Since many of you may have watched some figure skating from the Olympics this week, I thought this might be a good time to talk about my absolute love of the sport, both as a spectator and as a recreational participant. One of the seriously hardest things about deciding to become a mother was that I knew I would lose figure skating, at least for a long while. And it has been a long while. I have not skated in about 2 years.
When I was about 10 weeks pregnant, I went to a mall where I did most of my figure skating as an adult. It is the same rink Tonya Harding trained in, so its a bit notorious. Dan Rather actually did several newscasts from there. And if you watch the E! True Tonya Harding Hollywood Story, you will see my friend, J, skating in some of the shots. I have many good memories there, and when I went to this mall where I hadn't been for a few months, I found that the rink had been cemented over and replaced with really obnoxious shopping mall merry-go-round rides with really obnoxious children running around screaming where I once felt the joy of floating over the ice. There it was, my youth cemented over by the overwhelming wants and needs of children. It hit me with such a shock that I was practically crying when buying a pair of maternity pants. Even now, it physically pains me to see that space where ice should be.
I know that many people only watch skating when the Olympics roll around every four years, and don't see the years and years of performances and competitions in-between. There is this conception that a skater drudges herself to the cold, damp, lonely rink every morning at 5:00am and suffers through hours of practice only so she can have those 7 minutes on the ice at the Olympics. And if she doesn't get Gold, then it was all not worth it. But skating (and I'm sure any sport a person loves) is so much more than that. When you look at the arc of the career of someone like Michelle Kwan with a true appreciation for skating and her controlled edges and line, you see how amazing she is despite never winning Olympic Gold. I'm sure if you asked her or Nancy Kerrigan or Sasha Cohen, or Roslyn Summers, or Linda Frantianne, or Janet Lynn or any of the other second, third, or other place finishers at the Olympics who went on to have great careers, they would not say they wasted 10+ years of their lives because they didn't win Gold. They are probably proud of what it took to get there. Michelle Kwan, for example, essentially was a good enough competitor to make 4 Olympic teams over a 12 year period. (In 1994, she was the alternate even after having placed 2nd at Nationals due to the whole Tonya/Nancy business.) This is amazing. Not to mention her multiple National and World Championship Titles. I personally have enjoyed watching her skate, even without the Gold. I would rather watch Sasha Cohen skate the performance she did the other night, with the fall, and appreciate her balletic ability and extension than watch a million Tara Lipinski programs where she basically throws her body all over the ice with absolutely no attention to line. Sure, the Olympic Gold medal is great, but in a skaters career, there is so much more to it than that.
But even those who are not and will never be Olympic level skaters, such as myself, my friend J, and the very persistent and lovely Sara Skates, are asked questions such as "Do you fall?" and "You know you'll never be good enough to go to the Olympics." When I started skating at 9 years old, I was most likely out of any chance at Olympic style success the second I set foot on the ice. I was too tall, too old, and too poor to ever be able to be highly competitive. Most people thought it was cool, but people would say to me, "You're not good enough to make the Olympics." At NINE! How come we understand that people of all athletic abilities can ski, snowboard, play softball, or jog around a track for the sport of it, without everyone thinking that the only kind of athlete worth being is an Olympic Gold Medalist? (I remember once my BIL said to me, when I was discussing my ballet training that I only did to support my skating and he said, "But you'll never be good at ballet." I just looked at him and laughed. Yeah. I didn't know that! You burst my bubble! I was thinking of auditioning for the Bolshoi.
But rather than rant, as you all already know I can do, I wanted to share with you some of my joys of skating. For me, skating is freedom and flow, and control over your body. I loved the feeling of coming out of a jump (tiny as mine were) on that right back outside edge. I LOVED spirals. And I loved Moves in the Field, which are a series of step sequences or connecting moves that replaced the school figures. I hated spins. Never could do them worth a shit. I also started loving the most unappreciated of all skating disciplines, ice dancing. Since I wasn't a great jumper and a terrible spinner, and loved moves in the field, I started working on ice dance. I didn't even have a partner. (I tried to twist J's arm countless times, but I've learned that his arms will not twist for nothin'). I bought the USFSA rule book for ice dancing where they have all the diagrams of the compulsory dances. I just started from the beginning and taught myself some of the steps. I loved the outfits, the boots, the blades, the blade sharpeners. I loved my whole OCD routine of lacing my skates just right.I loved hanging out with the little kids who were already so much better than I would ever be. I loved hanging out with a very supportive group of adult skaters. I loved competition, I even loved tests.
I loved--okay--got to like--getting up and getting to the rink at six-thirty am and then going to work and changing out of my skating clothes into my work clothes. It is a peaceful time in the morning. Invigorating. There was a period of a few years when I had enough money to pay for lessons and an easy enough job that I could take some time to train. I skated 3-5 times a week, took Pilates twice a week, and took ballet once a week. I loved going from ballet class, where we worked on line and extension, straight to the ice. I was already loosened up and felt great. I could just step on the ice and go. I loved being in (my) top physical condition. Taking my body as far as I thought it could go. I loved watching the elite skaters on TV and being able to feel in my legs, what they were doing. I think most spectators only see jumps and falls. I could feel how hard that simple 3-turn with free leg extended high over Michelle Kwan's head was. I don't think people realize the sheer difficulty of some of those connecting moves.
