‘I was jumping up until 62’

Skaters of all ages spin, glide and practice salchow jumps at Amherst Skating Club

  • Laurel Milberg skates at a rink next to the University of Massachusetts Amherst's Mullins Center, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Laurel Milberg, 72, credits a lifetime of skating with creating and sustaining her bone strength. Time on the ice “always puts me in a good mood,” says Milberg, shown at the University of Massachusetts Amherst's Mullins Center. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • As part of its learn-to-skate program, the local club pairs beginners with more experienced skaters. Here, Kyla Hastie, 48, right, encourages a newbie. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Twins Samuel and Josiah Fitzgerald, both 14, take turns practicing camel spins. The pair has been skating since they were 4-years-old. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • The Fitzgerald twins have found their passion in figure skating. “I can move so quickly on the ice,” Samuel said. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Hastie laces up her skates before taking to the ice at the Mullins Center rink. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

Published: 2/11/2019 3:44:55 PM

Kyla Hastie developed her figure skating prowess in the United Arab Emirates about 30 years ago.

Her father worked in the oil industry and, for half a year when she was 13, her family traded their home in Huntsville, Texas for a high-rise in Dubai.

Outside, it was mostly hot and dry, but the building’s first floor featured a bona fide skating rink.

"I skated every single day for about the six months we lived there,” says Hastie, now 48. “After school, there was really nothing else for me to do.”

Then her family moved back to Texas. “I was heartbroken that we didn't have a rink anywhere near us,” Hastie says. “I didn't skate again for 30 years.”

Now settled in Amherst, she enrolled her two daughters in a learn-to-skate program at the Amherst Skating Club when they were both in elementary school.

“I was sitting over there watching them, and I was thinking, ‘there are other adults out there,’ ” Hastie says. She wanted to reconnect with the sport. "I started taking lessons myself to pick it back up. Nine years later I'm still skating."

The skating club has a number of different programs including instructional learn-to-skate classes for both adults and children. As part of the program, more experienced skaters teach less experienced skaters the basics. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Mullins Center rink Sunday, which is the club’s primary facility, Valerie Leonard of Hadley watched from the stands as her 15-year-old daughter, Abbeyrose Leonard, slid to a graceful halt out on the ice. 

“It’s amazing, the transformation,” Leonard said of her daughter’s skill progression over the past six months that she’s taken the classes. Around her daughter, hundreds of other students practiced skating forward and backward, some with their hands out for balance and others without.

These days, Hastie’s two daughters, now 14 and 17, also continue to skate. And Hastie, who works in the communications department at the United States Fish and Wildlife office in Hadley, says she enjoys the constant athletic challenge posed by figure skating.

Learning new spins and jumps takes an incredible amount of concentration. As a discipline, figure skating requires control, cardiovascular endurance, strength, balance, and precision, she says.

“It's sort of like gymnastics. Every small movement of your body — your shoulders, your hips — everything has to be aligned,” she says. “There are a lot of moving parts."

Over the years, Hastie has entered competitions like the annual Bay State Games, which took place this year last Saturday in Williamstown. Hastie says enjoys competing in the sport as an adult.

For 72-year-old Laurel Milberg, figure skating is a way to maintain her physical health and feel youthful. Milberg, who grew up in Chicago and now lives in Leeds, began taking private lessons at the Chicago Black Hawk’s rink when she was 4 years old and never stopped. As a teenager, Milberg recalls skating through the city’s iced-over streets to an outdoor rink for practice.

Skating, she says, “is like flight. Sometimes you leave the ground. It always puts me in a good mood.” 

After high school, Milberg says she continued skating through undergraduate and graduate university years, pregnancy — which helped “center her spins,” she joked — and a 35-year career teaching psychology to medical students at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School.

“I was jumping up until 62,” Milberg continued, noting that she still would be doing so today if not for an unrelated back surgery that grounded her a decade ago.

These days, the physical benefits she enjoys from all those years of skating are noticeable.

“(Skating) creates bone strength and it sustains bone strength,” Milberg said. “It’s weight bearing, because when you jump — and I jumped my whole life — and land, you’re stressing your long bones.”

Through skating, she’s also learned how to fall without hurting herself.

“People, when they fall, get all tense. We just roll with it,” she said.

And besides building bone density and helping with falls, Milberg says she’s never had a problem with flexibility. For decades, now, Milberg says she’s been throwing a leg up onto the boards and touching her chin to a knee as a warm-up stretch.

“I can still do it,” Milberg said. 

While there are adults at the Amherst club, the 150 or so members include a lot of children and young adults as well.

Teenage twins Samuel and Josiah Fitzgerald of Amherst, both 14, began figure skating a decade ago when they were four.

They were inspired to get out onto the ice after watching a figure skating scene in the animated movie “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” From the start, they were hooked.

Learn-to-skate sessions led to individual lessons, which in turn prepared them for solo competitions and synchronized skating performances. The twin brothers performed a graceful synchronized sequence at the Amherst Skating Club’s 50th-anniversary show last year.

“It just feels normal, since I’ve been doing it for years,” Samuel said. “I can move so quickly on the ice.”

At the rink last week, the twins could be seen explosively leaping into spins and carving figure eights into the ice. Most recently, Samuel says they learned how to do a double salchow — a jump that includes two spins in the air.

They’re also working on a flying camel spin, a more challenging move in which the skater spins on one leg, while holding the other leg perpendicular to the ice at hip level.

“It definitely takes a lot of dedication, because not everything comes immediately,” Josiah said.

How to connect

For more information on the Amherst Skating Club visit scamherst.org. The club’s annual show will be held March 24 at 2 p.m. at the UMass rink. Membership is $70 per person and $30 for each additional family member per year. That does not include ice time, which is an additional price and is reserved in month-long blocks. Prices for those blocks range widely depending on variables like whether or not jumping is allowed during the skating. For example, 19 hour-long sessions of open freestyle skating is $244. More specific information can be found on the club’s website.

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