jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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Sculpture garden

Unseasonably warm Thanksgiving holiday! This made a pre-dinner walk around our newly renovated Minneapolis Sculpture Garden seem like a must-do.

The most iconic of the works here is “Spoonbridge and Cherry” (1985-1988) by Claes Odenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen. I didn’t get a picture of that one this time around, but I did take some of the other sculptures.

The Sculpture Garden is within an easy walk of my home rink, which was closed over the holiday. I had to drive a bit to get some skating time in over the weekend, which I gladly did. I was all fueled up on turkey, stuffing, and pecan pie!

I also had to practice! Had another great lesson earlier in the week, in which we worked on really getting my weight into the circle on back crossovers. Laurie had me pretending I had a hockey stick that I was pushing into the ice, which forced me to lean into the circle. Ack!

She also pointed out that I am not always maintaining a steady edge when I straighten my skating knee. Instead of holding that edge steady, I rise to a flat and then try frantically to get the edge back as I bend again. Double ack! I really have to think about using my ankles (and lean), since that’s seems to be key to maintaining that edge.

Here’s my version of that classic song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, sung here by the voice behind many of my memories: Dionne Warwick. Only it goes something like this:

What do you get when you lose your edge?
A gal with a flat who seems to hobble,
That’s what you get when your ankles wobble.
I’ll never lose my edge again!

 

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Endless season

Here are some words of wisdom from Yoko Ono’s “Season of Glass” (1981).

spring passes
and one remembers one’s innocence

summer passes
and one remembers one’s exuberance

autumn passes
and one remembers one’s reverence

winter passes
and one remembers one’s perseverance

Ono ends with the season that never passes, the “season of glass.” Or maybe what she really means is the season of ice.

That is because even as the seasons change, skating pretty much stays the same.

Lace ’em up, tuck the ends under. Swizzles, progressives, power pulls, cross strokes, swing rolls, turns. Wave to the guys who do the Zamboni. Say hi to my skating pals. Another set of those three turns that I love so much. Check my posture. Check my hip position. Check my ankle bend. Try to get a little more speed this time. Kilian. Now in reverse!

Another autumn shading into winter. Basil finished, tomatoes all gone (only lost one to the marauding squirrels this season).

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It’s gone. But the ice remains!


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Let the others run

I wrote this post three weeks ago, and I guess I forgot to hit “publish!” Just found it in “drafts.” Better late than never!

It’s time for the Twin Cities marathon, and as I sit here in St. Paul near Summit Avenue, waiting for my son to finish his music lesson with his legendary cello teacher, I can hear the cheers of the crowd greeting the fastest runners as they race to the finish at the Capitol.

There was a time when I thought it might be fun to run a marathon. I still think it would be fun–if you were a runner (which I am not any more) and if you were well-trained and motivated to run that far (which I never quite got to be) and if you were not content to sit in a comfy chair and blog on the Sunday morning of marathon day (which I am).

I can now claim legitimate reasons why I am no longer a hard-core runner. My misaligned hips! The scarring on my right ankle! My weakened feet! My dead butt (what runners sometimes call it, a.k.a the glute formerly known as dead!) My sore knees! The fact that I love comfy chairs such as this one more than I love running!

But the real reason is probably that I don’t think I can fit in both running and skating, and that skating wins, hands down. I do miss being outside, especially on beautiful fall days such as we’ve had. But I’ve turned into a one-sport gal, though I do some other things (Pilates, biking, occasional swimming or hiking) on the side.

The one hard thing about that is that I have to obey the ice times. That means when there are no sessions available, I don’t get that dose of skating goodness in my life and have to resort to chocolate, YouTube videos, and pictures of cute baby animals. And if I’m not online and don’t have chocolate handy, I just sit there and twirl my ankles around and around, seeing if I can get them to make that noise.

Can you tell that I didn’t skate yesterday, won’t skate today, and probably not tomorrow either? Arghhh!

I know it’s probably good for me to take a few days off, since last week I tweaked my right knee and it’s been achy for a few days. But it’s still hard!

So to remind myself to just chill, here’s a fun recording of “La Vie en Rose” played by twelve cellists from the Berlin Philharmonic. Not able to embed the video, but you can click on the link to play it on YouTube. Here they are, leaning in, looking regimented, geometrically dapper, relaxed, and even quasi-religious.

 

Gotta love it! If I ever do a compulsory foxtrot again, here’s what I gotta use!

