The other day I was having a conversation with a martial arts enthusiast about sparring. He was talking about how much he enjoyed going against older sparring partners even if that meant he would get knocked down at first. The challenge of going against someone bigger, meaner, or more experienced than him was, at least, never boring. As we talked I found myself nodding my head, because I knew almost exactly what he was talking about.
Afterward, I realized I had been able to contribute to a conversation about thrill-seeking of all things. I'm probably the opposite of thrill seeking. I don't even drink coffee. I don't like jumping off of things or motorcycles or crowds or gambling. A lot of times I'll spoil myself for the ending of a movie or a book in order to save myself the problem of being in suspense. I don't even find leather-jacketed bad boys to be very attractive.
But then there's figure skating.
Yup, figure skating. As I talked to the martial artist I realized we've both chosen something that's not exactly the same as watching "Sex and the City" reruns on a stationary bike. A single misstep could mean we get our ass kicked. Both sports require us to be guided by an actual coach rather than a program on a treadmill or an exercise tape from an infomercial. Both sports have an aspect of competition in it. Both sports have the potential to make us feel like a complete fool or a total bad ass.
The only difference between us is that his opponent was another living, breathing human being and my opponent is a giant slab of ice. Well that and his sport could conceivably have a practical application in the real world. (I haven't yet figured out how figure skating will help me in the impending zombie apocalypse, but I'm working on it.) But I would also point out that his sport takes place on nice soft gym mats.
Skating is a dangerous sport designed to look pretty. A few months after I started skating a boy fell on the ice; he knocked himself out, and I believe lost a few teeth. The paramedics had to be called. He wasn't playing hockey, he wasn't trying a big jump. He was just skating and had the misfortune of falling in a very dangerous way. A few months after that I fell so hard that I had trouble sleeping on my back for a month. I wasn't playing hockey and I wasn't jumping. Just like getting into the ring, going into the rink always holds the potential for a surprise ass kicking.
Of course getting onto the rink isn't exactly like getting into the ring. Getting into a ring you're pretty much guaranteed to throw or receive at least one punch or kick. If you don't, you can't really call it sparring. Getting onto the ice, I could pretty easily avoid doing anything that might lead to a fall and still call it skating. (It just wouldn't really be the fun kind of skating, would it?) But maybe that's not any different than choosing to spar against someone you know you can beat. When I skate, no matter how I choose to do it, I'm always up against someone bigger and meaner than me. The ice is not going to pull its punches, the ice is not going to take it easy on me.
For example, I've spent an hour and a half on the ice, working at a dozen different things, flush and excited that I'm doing so well. Then I try a piece of footwork from a stand still and the next thing I know I'm on my back and something, be it my back or my wrist, is hurting. Strangely enough, almost falling is more terrifying that actually falling. Your heart races, your adrenaline kicks in, all with the thought of would could have happened. But then again there are the days I go for deeper edges, bigger (well not that big) jumps and come away bruise free.
I never know what I'm going to get, and I love it.
I used to run. I used to try and beat time and speed. My only opponent was myself and my greatest risk was doing gradual damage to a knee or somehow forgetting I was on a treadmill and shooting back into the wall. For a while though, training for a 5k was incredibly interesting to me. At the start, every milestone was thrilling but then it got boring. It got harder to go to the gym and I became complacent with my progress. Eventually, the only thing that made it interesting was the presence of TVs above the treadmills at the gym. Running was just a 30 to 45 minute appointment where I told my body to do something and then did my best to ignore it. The runner's high was nice, but no where addictive enough to make the gym worthwhile.
I've been skating for a year now, and I haven't been doing triple axels. A lot of this time has been spent practicing the basics like crossovers and stopping, edges and going backwards. I spend a lot of time wishing my 3-turns and lobes were better. Not a lot of fireworks, no razzle dazzle. Back when I told people my recent achievement in running was going for 30 minutes without stopping I got a lot of "Wow!" type reactions. I don't really get that when I tell people "I held a deep back inside edge!"
But I tell you what, I've absolutely fallen when just trying to do the basics; that back inside edge went right out from under me and I got a bruise for my trouble. The danger element is always there even if it wouldn't seem so to the average non-skater. Sticking with those edges has allowed me to finally get to some of the razzle dazzle, too. My coach and I working on three jumps, the waltz, salchow, and half-flip. When I tell people that, they get a little more impressed (probably because they're imagining the jumps they've seen on TV, but shh, don't tell).
The result of the experiment is pretty clear: I stuck with training for the 5k for no more than 3 or 4 months. After a year I'm still skating, looking to buy new skates, and I plan to compete. I'm even frustrated that my jumps aren't bigger, even with the potential for those jumps to end in a fall.
So what I mean to say is I am in the running to be the world's most mild mannered thrill-seeker.