The first exposure that I really had to ice skating, figure skating, was watching Dorothy Hamill at the 1976 Olympics. I was 15 at the time.
I may have seen figure skating before that, but it made no impression on me and I don’t really remember. So this was what first put figure skating “on my radar” so to speak.
Along about that time, I saw some other kids skating on a frozen stream and somewhere along the line I saw a bit from a movie about Hans Brinker where the main character mentioned making skates from wood but he couldn’t skate for long on them because the wood absorbed water and swelled. One of the plot points was that he needed good skates to enter the race and, hopefully, win the silver skates. To be honest, I tried to make wooden skates but, well, it didn’t work.
And that was it for a while.
A few years later, I saw the movie “Ice Castles” (original 1978 version staring Robby Benson, Tom Skerrit, and Lynn-Holly Johnson).
I didn’t see it in the theaters when it came out but rather a couple of years later While Hamill introduced me to the idea of figure skating as something to watch other people doing, and while the short bit of Hans Brinker got me curious enough to try (and fail) that “wooden skates” thing, it was this movie that really lit a fire in me to learn to skate. I saved up money from my summer job and scraped bought a pair of skates from Montomery Ward (then still a going concern). The skates, to be honest, were junk. The blades were neither screwed nor rivited to the sole but molded into it (how they were fastened internally, I have no idea). Not much I could do with them until I made a trip out to a friend who lived in Phoenix Arizona. One of the malls in the area had an indoor rink and it was there that I first went to skate.
I had no formal instruction, just messing around on the ice and using descriptions from books and…well, I got to where I could do basic forward stroking, something that sort of looked like a forward crossover, and a not-bad T-stop. Couldn’t skate backward at all and my one-foot work was abysmal. Still, it was something.
For a while I tried to relocate to Phoenix. I had just turned 18 and, legally an adult, I enrolled in school locally and went looking for work, making a little bit of pocket money by mowing lawns. And, whenever possible, I went to the rink and skated. Badly, perhaps, but with great enthusiasm.
And those skates I’d bought? Within two sessions on the ice I had to discard them. One of the blades came loose and would wobble, making the skate impossible to control. And with the blade molded in, there was no way to tighten fasteners so…cheap junk was cheap and junk and ended up being a complete waste of money. (A lesson for any would-be skaters out there.)
In the end the relocation to Phoenix failed. I ended up returning to Ohio. The community I was in had no real rink. In the winter, when it was cold enough, they’d flood one of the outdoor basketball courts and let it freeze so people could skate on it. If that sounds horrible, it’s because it was. But, it was all I had and I did the best I could. Somebody gave me a pair of skates. The boots were worn out. The blades were dull (and there was nowhere to get them properly sharpened–I tried with a round file in the hollow but…I don’t think it really helped). Again, all I had and I did the best I could.
I think I only even gave that a serious try for maybe one winter before graduating from school and well, before another winter rolled around I enlisted in the Air Force.
While I was in the Air Force, I was assigned to a base in England for two years. While I was there, I discovered Queen’s Ice Club. And they had a pro shop with skates for sale. So I got my own skates. To be honest, they were probably no better than entry level skates but, well, they were the best skates I’d ever skated on. Between work and other interests I probably only had about a half dozen opportunities to skate at Queens, but I made the most of them. Again, all I really did was the most basic of forward skating, but I had fun at it. And, once again, no formal instruction.
When I turned 23, I was reassigned away from England back to the US. I never really found an ice rink at the new place. There may have been one but it never appeared on my “radar”. So, I set the skates aside and that was it for a long time.
In the interim I went back to college, got married, got a job, and moved to my current city and state. And I had largely forgotten figure skating. I don’t even know what happened to the skates I’d bought from Queen’s Ice Club. I know I had them when we moved here, but, somewhere along the line they disappeared. I think maybe my ex, my then wife, donated them to Goodwill or something. In any case, they’re gone.
Time continued to pass and my daughter took up ballet. Then, not long after the divorce (I have custody) she asked about starting figure skating. I was amenable even though money was tight and told her we’d try a few public skate sessions just to see if she was really into it before getting her into lessons.
And so, for the first time in something like 35 years I got back on the ice and…
Odin’s One Eye, skating is not like riding a bike. I couldn’t skate at all. However little what I’d accomplished before had been it was all gone. I was starting completely from scratch.
And it was a lot harder to re-learn than it had been to learn in the first place. For one thing, older bodies don’t bounce like 18 year old bodies do. Falls hurt a lot more. It’s easier to get injured. And injuries take longer to heal. Still, I persevered and got my daughter into classes. Soon, however, her figure skating classes started conflicting with ballet. There was another rink, however, a bit farther away but not completely out of reach, which had classes on another day and that one also had adult classes.
And so my daughter and I started taking classes right next to each other: her at 14, me at 58. I’ve continued since then, working my way up through the adult classes from Adult 1, where I started to Adult 6 where I am now, poised to move on to the actual “figure skating” classes which start with Pre-Free Skate.
And that’s the story of my journey into figure skating, a journey that from one perspective is decades long, and from another that has barely begun.