Lesson notes:

  • forward progressives: engage skating hip (let it move back) with each stroke.
  • three turns: don’t tip body into circle (body should feel neutral relative to skate); use leg action to propel three turn. On right foot, remember to keep ankle engaged; body is forward (Eddie the Eagle).
  • back chasses: flex ankle to get more grip. Practice rise and fall. General note on skating backwards–watch your posture; don’t contract upper body backwards.
  • two-footed counters: change edge in between; don’t rush.
  • sequence 1: inside three, step rise, BEND, cross to inside.
  • sequence 2: five step mohawk (push!)
  • sequence 3: forward inside three, back outside three, edge pull.
  • sequence 4: forward outside three, back inside three, edge pull.
  • do 3 and 4 with free foot to heel, work on eliminating unnecessary wriggling.
  • do 3 and 4 with continuous rotation.


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Where did everybody go?

This summer’s skating sessions have been quite busy. Granted, I usually practice on public sessions. And it’s been a rather cold and rainy summer overall, which means taking kids to the pool (or around here, the many water parks) isn’t always an option. Even the figure skating sessions are usually busy too, with kids trying to take advantage of time off from school.

So imagine my surprise when I went to an open figure skating session last Thursday, and I was the only one there for the entire time. Yes, one and a quarter hours of just me. There wasn’t even music playing until the rink staff realized how quiet it was and put the radio on.

Just me and Adele singing her torch songs. Not that I don’t like Adele, but there is a limit to how much I can hear about love lost forever before I want to scream. (“He’s not worth it!” “Just pull yourself together already!”) As if there wasn’t enough to be depressed about these days.

After a while, though, I realized that having the rink to myself meant I could (a) pretty much tune out anything these days when I’m working on those edges; (b) actually practice without worrying about running into someone; and (c) skate consecutive patterns to my heart’s content.

I ran through my entire usual set of exercises and found I had nearly half the session left. So I added in some stuff that I haven’t worked on in a while. One of these things was starting patterns from a dead standstill. It’s always tempting for me to take a running start into everything; it’s definitely easier, especially on a crowded rink, when I can just cruise into moves rather than standing there in a T-position looking for a break in public session traffic.

When I used to test and compete, I had to make myself work on that initial push and acceleration, and it never felt particularly good. But in an empty rink, and with my newly honed pushing skills and dissolving free leg, starting felt much better–at least until I started trying to do it in reverse (clockwise).  Then I had to go back to breaking it down to figure out how to get myself moving.

Basically, I am still needing to do more to keep all the proper muscles engaged as I bend and push. As this is something I have written about at length in this blog, I’ll just say that the correct pressure through the foot, ankle bend, and glute/core/back activation all matter.

Whenever I go back to something basic, I also have that immediate reaction: “Wait, didn’t I already go over this?” I have to remind myself that drilling basics is necessary at every level. No, I’m not regressing or devolving, I’m perfecting! (Snort of laughter). If I need conformation, all I have to do is watch those many YouTube videos of speed skaters perfecting their form, just trying to get that little extra boost. It is isn’t something you can do just by changing your outfit (though some may try).

This was confirmed in my lesson, which really put the alignment issues into play. Here’s my notes.

  • forward progressives: work on glute/core stability on skating side to offset beautifully dissolving free leg.
  • exercise: hold outside edge, bring free leg precisely and quickly back and in, while engaging glutes/core on skating side so that hips don’t shift.
  • back chassés: think about angle of back push and new edge.
  • exercise: back chassés, but bring two feet together before pushing to learn where the proper set-down is for the new foot.
  • back push from inside edge: glutes/core and hip alignment.

So here’s to the new semester, off and running. Here’s the scherzo (third) movement from Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings (op. 20) to get us in the mood. Busy, busy, busy!


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Lower the bar

I just had one of the best skating sessions ever. It wasn’t because of having the rink to myself (lots of little kids EVERYWHERE!). It wasn’t because I felt particularly strong (left hip still stiff, left foot still twinges, right ankle, knee sore too). And it wasn’t because I landed that triple axel (SNORT! Almost choked on that one).

No, not even close. It was because I lowered the bar.

I’ve been lowering it for quite a while now. I think when I started this blog, I thought it would be a matter of just a few month of recovery from a foot injury, then I’d be back to working on compulsory dances. It’s now been, what, three years? Three years of working on basic turns and edges, stroking, progressives, and back crossovers. Three years of physical therapy appointments and off-ice re-training of what feels like every muscle, joint, and bone from the navel down.

No end in sight. As Elton John sings so memorably–and so many times–in “Rocket Man”: “And I think it’s gonna be a long long time.”

