Relearning my limits

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I’ve been skating regularly all spring, and am mostly back to regular lessons with my main coach and moves coach. When I first returned to skating after surgery, I wasn’t sure how many of my lost skills I would get back, or how long it would take me to bet back to where I was. Having been back at it for about six months, I can say that I’ve gotten most of my skills back and can do generally all the jumps and spins that I used to do. (Probably not at the same quality level—spins are slower and jumps aren’t as high, for instance—but at least I can do them.) That’s a huge relief for me, because I was worried that I might not be able to jump anymore, and was dreading the possibility of having to quit freestyle skating.

Even though I am back at freestyle and feel optimistic now about continuing to progress my skills, I have found that there are new twinges and pinches and signs of weakness that I am hypersensitive to now, and that I’m not able to approach skating with the same amount of confidence. Sometimes I feel great and can skate like I used to, but I find that most days, I feel things in both hips (I only had surgery on one, but they’re both a little off)—those feelings aren’t necessarily painful, but I take them seriously as signs to be careful. I notice that I can’t skate as long as I used to before I feel that ache in my hip—it feels like there are only a limited number of jumps I can try without overdoing the joint, and the same for spins. I don’t feel that skating is reinjuring me, but I do think I’m more liable to be injured if I’m not mindful. So every practice is a constant assessment of how I feel and how much I think I can attempt safely. I stop often to check how I’m feeling, and often cut my practices shorter than I want to. Before my surgery, I would just push through because I wanted to skate more, but now I force myself to ease off, which is frankly really tough to do.

It’s a bummer to have new limits holding me back when skating is hard enough as it is with a completely healthy body, but I suppose I’m grateful that I can continue to skate at all, so I try not to get too disappointed by the new restrictions. I tell myself that I love the feeling of skating even without the fun tricks, and even if I have to hold back the desire to go all out, I’ll do what it takes to keep me skating longer.

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Skate like you want to be noticed

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At my last moves lesson, my coach started me off with the usual warm-up drills around the rink. It was a busier than normal day, because there was an upcoming local competition and a lot of young skaters in costume were running programs back to back. The session is usually predominantly adults, but today I found myself dodging skaters, not quite able to fill out the whole pattern.

“I know it’s a crowded session,” my moves coach started off, “but… you skated like it was a crowded session. Like you didn’t want anybody to notice you.”

Ah, guilty as charged. I don’t usually think in those terms — Don’t notice me — but when it’s crowded, I do tend to shrink away and put myself in evasion mode, rather than actively attempt to skate. So I’d been more focused on dodging people than completing my moves, even when I probably was okay to continue, because I have a thing about not being That Adult Skater who gets in all the flashy teenagers’ ways.

It’s partly because, as an adult, there’s a certain amount of teenage know-it-all-iness you encounter, where the show-offs get annoyed at you for daring to intrude on their practice space. And it’s also partly because once when I was brand-new to freestyle sessions and not quite used to the flow of movement, a coach pulled me aside to warn me to pay better attention to the people around me, which I found mortifying and unnerving (because I was horrified at the idea that I was that clueless adult). (Also, where are those coaches now, when the high-level show-offs are whizzing dangerously close to everybody and expecting everyone else to clear their path? Hmph.) But because this is what I do, I took one bit of critique and went extreme overcorrection on it: So now, I scan the ice way more than I practice on it, I step aside readily when a more aggressive skater is around, and I abort moves at the drop of a hat. It’s not a productive habit. I should probably work on getting more assertive on the ice.

My coach sent me back for another lap, instructing me to skate with more purpose and confidence. “When you skate, it looks very pretty,” he said, with a twist on the “pretty” that made it clear it wasn’t necessarily a good thing, “but it looks like you’re just going through the motions. You’re very meticulous, but it’s like you’re thinking through all the positions.”

Another spot-on critique, because that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. I’m too busy concentrating on proper form and technique that as a consequence I generally have zero power, and no thought to presence or flourish. So I went back into the crowd, trying to do as he instructed: Chin up, shoulders down, arms raised, looking like I had every right to be on that ice — taking up space, rather than feeling apologetic about my presence on it.

The benefits of comparison

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I was on Youtube recently (…in that I am on Youtube every day, procrastinating) and saw a few skating videos pop up in my recommended videos list, and realized that an account had uploaded a whole slew of programs from Adult Internationals in Vancouver from last summer. I fell down the rabbit hole of watching video after video, and then realized that Adult Internationals had posted the protocols of every single program from the event. Score! (Literally! Har har.)

