Ice Skating Through the Years
Gliding across the winter ice was like floating. I loved the sound of skate blades cutting into the ice as they traced a tiny smooth channel. Each Christmas from the time I was four I received a new pair of white figure skates. The farm pond was frozen by Thanksgiving when Carol, my neighbor friend, and I began our daily after-school skating adventure. For me it was a respite from home where my mom who was sick with MS needed continual help, and away from my father who was a monstrous, violent man.
Sometimes we had to shovel snow off the ice before we could skate but we didn’t mind in anticipation of the treat that followed. We sat side-by-side on a rock and changed from boots to skates, lacing them with bare fingers numb with cold. On the ice mittens, snowsuits, scarfs, and hats kept us warm as we pretended to make figure-eights we had seen professionals perform on TV. We imagined we were Sonja Henie and other famous professional skaters of the 50’s. Lifting one leg in back and arms out to the sides, we dreamed we were destined for the Ice Capades. We tried to do spins and jumps and spent much time tumbling to the ice and laughing the whole time.
And then, to our chagrin, several boys moved into the neighborhood. They arrived at the pond each day before we did and took over the entire ice for hockey. The boys said we couldn’t skate unless we agreed to play hockey, and we had to have our own hockey sticks. The YouTube video above depicts a similar pond with kids playing hockey, but in the 50’s no one wore helmets or any other protection. Carol had to be on one team and I on the other as the boys said we were smaller, and the game wouldn’t be fair if we were on the same team.
Even though the pond was about a quarter mile from our houses, our parents didn’t monitor us. No one worried we would fall through thin ice on part of the pond with a spring that seeped warm water preventing the ice from freezing. One boy was the brave one who skated after escaped pucks that went near the spring. We held our breath as we watched his tentative approach to the puck on the thin ice. He rescued pucks each time without breaking through into the water. If only his mother had known…
I remember those days on the ice with great fondness. Sometimes the boys didn’t show up, and Carol and I could live in our fantasy world of professional ice-skaters. But I also learned how to handle a stick and a puck well enough that later in life, as a middle school science teacher, I ran an after-school ice skating club and taught boys to skate and play hockey. I also bear the scars of many falls and an eyebrow that never grew back completely after a hockey puck hit my eye by accident. What a shiner I had for weeks!
I continued to skate in middle school and high school, not only on the farm pond, but also on ponds where my grandparents lived and occasionally with friends in an indoor rink. What a difference in the ice--so smooth as a result of being cleared and cut by the Zamboni machine, while outdoor ice became rougher and bumpier as winter continued.
No time to skate while in college, but soon after, my husband and I began weekend excursions to the local outdoor ice rink. When our children were young, the town where we lived built a beautiful outdoor ice rink where there were adult skating sessions and lessons. I had dreamed of having skating lessons my whole life. This dream came true when a coach moved to town and offered ice dance classes for adults. I was delighted to have something to do that was all my own thing, an opportunity to be away from children, my own and students in my classes, even if just for an hour a week. I practiced diligently, became a partner to another ice dancer, and took mastery ice dance tests.
Even though originally I thought I wanted to have ice skating all to myself, when my children wanted to skate, take lessons, and pursue the sport as avidly as I did, I realized that as a mother I had a rare opportunity to be with my young children in a way that most parents didn’t have. We were all learning to ice dance on the same ice at the same time and we had the same coach. A unique closeness developed in rooting for each other and supporting each other in such a special way as we practiced and took skating mastery tests. Of course, my children quickly surpassed anything I could ever hope to accomplish, and I was so proud of them.
When we moved to Colorado, even more opportunities arose in the world of ice dance. The Broadmoor World Arena was an hour away. The Colorado Ice Arena was almost in our back yard. Many National and Olympic champions trained in both facilities, including Scott Hamilton when he won Olympic gold. The Denver Figure Skating Club had a large group of adult ice dancers. I was in ice dance heaven. Not only were there several ice surfaces on which to train, but world-class coaches were near-by. By then we were a family of ice dancers with a husband/father cheering us on. I still loved the sound of my blades cutting those tiny grooves in the ice, the feeling of floating, maybe even flying. I was no longer in snowsuits and mittens, but skating dresses with sequins and sparkling beads—just as I had dreamed. During ice dance sessions, music of waltz, tango, foxtrot, and other ballroom dances played as we mastered the technical and artistic details of the dances.
One thing that never changed from farm pond skating to ice rink ice dance were the falls with an aftermath of broken knee caps, separated shoulders, and torn ligaments. Because ice dance partners face each other when skating, when one partner falls, so does the other—that makes for twice as many falls as skating alone!
My skating partner and I had a great coach, my children’s coach also. Because he was located an hour away from us, and ice dance sessions were relegated to 12:00 midnight until 2:00 a.m. every Friday, we drove in these wee small hours for many, many years. One summer, I put over 12,000 miles on our car! My children competed in local and regional competitions and did well. My partner and I went to ice dance weekends held in many parts of the country and made good friends with the same mutual zeal for this sport. Who knew there was such a thing as an ice dance weekend? We also competed in local and regional adult competition, and continued to master our sport during regular testing by United States figure skating judges.
Family vacations in Sun Valley, Idaho enabled my daughter and I to skate and take lessons with other great coaches, and to be inspired by National and Olympic champions training on the same ice. We also went as observers to the National Championships in various parts of the country, and followed the careers of our favorite skaters.
Skating ended for me when the tendons on the fronts of my ankles screamed for relief. Ice skating boots are tied very tightly at the ankle, and the skater must lean on the front of the boot when skating. Eventually some skaters’ ankle tendons deteriorate because of this constant severe pressure. After tendon surgery, the fronts of my ankles could no longer lean on the boot. I kept my skates for several years, hoping for healing. However, with tears in my eyes I finally sold my skates. It was a very sad day.
Ice skating was a big part of my life until I was almost 50. At first it was just play and an escape from my violent world at home. Then it was a way to have fun and be close to family and friends who also enjoyed skating. Later it was something I could do with friends and learn to perfect my skills. Finally, it became a competitive sport, something I had never experienced—focusing my best efforts with a partner in front of judges. My passion for skating was the perfect balance for total relaxation and relief from my intense career as a high school biology teacher and author of a biology textbook. Skating enabled me to be close to my skating children—not as a “skating mother” barking out commands at rink-side, but as fellow skaters cheering each other on.
My passion for skating lives on as I still follow champion skaters in their competitions on television; but my favorite skating pastime is attending Colorado Avalanche Hockey games—back to my hockey roots! I wear a jersey with Mikko Rantanen’s name on the back as he is my favorite player. A YouTube video of a few of his hockey moves follows. Also, he is from Finland. Back to my Finnish heritage! In Finland hockey is a way of life, maybe the most important sport during the long, cold winter. Perhaps my Finnish heritage brought me to the ice and gave me a passion, a way to relax, and a way to connect with family and friends.