So my goals today?

  1. Get out there regularly.
  2. Basic positions: keep aligned through the hips, bend your ankles, and engage the feet.
  3. Remember that these positions are dynamic, not static. Move through them as smoothly and ergonomically as possible.
  4. Change up the moves once in a while so I don’t get too tired or lose focus on (2) and (3).
  5. Change the music so that I’m not listening to too many depressing songs about things taking a long long time.

And do you know what? I’m okay with this. I’ve mostly learned to be okay with it, just as I’ve learned that I’m supposed to move on an edge, not a flat (hello!). At my worst, I wish that I’d started this process earlier so that I’d be farther along in learning my way around my skating body. At best (and today was certainly up among the best), I let go of the wishful thinking and just focus on the basics of skating.

What’s been working pretty well is thinking about the movement of my joints while I’m skating. How do I make my hips, knees, ankles, feet do those motions smoothly?

Today I thought a lot about my feet and ankles, especially on the motion of my talus bone. I wrote a post about the talus some time ago, when I was having trouble with my left foot.

 

 

Today’s talus spotlight is on my right side. PT Sarah and I have been working to mobilize my right ankle (did a post on that side too), which has a lot of scar tissue and swelling from an old injury. Basically, my talus seemed to be stuck when I tried to flex my foot downward (as in pointing my toes). It is much more common for the talus motion to be limited in dorsiflexion, so I am a little bit strange in that way.

 

I will skip the gory details of Sarah trying to get me to where I could actually point my toes without a lot of cramping and a crackling, popping, crunching accompaniment as various tendons howled in agony. At least I didn’t cry. We’ll leave that for the skating lessons (just kidding, I don’t cry that much).

Instead, I will triumphantly say that I have much more mobility this week on the right side. Thank you, Sarah! I was also able to identify immediately what I was doing with my feet and ankle bones, and think about this while I skated. It is amazing how much easier skating moves are when you can actually use your ankles.

So here’s some notes about my off-ice exercises for my right ankle as well as skating for the week. Let me end with a triumphant song and totally trippy video from Elton John (just substitute “skating” for “standing” and you’ll get the idea).

Ankle exercises:

  • Stretch and mobilize big toe joint.
  • Point foot while thinking about creating more of a transverse arch. Then move toes up and down while keeping foot pointed.
  • Place foot on exercise ball, and use plantar flexion to move ball up and down the wall.
  • Practice walking through your big toes.

Skating:

  • Cross rolls with hands clasped in front so that you don’t use your shoulders at all.
  • Mohawk, back three. Work on continuous motion and pushing.
  • Swing roll, change edge, mohawk, back three, forward inside three, repeat on other side. Make the motion continuous.
  • Alternating chassés, hold the inside edge for almost a full circle before doing the final stroke. Work on hip position (flat front of skating hip) and leg extension.
  • Alternating progressives, and hold inside edge for a long time. Work on hip position (flat front of skating hip), leg extension and really good pushes.


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I hear voices

How can it be mid-June already? Wow, it has been quite a while since I have posted here. I had to go back and re-read my last entry just to remind myself what I wrote there.

No real excuses–I haven’t left the country, or done anything really exciting. And I am still skating, so it’s not like I have nothing to write about. But as they say, life gets in the way. Family events (son graduating from high school, yay!) Yard work (weeds, boo!) Work projects (hiss!) Gorgeous weather that makes it hard to stay inside (double yay!)

Thankfully the rinks around here remain open, though hours have been cut back and I have to drive around more in search of ice time. Some of my regular sessions have been quite busy, since all the avid skaters are doing the same thing. Last week I was witness to one terrible collision between an adult ice dancer and an adult free skater. Thankfully no serious injuries, but scary. Still, I did find the occasional session that turned out like this:

That’s right, empty ice. Okay, so it didn’t last and soon I was joined by several families with small children. But for the first twenty minutes I was queen of the rink.

So what have I been doing on that empty and not-so-empty ice? Same old, same old. I keep thinking that I should get bored soon, spending so much time on basic things, but in fact maybe the opposite is (too) true. I feel alarmed when I can’t spend the first half hour doing progressives and chassés and back crossovers. Sometimes I come back to those things at the end of the session as well.

