27 January, 2015

My First Time Skating ... In My 40s

After dating a hockey player (amateur), I decided to start skating. Why should he have all the fun? I'm pretty active hiking, biking and running, but with two ACL tears, the knees have been taking a beating. Skating has its own physical impacts, but I love the combination of athleticism, grace and speed without the constant pounding on my knees.

As a kid, I skated only a few times -- once at a friend’s birthday party and another time on a frozen-over basketball court in upstate NY. In December 2013, I took what I would consider my maiden voyage. I was 43.

I went to my local rink in Bellingham, Wash., north of Seattle, and rented skates. It was a little bit like Cinderella with the special shoe. First I tried figure skates but my feet hurt. Then I tried on the recreational type, which also didn't feel right. Finally, I chose hockey skates and although they were still uncomfortable and badly in need of sharpening (as most rentals are), the shoe felt right. 

First Pair of Skates

Before doling out the cash on a new pair, I told myself if I go to the rink at least ten times then I must be committed and I'll treat myself to new skates. Ten days later, I went to Play It Again Sports and purchased CCM RBZ hockey skates, size 5 complete with red laces and blade covers. After the clerk baked my skates, I sat with them on for 15 minutes. I swear they are my most comfortable footwear.

Back to the rink, my first time was pretty much white-knuckling it around the edge holding on for dear life. It took so much energy to get around once. After I pulled away from the boards, I could only skate one or two times around before having to sit down, take off the skates and rub my feet. Those rentals killed me! But I kept going because I knew I could only improve. There was no way I could get worse. Each visit, I spent a little more time -- 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes -- before resting my feet and legs. So many muscles I didn't know existed were saying hello.  

In just a few weeks I saw progress. I pulled away from the edge, wore the skates for a full hour and felt more confident. I started waking up early to attend the 8am to 10am public skate slot at the Sportplex. It was a skater's dream. The rink was empty. I started skating fast. I loved taking the turns and crossing over, but was cautious. Next time, I wore Rollerblade pads on my knees, elbows and wrists and even though it was dorky, wore my bicycle helmet. With the added protection, I took risks and wasn't afraid of falling. In fact, I wanted to fall to get it over with and teach my body and muscles how to move correctly instead of being tight and guarded. 

Jean, a female hockey player, encouraged me every session. After showing me her padded pants and hockey gear, I was on board. One time, at the end of the session when the ice was clear and the Zamboni driver was late, she pulled out her hockey stick and took a whirl. I loved seeing her glide and maneuver. I knew I could do that with more practice. I wanted to try so badly but the Zamboni came on the ice and we were kicked off.

Skating Around the World

I've been carrying my skates around the world. Last year, I moved from the Pacific Northwest (USA) to France and had a stop in New York City so I've skated in several cities. I love finding local rinks and seeing what their ice is like. I'm still working on skating backward, stopping and crossing over on my left side but I'm amazed at how much I've improved and how confident I feel – a far cry from that first day clutching the boards. 

Hockey is attractive to me for several reasons: as a sport, I love how my body feels on the ice, gliding and going fast. The athleticism is intriguing because it's not necessarily based on strength, it's the agility to maneuver and make decisions on where to be and how to react. I believe hours and hours of practice rehearsing and repeating skills can only mean improvement. I want to put in the time. I cringe reminding myself that I didn't start playing at age 4 in Quebec or Minnesota. But I'm grateful my interest has piqued now at middle age. I want to make up for lost time. 

I'm getting ice time here in Montpellier, the south of the France. In fact, the city boasts two rinks – an Olympic-size, home of the Montpellier Vipers. The other is a sporty (ludique) rink complete with disco ball, colored lights, dance music, tunnel and ramp. When I attend the public skate on Thursday nights from 10pm to midnight, I'm the last person off. When they flicker the lights and yell "fermé," I'm like a kid whose parents saying, "It's time to go." I've come a long way from those first few weeks taking off the skates every five minutes. Now, I wear my skates for two hours stretches and you can't get me off the ice.

American journalist Jennifer Karchmer is a correspondent for Reporters Sans Frontières covering freedom of the press and conflict reporters. She is a beginner skater looking for a hockey camp in a French-speaking region.

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