Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Candice: I see you shiver with antici...pation

When did it start? This problem of me never wanting to do things that are athletic?

When I was young, pre-school aged, I remember being the type of kid that could get very easily lost in my own mind. For example, I had these small, neon-colored dinosaur figurines that I was obsessed with but I didn't run around with them, roaring and trying to get them to bite the other kids. No, I gave them elaborate fantasy lives and moved them around the little patch of rug I occupied and built them houses out of Lego blocks.

Conversely, I did love swimming. My mother deemed me a "water baby" and each summer I would spend as much time as possible in the water. I stayed in pools, rivers, and lakes until my eyes burned with chlorine, or until the pads of my fingers were so wrinkled they actually hurt. I took swimming lessons, dived for pennies, but I was by no means a natural talent. The last time I attempted to learn how to dive I was 19 and I mastered only the "unintentional belly flop of wild embarrassment" technique. So as you can imagine, it was never something people said, "Hey! You should really go somewhere with this!"

I remember elementary school, being taller and heavier than most of the other girls. I remember not being flexible. I remember that damn Presidential Fitness Test and straining futilely to touch my toes, to complete a pull-up. I remember Track & Field day and being good at two things: sailing over hurdles meant for children four inches shorter than me (but still losing the race because I wasn't very fast) and being the anchor for tug of war. I remember I loved school because the answers came so easily, but I started to hate P.E. for constantly showing me what I wasn't good at.

Burgeoning adolescence helped nothing. I became shyer and more terrified of making a fool of myself in front of others. The changes in my body made my limbs traitors to me. I was singled out by gym teachers as needing to work harder, or else ignored as hopeless. I slowly and steadily ticked off the athletic activities I discovered that I hated, baseball, basketball, archery, flag football, soccer, jump rope, running, tennis, and standing around in the heat. Of all the sports they forced us to try I enjoyed only volleyball and badminton. And biking. I had a black and pink mountain bike that I thought was the best thing in the world, and I rode that thing through the neighborhood, through the creeks and forests near my house all through middle school.

But I grew older, heavier, and crankier. I decided at 13 that a mix of punk/goth fashion and attitude would be the only way I could take control of how I felt like the outsider. It goes without saying that wearing black make-up and black mesh did not further encourage an active lifestyle. I thought idly about losing weight, mostly in unhealthy ways, like smoking, or not eating. Now and again I'd think, "I'll start exercising." It never stuck. I never joined a team (see: I was punk, okay?) A life of sedentary grousing and avoiding the sun seemed quite likely.

Oh but then college happened. Suddenly it felt like everybody had an athletic hobby. My roommate biked. My boyfriend jogged. A classmate was on the swim team, the football team, the soccer team. My friends went to the gym regularly. People told me that they like to kayak, or box, or played racquetball. People signed up for intramural sports. I had all these new friends and yet I was completely helpless to join in their reindeer games because I'd spent the past ten years insisting that I was allergic to working up a sweat.

So "I'll start exercising" became a more common refrain. I became familiar with the elliptical machine. Then broke up with it. I bought Tae Bo videos. Then stopped doing them. I took up walking. Then decided I didn't like walking in the neighborhoods I lived in. I took an interest in yoga. Then started finding other things, like drinking, more interesting. I also broke up with boys and ended up with a fierce yearning for confidence and a sense of control.

At 22 I started a real diet, and a real exercise plan. I decided to become a runner. Running is a mystery to the nonathletic. Why would you just... run? How could it be fun? How could burning lungs, abused knees, and tired legs be fun? How could you want to do it for HOURS at a time? Aren't marathons the literal definition of insanity? Of masochism? (It makes a man's nipples BLEED, people!) But runners are also disgustingly healthy. I wanted that look, that lifestyle, that smug sense of being better than non-runners.

I ran for a minute at a time, then two, then five. I ran a mile, then two, then three. I lost weight, I gained stamina, I found that there was joy to be had in running, in beating a time, in going further. It was often satisfying, sometimes soothing, sometimes fun, but it lacked an important factor: Anticipation. I read about it, about how seasoned runners would find themselves cranky if denied an opportunity to run, about how people felt they needed it.

I didn't realize how important it was at the time, but running could only satisfy me AFTER I did it. Though I could be quite giddy after I finished my final lap, standing at the start of my run I never felt any glee, any butterflies, only dread. Before running I often thought about the time commitment, the sweating, the exertion. Before running I tried to find every possible excuse NOT to do it, even if I knew I eventually would go for my 30 min jog. The smallest hiccup in my routine, in my health and boom, why bother running? After moving to Austin, changing my routine, I gave running up for a year and barely thought about it.

I wasn't a runner. I was a pretender. All the diet books told me plainly that if I couldn't view diet and exercise as temporary fixes, that they had to become a lifestyle change or I'd gain back the weight. I was fiercely afraid of that, but felt too apathetic to fight it. I gave up the lifestyle, I gained a little weight. In a panic I joined the gym and tried to get back into the love of running. It didn't take. The old excuses were back.

Enter figure skating. We fall in love. We hold hands and I marvel at how "I've never felt this way about a sport before." Figure skating smiles and says, "We've only just begun." Enter the nefarious villain the car accident who tries to tear us asunder. As usual the gym falls by the wayside; I do not think about running. Not once. However, at one point in the week I was without a car and scrambling to deal with it, I realized that I would be unable to make it to my customary Thursday practice. I genuinely considered going to skate during my lunch break before heartrendingly and hilariously remember that I DO NOT HAVE A CAR.

I was desperate to skate. Not once in the past four years did I ever feel desperate to run. What running should have been, figure skating is.

