It’s Okay to Hang Up Your Skates for a While

If the hardest thing about adult skating is actually taking that first tentative step (…especially when you forget to take your blade guards off…), then the second-hardest thing is showing up to do it again and again and again in the face of progress that moves at notoriously glacial speeds. Sure, you gotta cut yourself some slack for leveling-up the difficulty factor by being an old dog dedicated to learning some new tricks, but that’s nothing compared to the tricks your mind can play on you. Especially if you have a penchant for being your own worst enemy.

It’s intimidating to share the ice with kids who are young enough to be your children. It’s awkward signing up for LTS classes and having to explain yet again that, no, this is for you, not your child. It’s a little scary realizing that you’re going to get hurt eventually, and that things like driving to work, cleaning the house, and adulthood’s other endless parade of responsibilities won’t wait for you to heal up. But no risk, no reward, right?

When you love the ice and skate with your whole heart, these worries have a way of melting into muted background static—especially on the good days. When you have the kind of session or lesson when it takes an impatient Zamboni to chase you off the ice, when that move you’ve been chipping away at finally makes sense to your body, when another skater (or your coach!) compliments your progress, when you feel like this is the closest you’ll ever come to flying, those are the moments that make this sport positively addicting.

But, oh. Then there are those bad days. The obverse to the adrenaline rush of progress, accomplishment, and being in the place where your heart is happiest is when that progress comes at the speed of evolution, when the plateaus feel more like insurmountable mountains, and when you can’t help but feel like you’re always the one applauding everyone else’s milestone achievements while that terrible little voice in the back of your head wonders when it’ll be your turn to have a breakthrough moment.

While I will never stop being amazed at how supportive and nurturing the adult skating community is, we still have to be self-motivated to succeed. A Greek choir of confidence is a wonderful asset to have on your side, but it’s a supplemental one: It’s easy to be your own worst enemy and harshest critic; it’s so much harder to be your own biggest fan—but it’s so important to pick pep-talks over beating yourself up. Just like it’s one thing to push yourself to do better, but it’s another thing entirely to ignore how far you’ve come because you’re so focused on how much better you want to be. It’s okay to take your eyes off the prize long enough to stop, look around, and appreciate where you are on your journey right now.

My default position is to be waaaaaay too hard on myself, which is a tendency that’s only amplified in this sport that tortures perfectionists. I’ve had to learn how to rewire so many knee-jerk responses in order to give myself permission to not be a skating prodigy: There are lofty goals and then there are unreasonable expectations, and expecting myself to set the adult skating world on fire is one of those pie-in-the-sky ambitions that badly needed to find the happy compromise between reality and the misguided optimism that’s running amok so hard it over-corrects itself into a ruinously impossible target.

I recently let myself get away from skating for a little more than a week, which might not sound like much to some but when you need the daily practice as much as I do, it’s a small eternity. While I loved every second at Lake Placid, my body did not love being reminded how all that skating comes with a price: Matching pairs of lace-bite had nothing on how badly my knees, back, feet, and thighs were absolutely screaming at me and begging for a voluntary break before they made that decision for me. With my pain threshold reaching its limits—combined with the fact that I feel like my progress has hit a wall, and that a few days of skating camp made it crystal clear that I have not advanced as much in a year as I had hoped I would—my interest in skating started to diminish in early July, until I got to the point where I was dismissing my 5 a.m. skating alarm and rolling back over to cuddle with hubs and our dogchild for another two hours.

In just eight days, I went from missing skating to wondering if I could get used to life away from the ice, as I easily made that transition the first time I abandoned skating. I stopped doing any kind of off-ice training. I scrolled past my skating friends’ Instagram posts because, honestly, it stung to see how well everyone else is doing and the competitions they’re fearlessly participating in while I’m sitting here wondering if I’ll ever be on speaking terms with LFI mohawks enough to pass my Bronze MITF test before the year’s over.

My one-person pity party didn’t last long, but I’m hoping that the things it made me consider linger long enough to cement themselves in my brain. But even if I need another lesson in how much I miss the ice when it’s not a part of my life five or six days a week, all it takes is that first skate after an extended absence: I got back on the proverbial horse this week, and just the familiar, visceral sensations of whipping down the ice, the cold wind on my cheeks, the sound of my blades cutting through the ice, and the unequalled freedom of being exactly where my heart belongs was enough to move me to tears when I realized that I just can’t stay away when there’s so much left to learn and master and prove. My proficiency as a skater might not ever reflect how deeply I love this sport, but my determination sure as heck will.

This is not my first foray into letting myself miss the ice, but every time is a little different or for a different reason or takes a different approach to conquer. I felt this one coming and held on for as long as I could: Ultimately, giving myself permission to step away until the dying fire in my belly spectacularly reignited into a roaring flame was what I needed this time. I’m not the first skater to fall out of love with the sport for a little while—and I’m also not the last. For those who are in a similar place, whether it’s right now or six months down the line, I have some suggestions on how to find your love for skating again that’ve helped me get over that lukewarm ish before.

