Playing along: Bob Dunn learns to stay upright on ice
Bob Dunn laces up his skates before taking a lesson at Collins-Moylan Arena in Greenfield Sunday night. Purchase photo reprints »
Dunn gets his balance at the beginning of an ice skating lesson with skating director Suzanne McCaughtry. Purchase photo reprints »
Bob Dunn watches the graceful example set by other pupils during an ice skating lesson with skating director Suzanne McCaughtry at Collins-Moylan Arena in Greenfield Sunday night. Purchase photo reprints »
Bob Dunn gets his balance at the beginning of an ice skating lesson with skating director Suzanne McCaughtry at Collins-Moylan Arena in Greenfield Sunday night. Purchase photo reprints »
Bob Dunn makes some grooves with his skates during an ice skating lesson with skating director Suzanne McCaughtry at Collins-Moylan Arena in Greenfield Sunday night. Purchase photo reprints »
There are things I don’t do because I don’t have the skill set to do them, like fixing a car or flipping an omelet.
Then there are things I don’t do because I can’t wrap my brain around how to do them, like spending more to save more, or being comfortable in social situations.
For me, ice skating has always fallen into that latter category.
I never understood how balancing (in my case) a couple of hundred pounds on two thin metal blades on a slick, unforgiving surface could be accomplished with any grace or precision.
It seemed to defy the laws of physics and — since skating only happens in the cold — I’ve successfully avoided it for 43 years.
Until, that is, a certain recent Sunday, when I drove to the Collins-Moylan Skating Arena in Greenfield and met skating director Suzanne McCaughtry of Keene, N.H.
McCaughtry, 54, has been teaching skating since 1978. She began skating when she was 14, which, she said, is older than many skaters are when they start. Skaters often start young, she said, when muscle memory is easier to achieve.
Skating can be as competitive or as social as people want it to be, making it ideal for those who aspire to trophies and ribbons as well as for those who simply want to hold hands and slowly glide along with a favorite person.
McCaughtry had graciously agreed to make room in her schedule for what seemed an act of utter futility — getting me to skate.
The first order of business after I arrived was to sign a liability waiver.
“Good thinking,” I told her. I was pretty sure at that point that I would be leaving the arena with more bruises, and perhaps less blood, than I had arrived with.
The first surprise was the skates themselves.
These weren’t the tattered, stiff, leathery ice skates I remembered from childhood, the ones I would see hanging from pegs on porches or in the garages of friends who seemed to enjoy flinging themselves across frozen water.
No, these skates looked high-tech, for lack of a better term. They had plastic-like material on the outside, and nice, comfortable and hopefully warm padding on the inside.
The only issue I had with them was that the skates didn’t seem to have a defined instep, so it wasn’t immediately clear to me which was the left skate and which was the right. Since I was already sure I was going to look foolish, I was far too proud to start off with such a rudimentary question as, “Which skate goes on which foot?”
I certainly didn’t want McCaughtry to think she was dealing with someone who not only couldn’t skate, but who also couldn’t tell left from right. Thankfully, the manufacturer’s logo was on each skate, and I presumed that the logical spot for it was on the outer side so it could be seen.
Once I was laced up, McCaughtry led me onto the ice and started me off with a lesson on getting up in case of a fall.
“Again, good thinking,” I told her.
We got down on hands and knees and she showed me how to plant one skate on the ice and then push off with the other leg, thereby going from wipeout to upright as efficiently as possible.
Amazingly, that was the last time my body touched the ice that night.
Once I was standing, I expected my feet to immediately fly out from underneath me.
Somehow it didn’t happen. McCaughtry took my hands in hers and showed me how to move my legs and feet to propel myself forward. That part at least felt familiar, perhaps because I did a lot of roller-skating growing up. Those movements always made sense to me because on roller skates, my weight was supported on four equally spaced points of contact underneath each foot, not on a thin blade.
Nonetheless, that basic muscle memory came back and McCaughtry seemed impressed that I was vertical and moving. She explained that part of my brain-block might have been that I didn’t realize that I was actually cutting my own grooves to travel in, and not just balancing on those strips of metal.
Without realizing it, I was moving forward — however wobbly I looked — using something called a “forward stroke.” Relying on my roller-skating abilities seemed like the way to go. The maneuver involves pushing off in an outward direction with each skate in turn and, lo and behold, you begin to move forward, physics be damned.
The other way to propel oneself onward is a “forward swizzle” (I’m not making these terms up) in which you move your feet in tandem, with both skates moving slightly outward and then inward in a repeating pattern. I moved, more slowly than I had with the forward stroke, but I did move.
I couldn’t, however, quite get the hang of stopping.
McCaughtry showed me how to turn one skate inward, making it perpendicular to my direction of travel, and dig in. I gave it a few tries, but after a while I admitted defeat and decided that the wall of the rink and I were going to become fast friends.
Once I was on my own, skating laps around the rink, I started to see the appeal of this wintertime activity. While skating past banners for the Boston Bruins and countless scuff marks from collisions with the rink walls, I pictured myself wearing an ugly sweater and an unflattering hat, skating while the snow falls while the soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” plays in the background.
While that idyllic scene may never unfold, I’m finally able to move ice skating out of the “impossible” column. Ice, I now know, is something that can be enjoyed, even without whiskey.
Bob Dunn can be reached at email@example.com.
The Collins-Moylan Skating Arena in Greenfield offers classes and rink times for adults and children. For more information go to www.fmcicesports.com or call 413-782-6891.