In 1999, I saw figure skaters perform for the first time. A Russian troop came through town, and the city witnessed the marvel of an ice rink in the balmy Bombay outdoors. At eight years old, I watched in awe as the performers spun, jumped, and arabesques their way across the ice.
Last week, I did the best I could to emulate those skaters, under the able and sympathetic tutelage of four members of the Varsity Blues figure skating team. Rachel Micay, Elspeth Mathau, Megan Cheney, and Parmida Jafari had agreed to stay behind after their practice to teach me how to ice-skate.
The team is gearing up for the upcoming Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship, set for February 13–14 at Ryerson; the four skaters had been on the ice from about 7:00 am before teaching me. I hadn’t been awake that long, and can’t imagine what it’s like to practice early mornings and late nights four to six days a week, as my teachers today do. They don’t seem to mind. “It gets your blood pumping first thing in the morning,” Mathau said.
The staff at the Varsity Arena provided me with hockey skates — apparently, they’re better to fall in than figure skates — and a helmet, so I was all set. I probably looked a fair bit like that eight year-old version of me, tentative and shaky, as I stepped out onto the ice.
The four Blues immediately put me at ease. They were encouraging and patient, watching me waddle out to them and being charitable enough not to note how funny I must have looked.
We didn’t have a lot of time — the rink has to be resurfaced — so they got right to it. Micay took the lead, holding my hand as I learned the basics of moving forward and backwards — one foot, then the other, wobbling noticeably.
Evidently, I got the hang of the basics, because we quickly moved on to a more complicated moves: stopping. A working knowledge of the principles of physics is a key component of skating success, it turns out, and I was careful to try and keep my knees above my feet, my weight down, and my head straight.
I had been talking about this skating lesson with friends for a few days, and I was sure that I was going to fall flat on my ass a whole lot. Surprisingly, it didn’t happen; I made it through the whole lesson on my feet, with a little help and a lot of hand-holding (literally) from my tutors. I was also terrified that they were going to try to get me to do something complicated or requiring muscle tone, like spinning or jumping. By the end of my time on the ice, I had managed both.
Micay, Mathau, Cheney and Jafari were excellent teachers. They were able to see that I was nervous, but they were laughing and joking and telling me that I was doing a great job. Looking happy is an integral part of a figure skating routine, but this is no act — they really seemed thrilled to be out on the ice.
They’ve been doing it a long time. Mathau’s been skating 10 years, Cheney the same, Jafari from the age of four. “The earlier you start, you’re not that far from the ground, so when you fall it’s not that bad,” said Cheney. “You really have to be fearless at the beginning, or you can never go anywhere,” agreed Mathau.
I was petrified of falling through the whole process, but that didn’t stop me from making decent progress. By the end, I was able to manage a sort of half-spin, though the twirling grace that each of them shows in demonstrating the move is far beyond my capabilities.
I had my moment of fame, but the team doesn’t get as many opportunities to show their skills as their hard work deserves; the Blues will compete at just three events this year. They also do a couple of shows and performance outside of competition; the next one is set for Friday, February 7.
After 15 minutes, it was time to stop — the Zamboni needed to do its work, and my muscles were loudly protesting this attempt at exercise. So how did I do? “You made an awesome first attempt,” Cheney said. Clearly I’m not going to be putting on any shows, but that’s good enough for me.