I read Sara's blog and am so impressed with her (and so jealous) that she is doing this still with a job and two kids. She is involved in the vast opportunities available for adults. She trained at a camp at the Lake Placid Olympic Center with some of the top coaches in the field. She competes in the USFSA adult sectionals competition. [Update: Sara WON her division in Ladies Silver Sectionals and now will be going to Adult Nationals! Woo Hoo!] (My competitions were ISI competitions. The recreational track of figure skating.) She is so unbelievably cool and she gives me inspiration. Maybe I can go back to skating. Maybe I'm not done. Maybe, when the kids are a little older, I can work it in. My sight is worse now, and my hearing, too, but I'm not going for Olympic Gold. I'm going for that magical speed, power, and flow combination of freedom that I feel when I skate.
One of the first big purchases of my life, were a pair of $400 boots and blades. I used to say that if I was in a fire, the first thing I'd grab would be my skates. Now, I'll say that if I am in a fire, I'll grab Aaron and Naim, and then my skates. I had to try them on tonight and walk around the house in them. Cuz' I'm just that geeky.
OK, since I just showed you my pasty, Oregon white legs, I'll share with with y'all one of my most best-est, yet most cheesiest skating memories. I was in Indianapolis on a business trip and I decided to go skating at the World Skating Academy rink. (Yes, I brought my skates on business trips when I knew there might be an opportunity.) I was also in the beginnings of interested/flirty stuff with someone I worked with. (Not in the same office, but a long distance project partner. Still not a good idea--but I digress.) Anyway, off I went to the rink and he went to dinner with some other people. I went to this rink with my skates and my tight leggings and strappy t-shirt and my oh-so-hawt self (oh, the memories....) and my guide dog. Well, these folks didn't know me from Eve and were a little apprehensive when I said I wanted to skate a public session and could I have my guide dog wait with them behind the counter? There were two rinks, and only one was in use. They offered to let me use the empty rink all to myself! My FANTASY! So I'm skating around, doing my thing, and a bit later I see the guy I'm crushing on come through the door and sit quietly on a bench; he'd skipped out on his dinner plans. He'd never seen me skate, so I start showing off of course. The song that was on the PA...get ready to vomit...was Cheap Trick's "The Flame." I was doing really well, just improvising along, when the big moment in the song came up..."I will be the FLAAAAAAAAAAAAME!" So I do this spiral, and it goes okay until I go to end it, and my skate blade catches in my sweatshirt I had tied around my waist. And I go down big time. One of those spectacular falls where you just slide 20 feet across the ice and smack into the boards. I cut my shoulder, I cut my calf, and blood was just streaming down. But still, in true figure skating style, I get up and keep going. Then I skated over to him and pretended that I just noticed him. He said I was a beautiful skater...but he was most impressed with my crash! This 'pick-up line was all I needed! You know that moment with someone when it becomes apparent to both of you that you are going to start dating for real? This was that. And then we went to dinner somewhere. Him in a suit, and me in my skating things with blood all over me. And then we broke up the next year. Good times. Good times.
Besides the kids and the money and the time...the other thing holding me back is how out of shape I am now. But that is for another post called "Let's Share With the Internets How FAT Lisa is Now" But for now, if you're interested in reading about skating with a disability, I'll leave you with this post from the archives of the old blog. It is dated May 24th, 2002. Apparently someone wrote and suggested that there was no way that I/blind people/deaf people/ deaf blind people, could skate. I don't remember the email exactly now, but I remember it was kind of obnoxious. After writing this entry, someone else wrote in and reminded me that there was a deaf elite skater on the national scene named Eve Chalom. So that was cool.
I really don't mind when people ask me questions such as "How does a blind person do such and such?" "Or how does a deaf person _____?" Some of the questions are the usual, such as "cross a street," "pick out clothes," "know when the phone rings..." Some are tedious and mundane. "How do you brush your teeth when you can't see the mirror?" (Answer: Don't you know where YOUR teeth are? Do you accidentally stick the toothbrush in your ear on camping trips?" Or my all-time favorite in tedium: "How do you know which side of the milk carton to open when you can't see the arrows?" (Answer: You feel the score marks that are provided for the carton to fold back. Check it out...they're there.)
I figure that people are trying to learn about diverse ways to do things, and I can possibly educate them. I get tired of answering the same questions over and over again, but I do if I have time, and I usually respect the person for asking.
When I hit the roof is when people say to me, after I've said that I've done something already, "Blind people can't possibly do that." Or "YOU can't do that, you are making that up." Or the same thing said in disguise, "You can only do that because you can see a little. If you were REALLY blind, you couldn't do that."
