jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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Dead or alive?

There’s been some really interesting research done on how flamingos can stand for so long without falling over. The New York Times article I read described how even dead flamingo bodies can be easily balanced on one leg.

Rather than flopping over as expected, the bird settled into a stable, one-legged posture that stayed put even when the top of its body was tilted backward and forward. On two legs, or if the foot was not right below the body, the cadaver was far less stable.

Live flamingos can balance on one leg even when they are falling asleep. Humans, on the other hand, have a hard time balancing on one leg when they close their eyes.  That’s because we sense instability and react by contracting our muscles (believe me, I’ve been there). Flamingos, though, take a passive approach, relying on body mechanics and gravity rather than on muscles and nerves.

By the way, this article is well worth viewing just for the picture of the adorable and thankfully very much alive baby flamingo, who is standing on one leg looking like he just completed his warmup circuit on the ice and is presenting himself to the judges.

Just put a pair of skates on him, and there you go.

I, on the other hand, have trouble standing on one leg even though I am very much alive. Both my coaches keep repeating the same things. “Don’t touch down.” “Don’t put your free foot down.” “If you put your free foot down, the edge doesn’t count.”

I keep waiting for one of them to break and say, “If you put your foot down one more time, I will kill you.” But they are professionals, and would not resort to that kind of threat. I hope.

And it probably wouldn’t work even if they did. If I can’t do it when I’m alive, being dead certainly won’t help. No, since I’m not a flamingo, I have to think of something else.

So today I was trying to put together a lot of different pieces of advice about how to improve edge quality. This has to do with being aligned over my skate, bending my ankle and knee, being on the right part of the blade, using my foot, keeping my body into the circle, pushing and pressing and bending and continuing to do so through turns and transitions. And I realized that I needed to come up with a simpler way to integrate all of these things.

So I just told myself that I wanted to have “live” edges, whatever I was doing. A “live” edge is one that is actively engaged and into the ice throughout its duration. A “dead” one, on the other hand, just sort of hangs there skimming over the surface.  It may be balanced on one leg, but it doesn’t do anything.

And what do you know? That seems to work for me. It makes my edges feel more dynamic and controlled. I have more flow in and out of turns. I can do those power pull-type pushes more often. I am less inclined to touch down. Hopefully this will eliminate any need for threats.

Not to belabor the point, but the flamingo just has to stand there, and I have to skate. I just have to!

Nice to know that I’m wanted, dead or alive. (Saw that coming, didn’t you?)


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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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Positive energy

Over the last week I have been weeding my garden. All that rain last week made it seem like a jungle out there. I spent most of yesterday and this morning wrestling with patches of dirt that want desperately to revert back to prairie grass. (I know, I should just let it go, but it gives me the illusion of control.)

This evening I opted out of watching The Matrix again and instead thought I’d get another couple of hours in the yard again. Here in Minnesota it stays light out for a long time in the summer. That, and the lack of mosquitoes, made it worthwhile to stay outside even though honestly I’m more than a little tired (and I still have a number of plants to put in and move around tomorrow).

But I’m happy to report that I finished getting most of the yard done while my sons and husband were upstairs watching Neo take the red pill. And just as I was dragging that third bag of weeds and leaves and sticks into the garage, I heard thunder, and boom, five minutes later it was pouring rain.

So here I am, all cleaned up and cozy and feeling both virtuous and lucky and listening to a very lovely version of Gabriel Fauré’s “Après un Rêve” transcribed for cello.

And to top it all off, I’ve had a really good few skating sessions to report on. Laurie pointed out that on my back pushes I wasn’t really positioned correctly over my skates. Instead of using the push to send my entire body back, I was sending my hips back–and you know what that means! (Skating gives new meaning to the expression “Butt out.”)

So we worked on trying to send the energy into my upper body instead. I am aiming for the opposite shoulder from the pushing foot. Here are some pictures to illustrate:

It worked so well that I have been trying to think about this with other pushes as well. It is making me way more conscious about what I am doing with my upper body, which admittedly has been quite vague at times.

All that positive energy has got to go somewhere!

 


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Splat! Kaboom!

I need to start with a friendly picture.

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Pat, Jo, Sonia, Kristen, and JoAnne

That’s so the most notable thing about this post isn’t the set of spectacular falls that I have had in the past few days.

One was yesterday, when I caught my pick on the ice and did a nice body slam onto the ice. The entire rink reverberated, then went totally silent. And then I heard a voice say, “Are you okay?”

