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.

This series is gonna get hella long, so I’m gonna stop here, but if you’re interested in Part 2, stay tuned because it’s coming. Drop a comment if you liked, and PLEASE feel free to tell me your ridiculous origin story, particularly if you jumped head-first into this sport.