Which meant that I could pull up all of the score sheets alongside the Youtube videos and follow along element by element. It was illuminating and incredibly motivating, because the event used IJS scoring, so not only could you see the placements, you could see exactly how well the judges deemed every element performed, and how strong their skating skills and other program component scores added up. (Here’s the Youtube channel; you can get the protocols here.)

I’ve done something similar in past years by looking up Adult Nationals videos on Ice Network (example: this link starts out with the 2016 Adult Nationals videos) and comparing them to the results, but since the event is scored on the 6.0 system for lower levels, all we get are ordinals. Still very helpful, but it was exciting to see the Vancouver protocols and see what my event category looked like — what jumps are being landed? What kind of GOE is standard? What’s the PCS range for bronze ladies in my age group? For instance, a salchow with zero GOE shows me what a standard, acceptable salchow looks like, compared to one with negative GOE that may have had a two-foot landing, or scratchy exit, or a stumble.

That also made me realize that while I feel like I could technically test for silver freeskate within the year (in that I could probably perform the elements at a minimum level), I don’t need to be in a rush to move up to silver because I’m not all that competitive in bronze yet. For instance, I saw that almost every layback spin attempt wasn’t given credit as a layback, and instead got called an UprightSpB — and some didn’t even net upright spin points and got the dreaded dash of doom. Same with sit spints — many ladies had them in their programs, but many weren’t credited at all because they weren’t low enough. Or they had asterisks next to them indicating that some portion of a combo didn’t meet the requirements (I’m guessing it didn’t hit the minimum revolutions). And in the bronze ladies, the PCS scores ranged from about 1.25 to 2.75, with the majority in the upper 1’s. Skaters who scored 2’s were, to my eyes, pretty darn good with flow and speed.

So I’m revising my goal to competing at bronze again, and getting some amount of points for every element attempted. I’d love to add +GOEs and PCS in the 2’s as additional goals, but I think that’s still a way off from where I am, so I’ll stick to that initial goal for the moment. I haven’t decided whether or not that’ll entail new programs, but I have a few months to put things together and get working!

Stoning my own figure skating dress, Part 2

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Oh wow, I’ve had this draft saved in my blog for over a year, and all this time I’d thought it was posted already! I only recently realized it wasn’t, so here it is, better late than never.

Last year I competed in Sectionals for the first time, and I had a new program for my bronze freeskate and for bronze dramatic, and I needed new dresses. Because I had two programs, I was wary of spending too much money on costumes, so I decided to do what I’d done before in buying a plain, unstoned dress and add crystals myself. Having done it once before, I felt pretty confident I could turn a plain black dress into something interesting, with the help of thousands of crystals and hours and houuuuurs of free time.

Here’s the dress, bought unstoned from Brad Griffies:

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Relearning how to skate

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Okay, maybe the title is a little dramatic, since it’s not like I was away forever or that I had to start completely from scratch… I’ve been back to skating for two months now, although only once or twice a week and still taking it easy. I haven’t resumed lessons yet, although I plan to in the near future; I’d wanted to be back at lessons by now, but my coach was busy through the holidays and so was I.

In the meantime, I’ve been getting my feet back under me, and getting more comfortable being back on the ice. I was surprised at how quickly some skills came back, and how some just… didn’t. I started out tentatively with stroking and basic skills, then gradually added freestyle elements as I felt comfortable. After several sessions of feeling awkward and wobbly, I started feeling stronger with basic edges and stroking, which was a relief. I practiced from the pre-bronze moves in the field and then worked my way up through bronze and silver. Right now I feel like I’d be able to pass the bronze moves test again, but I’d fail the silver.

I held off on jumping for a while but resumed working on spins, and they were just awful — it was like I was back in Learn to Skate, trying to hang on to more than a revolution or two before wobbling out. I was surprised that the backspin was easier to get back than the forward scratch spin (which is still AWOL), although I suppose my backspins had been more reliable before the injury. Even at my best, I struggled with the forward entry, and now that I have no power or speed, it’s even more evident that the basic technique is lacking. For some reason I find the backspin entry much simpler and I trust that edge more going into the hook. I suppose the silver lining is that now I really do have to find the right technique and not just muscle through the forward spins.

I returned to jumping very very cautiously, which was a double-edged sword, since jumping with no speed or power is so hard. I’m sad to see that my loops are the worst off, because my right (landing) hip is the weak one and I’m afraid of twisting it or putting too much pressure on it, so I’ve started bailing on a lot of attempts. I want to figure out how to continue to practice them without getting into that pattern and learning bad muscle memory! Flips and lutzes… are a work in progress. For whatever reason they feel safer to attempt (for my bad hip) than loops, so I am practicing them, but they’re just not there yet.

Lots to work on.