Like so many other things, I initially took up figure skating just as enthusiastically as I fled from it. When I hit the ice for my first LTS class, I was just another surly pre-teen whose introduction to hormonal mood swings was temporarily mitigated by the realization that giving skating a shot meant that I could bargain my way out of ever playing softball again.
I have, for as long as I can remember, been both a bookworm and an introvert, better suited for libraries and solitude than ball fields and team sports; skating, at least, was the hostage exchange that spared me the pressure of the latter since, no matter what, I was going to be forced into athletic pursuits I showed neither interest nor potential in–almost as if no one took into account that my lone physical talent was a knack for falling up stairs.
Oddly enough, though, group lessons offered just the right amount of interaction and independence. I still would have preferred to be curled up in my room while devouring whatever book I loathed to put down that week, but those LTS classes were a decidedly painless upgrade from trying to halfheartedly wedge my square peg into softball’s round hole…
…until I ran out of basic classes to take and graduated to freestyle and private lessons. What was a mostly agreeable hobby turned into an unholy amalgamation of meeting lesson days with dread, navigating the ice rink equivalent of the mean-girls’ table, and a mounting suspicion that I was in waaaay over my head.
So when I sprained my ankle attempting a loop jump in high school, I embraced my injury as the permanent athletic exit I’d been hoping for. With college on the horizon, I dropped skating like a bad habit and limped as fast as I could toward the future.
Somehow, though, my skates followed me. They got tossed into my dorm closets mostly as a second thought and conversation piece. They made the hour-long commute with me day in and day out as I ping-ponged my way through a tri-county tour of ever-shifting living situations in the chaotic almost-year after college when my car and my first journalism job were the only reliable constants. They made it to the apartment my husband and I turned into our first home. For whatever reason, as lukewarm as I was about skating by the time I inelegantly abandoned the sport, I found myself thinking about giving it another shot more and more often in the 16 years that followed.
A college friend is ultimately why I stopped saying “maaaaybe I should” and started saying “yes I AM,” and finally followed through on a New Year’s resolution in January 2017 when I signed up to take my first-ever adult skating class. And promptly fell head-over-heels in love with the sport in a way that my moody younger self never could.
Now. A number of the second-chance skaters (at least among those I’ve met) were so good when they stopped that those skills were fairly easily excavated to awe-inspiring effects, even after a number of years away from the ice.
Please understand that I am, most assuredly, not one of them.
I retained enough to be among the most proficient skaters in my adult LTS class, but I was also the only one with any kind of previous skating experience; those first six months were the most capable I’ve felt as an adult skater. And it’d still be another six months ’til I managed my first one-foot spin.
Two and a half years in, I’m still struggling to overcome being too deep into my own head to progress as quickly as I feel like I should compared to the other adult skaters I’ve met both IRL and through digital communities.
But that’s the thing: Each of us is on our own journey and following our own path. Time is meaningless here, and comparisons are doubly so. It took me a year and a half to work up the courage to start going to pre-work freestyle sessions because I was so intimidated by the caliber of talent dominating that ice–and by how much of it was just a fraction of my age. I’m 35 and I still haven’t figured out how to go a day or two without walking into a wall. The personal blog I very, very casually maintain is a monument to both my natural flightiness and how ruled by fear my second chance at skating is. All things considered, given how brutally I have mentally sabotaged my own love of skating by holding myself back and not getting the most out of my time back on the ice, I’m doing just fine.
I love this sport. And I ab-so-luuuutely have to remind myself that I love this sport. Which I think is exactly how it should be: It’s that balance of challenge and reward that makes this sport so irresistible.
Because, like anything worth chasing, skating might be stingy with its rewards but the harder you grind away, the better that breakthrough feels.
But between those AHA! moments when the heavens open and a choir of angels sings of your divine ability, there are hours and hours and hoooours of repetitive practice and constellations of bruises and a whole lot of self-doubt.
And that’s where the adult-skater community shines. For someone who shied away from team sorts, the camaraderie and support among my skating siblings from my home rink to my IG friends is what what buoys me through the plateaus in both skating progress and skating passion. I’ve been asked for relationship advice while lacing up our skates. I have had some of the best mutual therapy sessions during warm-up laps. The group chats I have with my IRL skating sisters are sprinkled with inside jokes and Real Talk. And we’re all eager to give advice and play cheerleader when any one of us hits a wall. I never thought I’d be surrounded by so many people who can fill an ice rink with the warmth of home because they’ve taken a competitive sport and turned it into a community. We don’t just get up: We help each other up.
This time next week, I’ll be in Lake Placid for its Adult Skating Weekend. It’ll be my second time going, and… yeah, I am so excited to skate more in just one day than I do some weeks (because the worst part of being an adult skater is that the skating part often gets eclipsed by adulting) and to do it on Olympic ice, but it’s the instant sense of being among my people that I’m dying to revisit the most–and you know the company’s gotta be good if the introvert is excited about socializing for three solid days. I could not stop raving about the experience last year, so brace yourselves: Exclamation points are coming.