* Lose yourself in focused practice sessions. Despite my desperate attempts to prove otherwise, turns out that you only get better at the things you actually practice. Which is great if you crave challenges more than comfort, but pretty maddening for those who are more inclined to walk away from things we’re not immediately proficient in. Practice times are not always easy to squeeze into our adult schedules and responsibilities, but dedicate just 15 minutes a session to hacking away at that problem move. Proof of progress is one of the most encouraging tools we have on our side and once you see it, it gets addicting to WANT to keep pushing yourself closer and closer to crossing the line between “progressing” and “consistent.”

* Move on. If you’re stuck on a move that is just sapping all your love from the sport and turning it into abject frustration… well, first of all, I totally relate because I could vomit forth a beefy novel about why back spins are my white whale. But sometimes you just gotta move on for a while. Revisit an old favorite to jazz up with variations or new connecting moves, or simply because it boosts your confidence while getting back in touch with the things you love about this sport. And, if you’re like me and thrive on making things harder for yourself than they need to be, you can always move onto a more challenging element: Sometimes, the confidence boost from tackling something newer and more difficult, combined with taking on an in-progress skill, is the jolt you need to best that thing that’s been torturing you. It can also help provide a different context for a move you need some additional insight into, or simply wind up being what helps you refocus and get unstuck.

* Vary your off-ice training. I finally accepted that conditioning my body off-ice not only makes for a well-rounded workout routine but also is the only way to cultivate the strength and flexibility I need to, say, get my sit spins looking more like my shoot-the-ducks than a woman in her mid-30s awkwardly crouching on barely bent knees. So much of the more complicated moves require significant all-over strength, and I am finding that yoga and barre classes are great additions to hopping on the spinner every night and practicing jumps every time I take the dog out. I haven’t worked my way up to Pilates yet, but I recently took my first barre class and… man, I thought yoga engaged my core, arms, and legs but this was a whole new level of physical burn that I felt for days after just one class. But what I really love about barre is that fostering physical awareness in a place where I can check and correct what my body is doing right in front of a floor-to-ceiling mirror has been the posture-correction I badly needed as a visual learner. Bonus: Taking on skating as an adult means you’ll probably never be embarrassed to be a beginner at anything ever again.

* Go to a public skating session. Remember why you fell in love with this sport and the sense of flying it gives you in an environment that’s significantly lower-pressure than a freestyle session. And, hey, whether or not you venture out to the middle of the ice, the general public will think you’re a skating prodigy just for being able to skate backward or make it around the rink without holding onto the boards for dear life. It might be the low-hanging fruit of ego boosts, but it still feels good to be reminded that the vast majority of the population is in awe of what we do. Seeing yourself in a new, more impressive light is the validation we all deserve.

* Reconnect with your skating community. Seriously. Your skating family loves you and misses you when you’re away, they want to see you succeed, and they want to use their own struggles to educate others. And just being reminded that the adult skating community is practically gushing support helps overcome the very natural insecurities that coax you off the ice for a while. They’ll know whether to push you to overcome the skating blahs or remind you that both they and the ice will be waiting with open arms to welcome you back, and will almost definitely have their own skating-hiatus stories to share to remind you that you are never, ever alone on this journey.

* Lean into it. We’re adults, and our lives are already filled with things we don’t want to do. When skating gets to be a chore, when you’re clock-watching more than scouting for open ice at freestyle, when you’re looking for any excuse to ditch the rink, consider this your permission to bow out of skating for as long as it takes. Sometimes you need to feel the void it leaves to reconnect with how much space it occupies in your heart. Sometimes some time away helps crystalize certain lessons and shed certain bad habits. And sometimes you flat-out need a break. And that’s not just okay: That’s life. Take the time off when you need to recharge because so few things will actually grant you that freedom and flexibility.

Whether it’s burnout, thwarted progress, general frustration, giving your body or mind time to heal, adulting interfering with skating, or any of the dozens of things that can sideline adult skaters for a while, sometimes you have to let yourself miss the ice so you can come back a better, stronger, and more impassioned skater.

And remember: Your skating family will be there for you as you figure out what your next move is, just like they—and the ice!—will be ready to welcome you back when you’re ready to fly again.

madonice

Hi there! I've been an adult skater since January 2017, though I skated recreationally as a kid for a few years (none of those skills made it through my 16 years off the ice, so I feel like I'm a true beginning more often than not). I'm slooooowly making the transition from being less of a hobby skater to more of a serious one, and I'm so grateful for the amazing IRL and digital community I've found on this journey.

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