Cambrian: Slice of Life

I’ve put my skating dreams on ice, but I’ll still enjoy the Winter Olympics

Ekaterina Borisova and Dmitry Sopot compete in the pairs figure skating short program in Lillehammer in 2016.
Ekaterina Borisova and Dmitry Sopot compete in the pairs figure skating short program in Lillehammer in 2016. Wikimedia Commons

I rarely mourn about the weird turns that my life took ... at least not more than once every four years.

Right about now, in fact.

It’s time for the Olympic Winter Games, you see, and watching the grace, skill and athleticism of the world’s skaters makes me nostalgic or the time when I was out there on the ice.

Watching those athletes is my quadrennial winter exercise in “what if?” Oh, I was never competitive class. Sure, I could do crossovers, spins and some jumps, and I was pretty good at the dreaded, deadly dull compulsory figures (no longer required), intricate figure 8 after figure 8, each set of loops overlaying the next and the next.

Quad jumps were just a crazy dream back then. Skating routines are much more height-intense now, with today’s super athletes-on-ice defying gravity as they leap waaaay up there and spin so fast in the air that their images blur.

Skaters skate faster now, too, and programs are much more dramatic than ours were. Modern lifts and spiral sequences look like something out of Cirque du Soleil. Throw jumps are so big, you almost expect the throwee to land in the next county.

So many memories.

I can still smell the ice. I can feel the chill of the artificially cold air and the “whoosh” of the short skating skirt as it swished and flipped against my thighs. And I’ll never forget the shock of the sudden stop when I faceplanted or landed butt-first on the ice.

We all loved the Zamboni machine, a specialized street-sweeper with attitude that periodically smooths and resurfaces the ice, wiping away gouges, tracings and shavings left by previous skaters.

Being first out after the Zamboni was a treat. Then Mom and I moved cross country to mountain-state towns that didn’t have ice rinks. Sure, there were frozen lakes in winter, but the ice was often pocked with twigs, leaves and branches. Skating artistically there was a good way to shatter bones, and you could literally be skating on thin ice.

I stopped skating.

More than a decade later, I started roller skating with my kids — or tried to. After sleek ice skates, clunky roller skates felt more like snowshoes. When I tried to snowplow-stop with the quick, coordinated twist of both feet — as I had for all those years on my ice-skate blades — the results were like a contortionist’s nightmare.

Inadvertent breakdancing on wheels meant I’d break something, probably me. I didn’t rollerskate anymore, either.

One Olympic year, I was so nostalgic for my sport, I tried rollerblades. I could whirl and twirl on in-line skates without a rink. Easy peasy, right?

In our rec room, I laced up my shiny new rollerblades in private. It felt really familiar ... until I stood up. Or tried to.

I clung onto the couch, the chair and a doorknob. It didn’t help. My right leg went east and the left one went west. I did my first splits since ballet school as a kid. Adult splits aren’t nearly as much fun.

Finally, I got my balance, sort of. Calling on long-ago muscle memory, I pushed off with my right foot and balanced with my left. It might not have been skating, but I was upright and moving forward. It was progress.

Emboldened, I clomp-glided from the rec room’s indoor-outdoor carpeting to the concrete floor in the adjacent garage. Big mistake. The skates reacted instantly to the surface change, and my feet flew up in front of me. I landed hard on my tailbone, and the force of the fall flipped my upper body rapidly toward the floor. My head hit the cement, bounced and then hit again.

Stunned for a few minutes, I lay still, thinking, “This was a really dumb idea, Tanner. You’re way too old for this kind of nonsense,” although nonsense was not the word I used.

Incredibly, I wasn’t hurt. But it took me a very long time to get up ... after I took off the rollerblades.

I never put them on again.

Lesson learned. Yearning for adventures of the past sounds a lot safer than trying to re-create them.

I’m a couch-potato skater now. With my popcorn and hot chocolate, I’m ready to enjoy the Olympics and dream of days gone by.