By Susan Govern
When I was a young girl in the sixties, my first notice of the Olympics was the Winter Games of 1968. There was an ice skater named Peggy Fleming who really captured the hearts of Americans and made us proud. She won the gold medal in Ladies Singles that year.
Watching her skate, I fell in love with ice skating. For years I had been able to roller skate; first with plastic skates that fit onto the bottoms of my shoes, then metal skates that fit the same way and finally actual roller skates used in a real roller rink. As I watched Peggy Fleming that year and all the other skaters, I begged my mom and dad to let me take ice skating lessons. I just knew that since I could roller skate, ice skating should come easy to me.
I had no delusions that I was going to become a skater like Peggy, but I wanted to have the fun of ice skating and hoped to maybe at the very least become good enough to turn around and skate backwards from time to time, or eventually after years of skating, learn to do a short spin.
My folks said yes and signed me up. I was thrilled, until I actually put on a pair of ice skates for the first time. It was a weird experience.
For those who do not know, figure skates have a blade that is only 3/16 inch (4mm) thick. Compare that to a roller skate that has considerable more support under your foot with four fairly wide wheels.
Have you ever watched a newborn horse or calf get up and try to take its first steps? Hellooo – that’s what it’s like the first time you try to walk to the ice on a thin blade, at least it was for me. And the ice rink is – well – ice; stepping out onto it and staying upright is a challenge of the first degree.
After my first couple of lessons, my instructor gave my mom some advice. I was to wear two pairs of socks inside my skates. When I asked why, my mom said I have weak ankles and this would give me more support.
Weak ankles! I might as well have been told I had my feet on backwards. All I could think about was I would never be able to spin like those Olympic figure skaters. I showed up for the rest of my lessons properly attired in double socks and that actually did help. I was falling less and learning more. By the end of so many weeks, I could make it around the ice rink and only land on my backside once or twice a session. In my mind, I had conquered my stupid weak ankles and was now an ice skater.
Fast forward through the years to high school and another winter Olympics, along with making friends with someone who (along with her sister) could snow-ski and I think you can see where this is headed.
Remembering the lessons of the past, and to keep warm, I put on two pairs of socks to support my ankles the first time my friend took me skiing. She was to be my teacher – I believe her words were “There’s nothing to it. I’ll have you skiing in no time.” Famous last words!
Working with me on the side of the beginner hill, my friend and I soon discovered something – I have been blessed with weak knees too.
If America’s Funniest Home Videos had been around in the mid-70’s, my friend and I could have been contenders to win AFV’s $10,000 prize by the time she finished giving me my first skiing lesson that day.
Weak knees and skis on a slippery, snowy slope do not mix well. I spent most of my time with her sliding down on my backside rather than standing upright. She finally gave me some instructions and deserted, I mean left me to practice on my own.
To stop yourself as you proceed down a mountain of snow, you turn your knees inward, and your feet too, in what is called a snow-plow. This slows your forward momentum till you stop. With my weak knees, my lower legs would not cooperate so I found myself stopping by simply sitting down. This worked well for a while until I got tired of bruising my bottom.
I finally decided to give it one really good try and use all my concentration to get my knees to respond. I started down the slope and after about ten feet I tried to snow-plow. My knees said “no”. I was picking up speed. I tried again. This time I felt a bit of a wobble, but my skis where still pointed straight ahead and I was starting to go even faster. I could picture myself sitting down to stop but then the image of me suddenly becoming like a cartoon snowball rolling down the hill came to mind.
Going faster I could only look ahead down the slope and pray for a clear path. Then as I approached the bottom at top speed I saw the line for the tow-rope to go up the slope was long enough that it curved and people were standing right where I was heading. Lucky for me, they were looking up the hill and moved out of my way before I got to them. With the other skiers aside, I saw what was beyond – the fence then the parking lot.
This was NOT going to end well.
Swoosh – I passed the people in the tow-rope line and went about six or seven feet beyond them. Just before reaching the fence I went up a tiny incline and STOPPED.
Standing there I realized I wasn’t going to crash the fence and come face to face with someone’s parked car.
In the next instant I don’t think anyone ever intentionally took off their skis as fast as I did.
My friend eventually caught sight of me as I stood off to the side of the beginner’s hill and came over. She asked me how I was doing? Let’s just say my answer would be unprintable.
Another Winter Olympics is to start next month. I’ll be watching every chance I get and cheering for Team U.S.A. as I’ve done many times over the years. I will watch the thrills of the snow-boarding and skiing events, I’ll marvel at the beauty of the figure skating and I’ll admire the abilities of those athletes competing in the luge and bob-sleds.
Hmmm – you know, over the years even with weak ankles and knees I’ve done a lot of sledding – I wonder if there’s anyplace around here that gives lessons in the bob-sled?