This blog is a collection of my thoughts and experiences from ten years as a skate dad. For those of you sitting with your jackets in the bleachers, first I salute you, but second I want to give you an honest sense of what you are in for and what to expect. Ice skating is both a trying and a glorious sport, but it doesn't happen without the special group of folks who cheer, support, and console the participants. This is dedicated to you.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

- watch

Sometimes I watch skating as a parent, sometimes as an audience member, and sometimes as a judge. The effect is as different as drinking tea, soda, or hot cocoa.

The tea of observation is to watch skating as a judge. This requires discipline, strict methodological routine, and intense self awareness. The simple knowledge that you must "score" a skater imposes a fabric of criticality before your eyes. You zoom in to minutiae, the very discreet, skate edges, jump rotations and checks, verticals and parallels.

You are so attuned to the performance that you don't dare drop your eyes to the score or otherwise allow your focus to stray, lest you miss an important fault. Internally you store a fast growing list of accomplishments, likes, and errors. When the skater finishes you then immediately dump your mental recording into the scoresheet. As you are in the midst of this the next skater takes the ice, waiting for you to finish. You get about a five second breather as she cues up before you renew this process all over again.

Watching as an audience member you get to savor and enjoy the expressiveness of each performance. You signal the level of your appreciation after each skate by your vigorous (or polite) applause, and chat with friends during or in-between the performances. This is the hot cocoa of watching; it is fun and relaxing. You can get up in between skaters and grab a treat or step outside to warm up a bit.

Watching as a parent however is another matter entirely. You are both courteous and curious as you observe the other competitors, but your heart is always with your daughter. Even though you can't see her you can sense her warming up off ice. When they announce her name your heart leaps into your throat. As she skates to center ice and poses, pride tickles your tongue. Your heart skips a beat with every slip of balance, and when she nails a jump you clench your fist and go "yeah."

Observing your daughter skate is the soda pop of watching: sometimes the soda goes down the wrong pipe and makes you cough, other times the fizzy bubbles shoot straight up and tickle your nose. It's never a dull moment.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

- ouch

Well as a parent you'll watch all levels of skaters with various skills; some possess a more consistently stable set of skills than others. Regardless, small unfortunate things can still happen on the ice: a blade can nick a hole that waits there in ambush, or a stray sequin can wedge into a micro crevice and patiently skulk as a tripwire.

Skaters fall on the ice all the time of course. When they are little the shorter distance to the ice and a child's mass combines to mitigate any risk. As skaters grow and mature however, a fall can become rather serious.

I was in the audience at a local competition in Burbank. We were around midway through the second day, a Sunday, and the adult ladies (silver) were skating their free skate.

An average build, 5 foot 6 brunette takes the ice, poses. The music starts and she glides with grace and experience. A split jump, some light footwork, a toe loop. Then a nice spiral with a small bit of shimmy. Now a wide spread eagle sliding back, arms graceful. Then she three turns, toe loops, approaches the audience side of the rink, Axel.

But something cocks up her landing, and she suddenly strikes the ice flat or her side like a fifty kilo sack of potatoes. The audience gasps. She gives a tight grimace, but stays absolutely motionless. Ten seconds pass. The audience is numbingly quiet. The music continues on for a few more seconds, then the booth fades the music. Another small tight grimace, still no movement.

Is she conscious? Did she break something? Another twenty seconds pass. Everyone in the rink seems frozen in a sepia photograph of shared pain, worry, and lost dreams. Something needs to happen. "Help her," somebody yells from the stands. The audience murmurs, a couple people stand. Why doesn't anybody help?

Another thirty seconds pass as she lies motionless on the ice. We see her thinking and crying inside, her whole skating dream is over. We have all just witnessed the end of a young lady's career. We are somber and concerned at the same time. Silently, many of us are praying. The passing seconds each seem like minutes. A door in the boards opens and a younger skater and a rink employee step onto the ice, the skater rushing in a beeline to the downed gal, the rink employee following reluctantly lagging behind.

The downed skater now moves, whimpers, presses herself up sideways on one arm, grimaces hard again. Her friend reaches her and whispers something in her ear, then puts her ear up next to the panting injured skater. Half the rink is crying. The rink employee reaches the downed skater, kneels and asks her some questions. He places one of her arms over his shoulder, and she lets out a small painful gasp as they stand together.

She holds one leg slightly up and glides on her other skate as the employee and her friend propel her to the boards. The audience stands, both applauding and crying. We are applauding for all the years she has skated, for her entire life. The injured skater exits the ice and sits on a bench, her mother rushing over.

The announcer calls out the next skater, a smaller blonde gal. She skates out to center ice, blinks back some tears, and poses.