For most of my childhood and ten years, I was a figure skater. More than that, I proudly called myself a “rink rat.” I’m not entirely sure where the moniker comes from, but to me, I took it as someone who spent an inordinate amount of time at the ice rink, so much so that they lived there…like a rat.
Real cute, eh? If you just think along the lines of Angelina Ballerina, it could be!
Really it was because besides training for my own skating goals, I also skated on something called a theater on ice team, taught lessons to toddlers up to adults, and worked in the rink’s pro shop. The latter two activities were more out of necessity, though I did enjoy the company of my students and most of the people I got to work with. I like to think that all the social interactions I had made it easy for me to strike up a conversation with most people I meet today. And maybe even helped tip the scales during my college interview.
I am skating consistently again now, only in the San Francisco area, a much different place to where I grew up. Everything has been harder: falling on the ice is much more daunting, getting to the rink is a greater logistical challenge, making progress on what I’m training is incredibly…incremental.
The other toughie? The loneliness.
Figure skating is largely a solitary endeavor. Yes, there are figure skating clubs you join to be able to test, compete, and participate in other official activities. Yes, you may strike up a conversation with skaters your age (in my case, adults) and begin to make friends. (The difficulty of making real friendships requires an entire other post that I don’t have in me right now, and others have explained it much more eloquently than I could.) And yes, you may pay a coach for a weekly private lesson. But the actual skating and practicing is done by yourself. Unless you pursue a paired or group discipline of skating, you are out there alone. There is no ball passing, no teammates encouraging, no apparatus or item to hold onto. Just you on top of thin metal blades.
As an adult my age, it feels indulgent sometimes to spend time and money on this activity. It is so completely and utterly for me and me only. Not only that, on my worst days, an imaginary, annoying Asian auntie voice in the back of my mind nags, “Why are you spending so much time in this icebox? You won’t meet your husband here!”
And then I fall, because losing concentration means losing track of what my body needs to be doing to execute a movement correctly. And then I’m butt-first on the ice, a little dazed and wondering if I’ll be able to walk the next day.
When I taught the littlest tots group classes, the first thing we taught the kids was how to fall down and get up, and off the ice to get the hang of it first. You don’t hesitate, get onto your hands and knees, steady into a squat, and gradually pull your body upright. The basic principle doesn’t change, no matter how advanced of a skater you become.
Lately, I’ve forgotten the other most important lesson: I will fall. I have to remember this applies elsewhere in my life, too.
I’ve recently been dumped you could say, despite mixed but overall encouraging signs, and I’ve been doing my best to pull myself back up quickly. For all intents and purposes, I’m up now, but the bruising has made me cautious, defensive, even indignant. These are not a good combo for future success, on the ice or in relationships.
I remind myself that I pursue skating for a reason. When the conditions are right, I experience a sense of euphoria I can’t get from anywhere else. But while the release is effortless, getting there requires time and intentional energy. It’s unavoidable. On my darker days, I wonder if I’ll ever get there. On most days, I know that the pain in the moment will not last.
What I need to know on and off the ice: I will not be down forever.
Also published on Medium.