Somehow of all the sports that I have tried, dismissed, or watched people perform with longing it's figure skating that finally provides me with anticipation. I look forward to it constantly. I miss it fiercely when faced with the possibility of NOT skating. I smile before I enter the ice. I try to bargain more time out every time I go. I trip, fall, discover my legs are shaking and still I want to skate more. This is why I knew I could commit to a year of learning, to a year of skating.

I guess you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince, and I am thrilled that I finally have.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Kate: Let Us Live Feeding on Joy

Since I started figure skating, I've encountered several common reactions - everyone says something, but it generally boils down to one of three comments: 1. "Figure skating? That is SO AWESOME. Tell me more." 2. "Figure skating...in Texas? Why?" 3. "Figure skating....in your twenties? Why?"

I never get tired of going skating. It has helped me focus in so many areas of my life. I hate going to the gym, but it's easier to make myself do it because I know that if I can can strengthen my legs and my core, my skating will improve. I've had a lot of trouble with eating right, but now it's easier because I see how much healthier and better I feel on the ice when my body is properly nourished. I've had a lot of difficulties with my emotions over the last nine months and when I get on the ice, it all just falls away. I am literally filled with joy. I will skate as fast as I can and put my arms up so I can feel like I'm flying.

Every time I master a new element, I am proud of myself. I want to work hard and improve and maybe start passing test levels. I keep finding reasons to go skating more often. Candice and I talk non-stop about skating and ways to shoehorn more skating into our very busy lives. I just figured out that I won't get to skate at all next weekend because I'm going out of town and that actually made me pause and think about whether or not I really NEED to see my family. (the answer: yes I do). I have never found any other form of exercise that made me feel this way. I will literally push myself until my legs are shaking. Last weekend I fell because I was practicing outside edges and my legs were tired and I just completely beefed it and slid across the ice. And then I got back up and skated for another twenty minutes before finally giving in and going home.

It's so great to know that the minute I step on the ice, I'm going to feel good. I have walked into the rink with a thundercloud practically following me around, I was so cranky, and within thirty seconds of putting on my skates and getting on the ice I was smiling and laughing. So, when people ask me "Why?" I tell them "Because it makes me happy." And that's enough for me.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Candice: I'd rather be skating...

Okay! So that part where I thought I'd managed to get up and shake off the worst of the car accident! Nope. The following week I discovered my sweet little Suzuki was going to that big dealership in the sky, I committed to my first major purchase in adulthood, then quite quickly went to Denver for a brief vacation and came home to hit the ground running when it comes to my social life.

In other words, clearly I am made of fail for not squeezing blood from the turnip and finding a moment to post. But please, dear four readers, don't assume that at any point in the past two weeks I spent more than an hour not thinking about skating. Because, wow, I totally was. The nice thing about an insane hobby is it affords a lot of different types of escape.

Need to feel motivated? Think about how you've mastered only about a sixth of the basic footwork defined by the US Figure Skating Federation.

Need to feel soothed? Watch Stephane Lambiel's Ne Me Quitte Pas or Johnny Weir's Feelin' Good and be gently lifted away by art.

Need to feel invigorated? Get on the ice for half hour and let the cold bite your face while you find out you're better at something this time than you were before.

Need to laugh? My God, people, it's figure skating. It's pretty much guaranteed to make you laugh. The costumes ALONE are worth their own post.

Want drama? People. Skating has drama. Remember Tonya Harding? Or Surya Bonaly weeping openly at the 1994 World Championships and refusing to wear the Silver Medal? Or what about the PTSD inducing crash had by Jessica Dube and Bryce Davidson?

Feeling like indulging in a little schadenfreude? Watch Brian Joubert meltdown in his 2010 Olympic Short Program and then turn the Kiss and Cry section where he awaited his score into the Frown and Swear.

Need to cry? Read about the tragic love story of Sergei Grinkov and Ekaterina Gordeeva. Or watch Joannie Rochette's tribute to her mother who died DURING the Olympics.

Anyway, point is, there's a figure skating for every mood. I'm pretty sure that aerial skiing can't claim that.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Kate: Movin' on Up

That is a picture of me ice skating in 1990, age seven. I was going to include a picture of myself skating today, but I can't get the link to work and I want to get this update moving!

Candice and I have been bumped from Adult Basic 1 to Adult Basic 2. We're supposed to get patched for our jackets so we can show off our skills. Whee! I'm excited to move up and learn new things because that's what this whole hobby is about. Stepping outside the comfort zone and trying to be a stronger, more physically fit person.

We had our first Basic 2 class on Saturday and for the first time I really struggled in a skating class. We're learning crossovers, a basic spin, and stroking, all of which are hard. Stroking is very difficult because it involves moving your legs in a way that feels very unnatural, so you have to concentrate and train yourself to do it properly. I practiced it for a long time before I tried crossovers because I want to do things properly. I've always been an impatient person, eager to move ahead and just be good at something already. With skating, I am very willing to work in baby steps. I see what practice does - by the end of class and the half-hour we spent practicing afterwards, I had mastered stroking and could do crossovers with minimal failure. You learn things in bits and pieces in this sport. We learned swizzles, then half swizzles, then stroking, then we combined all of those into crossovers. I was happy with every step. I feel strong and good about myself when I skate. The spin is very difficult because I'm scared of falling, but I'll get it.

Here, also, is a list of what all this blather means for people who aren't figure skaters:

Crossovers: Crossing one foot over the other as a way of gaining speed and turning corners.

Swizzles: A way of moving across the ice on two feet by pushing the feet outwards from a 90 degree angle V and then pulling them together again, forming an oval on the ice. Also known as scissors, fishes, or sculling.

Half Swizzles: Doing swizzles in a circle while keeping one foot steady and using the other to push out.

Stroking: A way of moving across the ice and gaining speed by using the edges of the blades.