My Figure Skating Career: Origins (Part 1)

Whenever I tell people I skate, they always give me these wide eyes and ask “How?” or “Oh since you were a kid?” or “OMG THAT’S SO COOL ARE YOU GOING TO THE OLYMPICS?!?!!” It’s kind of funny how untouchable the sport seems to the general public despite my city having at least 3 rinks open year-round and several more open during the colder months. I suppose in the land of the Eagles, Sixers, and Phillies, only the Flyers gang would even think about. But I digress.

Skating happened to me–I didn’t seek out skating. At least not at first.

It all started with a social media hub of sorts sponsored by Lyft and led by some local social media guru-types for the year of 2018, and they offered a set of complimentary tickets with skate rental at the Blue Cross RiverRink. I hadn’t been to the rink since I was in elementary school, and not skated since 2011 as a 9th grader, so I didn’t really know what to expect but was relatively optimistic.

It did rain a bit earlier in the day, but the rink decided to stay open as the sky cleared, so my friend Connie and I strapped on our dinky rental skates and tiptoed our blunt toe picks on the ice, clinging onto the soaked boards. It was a familiar sensation but definitely distant. Apparently Connie had learned how to skate as a child at some point–that was never something I did! Dance, yes, but never skating formally. So she had some mild confidence off the boards, but I hung on for a full lap. The rink wasn’t too crowded, so I didn’t feel too bad.

The second lap, I discovered that I should tie my skates tighter, and suddenly I was zooming around the rink, hands off, for laps and laps until I fell. It was terrifying but at the same time…it was awesome! I couldn’t stop thinking about skating when we finally got too tired and the ice was chopped up from all the skaters. For that hour, I completely forgot about how anxious and stressed I was about school.

That night, I casually googled “ice skating lessons” and University of Penn’s Rink webpage came up, as well as a few other rinks. I was still a Drexel student at the time, so it felt natural to look at Penn’s lessons. They weren’t too expensive and there was a session starting in a few weeks. I wasn’t exactly earning a lot of money so I was surviving on savings for the most part, and so I pushed it off for the fall when I had more money.

A mere 4 days later, I realized I was still thinking about skating and since finals were looming (freaking quarter system), I convinced my boyfriend to skate as a date. We had a blast, and my skills had already improved since the last time. That was kind of the end of my “life before skating” because the next time I would skate would be by myself the week before my first Learn-to-Skate group lesson would happen.

I was a bit of a nervous wreck going into that 12:30pm public session on a Wednesday afternoon alone at Penn’s Rink. It was my first time skating alone and I was afraid of looking ridiculous. But I wanted to get a feel for the ice! I hadn’t skated there since I was in middle school on a field trip, and I had no real recollection of that event so it made sense.

The session was pretty empty, only a few adults skaters and some more advanced college kids (nothing more complicated than some waltz jumps though). I mostly just stroked around and tried to do some of the things I saw on YouTube like swizzles, but I mostly just enjoyed going around for a bit. I don’t think I stayed for the entire session.

A few short days later, I returned to the rink, this time to turn in my check for $130 (RIP savings) and to lace into rental skates and start my first lesson. It was so crowded for a group, but we made it work. However, I could barely swizzle in these skates, and it made me feel very awkward. After appearing as if I was in the bottom of the class, I looked to see where I could get figure skates in the next week. Off to Philadelphia Skating Club I went.

On Wednesday, I took the bus to Ardmore, talked to the pro shop guy, and left with my own pair of Jackson Ultimate Artiste skates (which I would later learn were too big for me!). From Ardmore, I rode a bus and a train back to Penn’s rink just in time for the 12:30pm session to test out those bad boys. It was great! I couldn’t believe what sharp skates with actual ankle support could do for one’s skills.

Through the next few weeks, I found real improvement in my skating skills, and by the end of the 5 week session, I had passed both Adult 1 and 2 and was well on my way into 3 skills. Luckily, I had already signed up for the last adult group lessons at the Haverford Skatium (somewhere I now call home away from home) that would start the very next week so I could still learn.

Hilariously, I started this session at the top of my group somehow. Although I had no concept of backward swizzling or wiggling the week prior, I was able to teach 2 girls in my group how to do them and could actually go pretty freaking fast for someone who just started skating a mere 2 months prior.

As opposed to Penn’s classes, this class didn’t follow a structure at all, so by the time the 6 weeks were over, I had learned forward crossovers, backward swizzles, backward wiggles, t-stop, bunny hop, and because I had already started with my private coach, the group lesson instructor ended up teaching me backward crossovers too.

Since I was doing an internship during this time, I couldn’t skate those lovely 12:30pm public sessions at Penn, so I started venturing to different public sessions. I discovered free admission ice at Laura Sims Skate House in the evenings, so after work I went straight to the rink to practice and that’s where I would learn about unsolicited advice from strangers. So I stopped going there.

Okay, I skipped ahead a bit. Let’s talk about how I ended up with a private coach after only skating for less than 3 months. I have a pretty analtyical mindset and am very goal oriented, and after seeing how quickly I was learning skills, I knew that I wouldn’t last through the summer if I continued with group lessons. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work with a private coach yet because of money, but I just figured I’d try it out. I reached out to the figure skating director of the rink about ice dance coaches as I knew (after watching the Shibutanis’ Olympic Free Dance performance for the 40th time) I wanted to do solo dance, and suddenly was paired with my amazing 2x Olympian Ukrainian coach whom I still skate with today.

The first private lesson was a few weeks into my group lesson session, which happened to be on the same day just an hour afterwards. We pretty much went straight into Dutch Waltz, and I was pretty excited to not be stuck doing crossovers on a circle for a half an hour.

Until that’s basically what we did for 15 minutes a lesson for about 3 months. But hey, my crossovers are great now.

My coach teaches at a camp for 2 weeks in June, so I skated with him for 3 weeks before he left, and then spent 3 weeks away from him. But I diligently practiced that damn Dutch Waltz.

When he came back, he decided to start Canasta Tango with me, which stroked my ego quite a bit. On the day of the July test session at the rink, my coach asked if I wanted a shot at the next test session for one or both of the dances. I was ECSTATIC…and terrified.

That was a lot of money all at once that I was hesitant about. So far I had spent $130 on Penn’s lessons, another $130ish on Skatium’s lessons, $180 on the skates, probably $200 or so on my coach’s fees, $140 on the freestyle ice time, and suddenly I needed to pay for a USFSA membership, the test fees, a dress, and pay for my coach to be there. But you know what I did, right?

Yep. I started with the dress, then I signed up with Crossroads Figure Skating Club, then I registered for the test session, and eventually I made it to my first test session and passed. Wow.

Have I mentioned this is only 6 months since I stepped onto that free public session? It took me 3-90 minute public sessions to sign up for something that costs SO MUCH MONEY. And I still do it today. So that’s cool.

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