Thursday, 23 July 2015

One hurtin' unit

Sore, oozing ankles, the result of a four-day power skating course, were a necessary price to pay for a ticket on the train to hockey mastery.

Man, I’m one hurtin’ unit. Not only are my ankles killing me but my feelings are all scuffed up as well.

Both sets of wounds come courtesy of a scheme I cooked up a few months ago and just completed the other day.

You see, back in March when my hockey season ended, I took stock of my beer leaguing exploits and came to this conclusion: through diligent training, I’d made marginal improvements to my speed, quickness, conditioning and stickhandling but hadn’t touched other aspects of my game. These areas were now holding me back and it was time to tackle one of them.

Skating topped the list, since it’s the most important hockey skill and I hadn’t received any instruction in it since I was a youth – about 30 years ago. Although I’m a pretty good skater, I knew that serious scrutiny would reveal deficiencies.

Extensive online research turned up just one company that offered a power skating course that was open to adults. I signed up even though I wasn’t thrilled about the age range, which started at 11. The course was to be eight hours spread over four weekday afternoons. I wrote the dates in my daytimer and booked vacation time off work.

As the course dates approached, I vaccilated between anticipation and apprehension, the former due to the prospect of learning and the latter due to the age factor. I expected that I’d be the only adult in the class and that the average age would be about 14. At 44, I’d be an oddball with a capital O. Of course, it’s not like my beer-leaguing exploits (and my life in general) hadn’t already placed me squarely in the oddball camp, but still, I would have preferred that the “sore thumb quotient” be a bit less extreme.

On the day of the first session, I steeled myself for an ordeal, marched into Sherwood Park’s Millenium Place and plopped down in a vacant spot in the male dressing room. As I’d expected, the room was full of boyish faces that cast furtive glances my way. I had barely sat down before that curiosity bubbled over.

“So, you here to do some coaching?” asked the hulking teenager beside me.

I worked to suppress a grin.

“No, I’m here for a ... refresher,” I said, inflecting my voice so as to place aural quotation marks around “refresher.”

This subtlety seemed to be lost on the questioner, who I judged to be about 16. A couple minutes later I launched my own question his way.

“So, are you here because you want to be or is someone making you?”

Instant eye roll.

“My father,” he said.

When I was young, like peewee or bantam age, my team was visited by power skating instructors on a couple different occasions. These instructors were females with figure skating backgrounds. Because of this, and because we were cocky young stallions, we disregarded everything they said. None of us learned a damn thing and we were damn proud of it.

This time around, armed with a broader outlook gained from 30 years of seasoning, I was primed to soak up information (and skills, I hoped) like a mature, open-minded sponge (and one who was determined to get value for his $290).

Feeling edgy

As soon as the ice was ready, the dressing room emptied and players started skating lazy laps. The group numbered about 30 and was about evenly divided between males and females, with many of the females being ringette players. This contingent included a couple of moms, so I didn’t feel like such an oddity.

After the instructor gathered us up for a short introduction, he and his two assistants ran us through a battery of drills aimed at getting us to exert control over our skate edges. For the first exercise, we travelled the length of the ice using only our inside edges, swooping in wide arcs like armour-clad flamingos as we alternated from one foot to the other. We followed that up by doing the same on our outer edges then did both drills again, backwards.

This is what the course was: eight hours of performing various permutations of pushing and gliding while paying careful attention to our edges and weight distribution. We learned and repeated the proper mechanics for the forward stride, backward stride, crossovers, tight turns and starts.

Some of the drills were easy. Others made me feel like I’d never skated before in my life. Most were somewhere in between, feeling awkward at first but less and less so with diligent effort. None of them was overly tiring physically – the pace was slow, the focus on technique. But because they were so foreign, the exercises required intense concentration which made them exhausting mentally.

Resting on the bench while the ice is being resurfaced, my feet are 
positioned in the “V-diamond” formation (heals together with knees 
bent), which is the foundation of effective skating, I learned.

Getting hurt

My feet started to hurt almost right away during the first session. That’s because, when we used a particular edge, we didn’t just casually lean that way, we leaned with all our weight, with the pointy part of the ankle bearing the brunt. Never before have I subjected by feet and ankles to such extreme forces. After the first day, all four of my pointy ankle knobs were raw. By the end of the third day, both my inner ones were leaving bloody blotches on my socks.

My feelings also started to hurt almost right away during the first session. As I stated, some of the exercises were so awkward that they made me feel like a complete neophyte, a bitter pill for someone who’s been a semi-serious hockey player for more than 30 years.

What was particularly draining emotionally was the fact that the course didn’t just expose my shortcomings and move on. Instead, it dangled them in front of my nose then smeared them all over my face like a sadistic army officer exacting some sort of feces-based hazing ritual.

Due to the significant mental and emotional toll of my learning, my cranial activity downshifted to stupor level during my off-ice time. Meanwhile, my time on the ice was a continuously unfolding oxymoron. I enjoyed but dreaded it. I wrung maximum value out of every repetition while sneaking longing glances at the clock.

After the last session was done, I floated out of the arena feeling glad it was all over but also glad I’d done it. As I’d hoped, I had soaked up a lot of knowledge and some of it was already transferring to my legs and feet. It’s true that I was reeling from the wounds I’d incurred, but I viewed the discomfort as an indicator of personal growth. Once the wounds healed, I’d be a new player ... well, maybe not new exactly, but improved.

And that’s exactly what I’d signed up for.

Someday (maybe even before I’m 50), the sleeve 
of my hockey jacket will be covered in these, and the 
world will shower me with all the adulation and 
accolades that I deserve.

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