceful, and I didn’t let fear keep me from that.

And okay, maybe it wasn’t Olympic gold. It was still wonderful.

Avid writer and reader of Faerie tales and noblebright fantasy.

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34 comments on “Sticking the Landing
  1. […] “Sticking The Land” by Cathleen Townsend […]

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  2. Darlene says:

    A great example of you’re never too old. My great aunt learned to swim at age 80.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a fun story. A difficult sport to pick up as an ‘older’ (older than a child).

    Liked by 4 people

    • It’s not that easy for kids, either. Hitting the ice gave me a real appreciation for how tough all those cute little primary-age girls are. It’s easy to underestimate them–in their skating suits with matching boot covers–but those kids really have some grit to their character. : )

      Liked by 4 people

      • How fun it must have been to take the class with youngsters!

        Liked by 3 people

        • Actually, like I alluded to earlier, I was hypervigilant when it came to possibly hurting the kids (falling over them was a real concern in the beginning). Mentally, it was personal skill building, which made other people tangential. It’s something like archery target shooting or swimming laps. But with adorable little people who you REALLY don’t want to hurt cutting in and out around you without warning.

          It was easier interacting with them when I was sitting on the bleachers, either after or before.

          Liked by 2 people

  4. Great! Love your great skate story, Cathleen–you did it! I went out on ice a few times with my girls, but clung to the outside edges. Even that was great fun. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. D.L. Finn, Author says:

    I love you joined your kids to learn something you always wanted to do 🙂 I ice skated as a child and loved it, but found as an adult it didn’t come as easy. Last time I tried my ankles didn’t like those rented skates or the fake ice…lol.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There really is a difference between rented skates and having your own. Fake ice is all I’ve ever known, so I can’t comment on that difference, though. The one thing I really noticed a difference with–adult vs. child–was a Hula Hoop. As a kid, I could make those things spin around for hours. I’d quit because I got bored. As an adult, I was amazed at how tough it actually is. I couldn’t even last two minutes. : )

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  6. Gary says:

    Never too old as others have said Cathleen. Like you I tried ice skating once back in the day. Ended up with blisters due to I’ll fitting “house” boots and a total hopeless clinging and internal chorus of why am I doing this. Never tried it since!

    However, you are a writer so… this could be double edged. Either autobiographical or written from a first person perspective of a fictional character. It reads as personal to you, but once I caught the other thought I’m now stuck with…is it?

    Lovely either way and did send me back to my own personal fiasco!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, this one really happened. There’s usually a unicorn or something to tip folks off when it’s fictional, although I can certainly understand checking. I’m glad it was relatable. Plenty of us have had fiascos of some sort or another on the ice. : )

      Liked by 1 person

      • Gary says:

        I’ll keep that in mind Cathleen haha. As for ice… haven’t tried that or roller skating since! Your recounting certainly brought back a long forgotten memory though. Good days although we ended up moving to 10 pin bowling in Nottingham. Much safer IMO!

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Jennie says:

    You did it, Cathleen! Hooray for desire and persistence.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. That’s funny. As I began to read this post, I found myself shaking my head. ‘Surely Cathleen knows how to skate,’ I thought to myself. Not sure if it’s something we talked about in the past or what, but I just KNEW that you had skating of sorts in your past (if not present).

    Having your own skates makes a HUGE difference. I never had lessons and only been to the ring probably a handful of times. Skating in a tropical climate when there is a layer of water on top also makes things more difficult. I would not recommend it.

    The last time I went, I saw a kid fall HARD onto his year. I didn’t see any blood, which was good, but it was scary.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Huzzah for your own skates! It’s a pity because they’re expensive, and that’s a barrier to entry for a lot of people. I learned in southern California, which is pretty warm most of the time. They had amazing air conditioners at the skating rink, though. It usually lasted okay until the zamboni driver could drive around before the next session.

      And yes, I hate seeing kids fall, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Being a ‘Brit’ I had to watched Torvill and Dean (again). The inclusion of this classic bit of film was a good idea, setting the scene and the atmosphere.

    This was a lovely account of wishes, musings and finally being inspired by your own children. I could clearly envisage the episodes, and followed your own adventures and yeah, who doesn’t fall on their tailbone one way or another in life? (definitely ‘tender’)

    Thanks for this delightfully inspiring and evocative piece

    Liked by 2 people

  10. aebranson says:

    A very relatable narration, even though I’ve never been ice skating. Also grew up in a family that couldn’t afford lessons, and also determined my own kids would have more opportunities. Your description of ice skating did make the experience quite vivid – especially the falling part. 🙂 Kids are low to the ground and bounce well, which seems to give them an advantage over us grownups when it comes to learning new physical skills. The line about not running over the others made me grin. Nice job!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks. I swear, not running over the kids was one of the biggest concerns I had. I would have felt like a horrible person, no matter how involuntary it might have been. And I’m glad you could relate to the story even though you’d never been skating. : )

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Awww. I love this, Cathleen. What a wonderful lesson in not letting silly things like age stand in our way. Painful at time, to take those risks, but worth it. Beautiful share.

    Liked by 3 people

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