So apparently, I can't possibly skate and be blind/deaf at the same time. Sheesh. Thanks for telling me that. I don't know what I was thinking all these years. Now, many coaches and fellow skaters may tell you that I can't skate. But not because I can't see or hear well, but because, as I've said before...I ain't no Michelle Kwan.
Now, I've thought about this statement like I've thought about many others that fall into the same category that I've heard before, I should not let this get to me. I should not have to prove to some stranger on the Internet that I can skate as a deafblind person.
Aw, fuck. But then I think, "but then this person will go and have a blind daughter who wants to learn to skate, or play basketball or join the track team or become president of the United States or whatnot and she won't let them because she doesn't think its possible." As a member of a minority, I feel strongly the pressure to represent. I gotta do it for all the other blind skaters out there and for Associations like SABAH (Skating Association for the Blind and Handicapped), and for any other little blind kid who sees that damned "Ice Castles" movie like I did and wants to learn how to skate but has an unenlightened mother.(And yes, they did call me 'Lexie' at the rink way back when). This means that I go digging through boxes of crap in the back corners of my bedroom to find any good pictures that might actually prove that I can skate. If I knew how to put video up, and my computer had the memory for it, I suppose that would be better (yet more embarrassing). But though I have several pics of me standing around in skates, I don't have many performance pics of any quality. It is very hard to take good skating pics because of the movement and speed. Here are a couple of the top pics I found. (Top not so much because of quality as top from the pile of hundreds of various loose pics thrown in a box...I don't have all day to be doing this.)
Those are some pics from just a local competition in 2000 right before I got sick. I got third out of I think eight (or four?) competitors in my division. So of course, I competed just for fun and to challenge myself, I'm certainly not a top level competitive skater by any means. But that doesn't mean that someone who is blind couldn't be. But who cares? Most skaters aren't. Most skaters just compete at the local level for fun and for sport.
There are certain challenges that I faced as a skater that others didn't have to face. In these photos, I have the whole rink to myself, something a skater usually only gets in competition (hell, that was half the reason I competed. The whole rink was like paradise). As a blind skater, it isn't hard to get used to the dimensions of the rink. I've taken Sven skating, and he had it down in 5 minutes. The hard part is not running into everyone. I cannot really practice at a public session. I can skate around at one if I have a friend with me, but I can't practice anything substantial without the fear of wiping a kid out. This leaves a lot of cheap ice time unavailable to me. I can skate at a freestyle practice session if its not horribly crowded, and even then, I am able to do better with a coach with me. And yes, I did bump into people, but so does everybody else. Maybe I did it more often, I'm not sure. At my rink, everybody knew I was visually impaired (The skating school director even knitted my guide dog her own blanket to lay on when I practiced) Everyone was pretty good at staying out of my way. My coach and I were probably somewhat more hands on than most. Showing or yelling something at me from across the rink is pretty futile. I think if a blind skater was going to be good enough to compete on a national level or higher, they would need to have a lot more financial resources available than the average skater. The extra coaching and private ice time necessary would demand it.
When I was younger, skaters were required to skate the school figures. This is when you meticulously trace figures on the ice and the judges actually get down on their hands and knees to look at your tracings. When I was younger, I practiced school figures with a scribe (A big compass) but I could never really be competitive with them, I could never see my own tracings. Now, skaters don't have to do school figures anymore. Instead, they do "moves in the field" which are a series of step sequences you do across the ice. These, I can do.
I also have trouble hearing my music on the PA system. (but our rink had a terrible PA system.) I could hear music OK using headphones. There are Deaf dance troupes that can dance using vibrations of music as their cue. I have a good understanding of how this is done and can dance and hear music using vibrations only. The ice really doesn't pick up vibrations at all like a dance floor would. So as a deaf skater, you have to practice a lot on the floor, but this can screw with your timing when you transfer floor work to ice. Its something you have to work out with your coach to give you cues and things.
So, yeah, there is stuff to consider...but its all doable. I don't know if I will see a deafblind (or a deaf or blind) skater at the national or Olympic level in my lifetime, but I wouldn't rule it out. But can disabled people enjoy competitive, integrated skating? Hell, yeah. To prove it now, I've done everything but invite you out here and take you skating with me...so don't make me have to do that. With all my blindness and deafness, I may accidentally skate over your face when you fall down on your ass like you know you will.
Heh, heh, heh...here is another pic I found when digging. If you are worried about me as a deafblind skater, you should have seen me in high school when I twirled a rifle and Flags for the Marching band! (So geeky, I know...). Yup, I had to hurl the (obviously fake, but very wood and very heavy) rifle over my head and catch it without seeing it and whilst marching closely with guys whose views were obscured by tubas and such. It was kind of funny, they let me out of the Physical Education requirement in high school because of my disability, but they let me do this! If I had been more civil rights minded then, I would have fought that discrimination and hypocrisy of it--but no way--What's a little discrimination if it gets you out of gym class?