Maybe I am too easily amused, but I actually find lots of things to work on while I am doing those basic things. And I talk to myself (not out loud, and I don’t let my lips move, so as not to creep out the toddlers). Sometimes that voice sounds like Ari; sometimes it sounds like Laurie; sometimes it sounds like Justin Bieber (not really, but that song is catchy!) Here’s what I say:

  • Bend your ankles (keep pressure into the ball of your foot, and into those laces). Let gravity help you.
  • Where is your hip joint? Oh, there it is!
  • Really use that inside edge for the push.
  • Underpush means your skating hip draws back underneath you.
  • Don’t pitch forward. Don’t contract your core for those turns.

Sometimes I wonder whether I am going crazy, but who cares? I’m happy, so it’s all good. And when I get tired of talking to myself, there are other friendly folks to talk to. Sometimes we even wear stripes together.

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Jo and Sonia in all our striped glory!

Lesson notes:

  • back crossover: bend further into the push, lower pushing hip, don’t transfer too early
  • forward outside edges: shins pulled forward as if with a stretchy band
  • always move hips over your engaged ankles (don’t release back)
  • back push, turn foot out, short push from heel, activate quad
  • outside edges strike down with foot angled in
  • outside three: strong transfer with ribcage over into circle, rise (don’t lose hips) into one big skating leg, feet parallel if need be
  • bend ankles
  • exercise: three crosses, then hold strong edge in circle with free leg strongly extended and turned out. Forwards and backwards.
  • inside and outside mohawks: don’t contract core (or break at hips), think elongated skating hip, look and lean in direction of free leg
  • try this sequence: inside mohawk, step forward, outside mohawk.

 

 


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Fresh perspective

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Sure sign of spring!

We have had some beautiful spring days this past week. It’s hard to believe that last week there was actually snow and sleet coming down. Neither last long, but today I noticed that my hostas have lots of little brown spots, perhaps due to those icy pellets damaging those tender new leaves.

I can remember when that kind of thing would have bothered me more. Every season of gardening brings imperfections and disappointments, like rabbit-eaten green beans or the zucchini that grows big only to suddenly develop some sort of rot. My tender-hearted son told me not to call squirrels “spiteful.” But I know better: they will take one bite out of the biggest tomatoes I have and then leave them on my fence as tokens of revenge for my trying to scare them off with the hose.

As the school year winds to a close, I start to fantasize about summer skating. Not that I will be able to spend hours on the ice; the sessions I usually practice on actually get cut back to a few hours a week. But what changes is the amount of brain energy that I can dedicate to dreaming about how much better I am going to be. It’s like those pictures of gorgeous flowers and vegetables on those seed packets.

I dream big, even though I am now resigned to the fact that improvement will take much more time and effort than I always think it will. There are slugs aplenty in my skating world, and this doesn’t just refer to the fact that I need to skate faster. I have lots of physical reminders of the challenges ahead.

For one, the foundations of my skating continue to need rebuilding. I was just re-reading a post I wrote in Oct. 2015 that reminded me of some of the things that I am still trying to get control over. And this past week, in the wake of Laurie’s comment that I still am not really bending through the ankles, I watched Oleg and Kseniya #73. (Miss their making new videos, but I am grateful that they made so many. There is certainly a lot there that I need to watch again!)

For two, I still continue to work to get mobility and strength in different body parts. Two target areas continue to be my left hip as well as my right ankle. I’ve been reading a lot about how injuries and scar tissue cause other misalignments as well as limit range of motion. One particularly detailed article from “Running Reform” (this version is for clinicians, but there’s a link for a patient version here as well) talks about the ways that limited ankle flexibility restricts the knee motion:

Imagine lowering your body weight in a squat with ski boots on. . . .We would certainly see less knee flexion occur because the ankle dorsiflexion is limited.  Since forward progression of the tibia is limited, more knee flexion would result in a posterior displacement of the body’s center of mass.  Since the subject would fall backward at that point, knee flexion becomes limited.

This explains why I’ve had a lot more trouble with my right knee, even though my left side has been weaker overall.

Okay, shots fired! But I am going to take a cue from my son, and not think of any of these frustrations as the work of spiteful skating gods (who treat me like those #%#*!!! squirrels do!)

Rather, I will simply defer to the wisdom of the real skating deities! Here’s a great interview that Charlie White did with Scott and Tessa after their free dance this year:

“It gives you purpose, it gives you life, it gives you energy.”

“A big part of our return has to do with our fresh perspective.”

“Taking a step back and appreciating what a great ride that was”

“We didn’t want to take ourselves too seriously coming back.”

“It’s a sport, it’s beautiful, and we love it.”

Here’s to having a fresh perspective on skating: whether you’ve taken two years off competition, or had a few extra weeks of vacation, or are just thinking about a fresh start to the summer season!