Actually, due to my entire body’s contacting the ice at once, the impact was spread out pretty evenly. Aside from a bruise on my knee, only my pride was hurt. And these days I have little pride left, so it’s okay.

Today I was putting away groceries in my kitchen and I stepped on the shopping bag, slipped on a loose jar of hoisin sauce, and went flying. Kaboom! Okay, it was the elbows this time.

I think an excess of gardening might be making me klutzy. I got a little carried away relocating a number of hosta plants around the yard, and letting my inner weed-control-freak make its yearly appearance. So now whatever isn’t bruised is officially sore.

And it’s only Tuesday!

But on the bright side, I found some great music to pull weeds by. How could you not like three clarinetists all named Ottensamer?

And even with all that, I had a great lesson today!

  • back crossovers: send force back into (outside) ribs/back rather than (outside) hip, upper body slightly into circle
  • underpush exercise: from standing, push under using just the outside edge (back) skate.
  • Viennese mohawk set up: left outside, right outside, left outside into mohawk. Use change of edge to direct edges, not upper body. Lean of upper body should follow feet
  • back outside to outside push: don’t use too much upper body and hip motion–just flip skating heel out to push.


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One size doesn’t fit all

So another adult skater asked me some time ago about my Transpack skate bag. I told her that I appreciated having my skates in those mesh pockets and separated from the inner compartment. While I wish there were some separate compartments for organizing and a bit more space for clothes and stuff, it’s fairly comfortable to carry around and I can even stick my laptop in there if I need to.

What I said must have convinced her, because she got one too. It’s also purple, but she was kind enough to put a ribbon on it so we could tell them apart. I took a picture of them together and noticed that hers is slightly thinner and taller. What’s with that?

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This got me thinking about how everyone’s journey to skating excellence–as well as the baggage they carry–is going to be different. In a week in which it rained every single day, and the temperatures have dropped back down into the forties, and I have to wear four layers of clothing at the rink (only two of which come off after warming up), that is important to remember.

It was also a week in which I wiped out several times doing fairly basic moves, and in which I just couldn’t seem to get over my edges. I still have what feels like a little glitch or delay after transferring my weight or doing turns. I am working on trying to feel connected and aligned more immediately when I change my position or shift my weight. Getting better, but it clearly is a multi-stage process, with lots of ups and downs.

JoSkatesGraph

Hate the downs! Really hate them! But let’s have a little reflection. I know I am really good at reflection, even at time when I am not so good at skating. I could have avoided some of this frustration.

I can deal with being off balance and not feeling aligned.  I’ve been dealing with those things my entire skating life. But what I get worked up about is feeling like I don’t know what to do to make things better, when in fact I know very well what to do in order to improve. Two areas in particular that I didn’t follow through on: making sure I am sufficiently warmed up and doing my foot/ankle exercises.  This week I got really busy with some work projects, and rushed or neglected both my on- and off-ice warmups. I also spent way too much time hunched over my computer and stressing out about work.

This really made a difference in how skating felt. And if there’s anything that brings me down, it’s when work interferes with skating!

So hopefully this week will calm down a bit and I can report back on a happier ice time. In the meantime, it’s lesson notes!

  • inside threes (engage glutes and hamstrings, not quads; let upper body follow curve)
  • rising and sinking on progressives; really extend through that push (think about making the big “ice cream scoop”); work on really pushing on that right inside edge (go for the “c”)
  • Viennese mohawk, hold firm on that outside edge and bring new foot in (practice just this part); don’t push off with free leg too far behid
  • three step inside mohawk pattern
  • outside three, push back, back cross, back outside three, toe step and repeat (bend and push out of the three)
  • outside three, two back crosses, step forward into forward cross, repeat
  • forward inside three, back outside three (make sure you do an actual back outside edge, don’t rush to get into the rotation for the back three)
  • forwards and backwards perimeter stroking (think about the pattern)
  • inside mohawk, back outside three (really push onto that back outside edge)
  • forward inside three, back outside three (allow free leg to rotate open and then come behind)
  • European man’s pattern: skate through, not around the three.


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Starting from scratch

Thursday’s quiz: what do all these ice dancers have in common?

a. Gorgeous edges.
b. Gorgeous skating costumes.
c. Gorgeous partners.
d. Gorgeous flowing (or sculpted) locks.
e. Ankles that bend past 90 degrees.
f. All of the above.

So guess which of these answers I’m obsessed by these days?

I’ve been religiously doing my ankle mobility exercises and calf raises, doing ankle massage to reduce scar tissue, and dutifully allowing my ankles to bend and my shins to press forward whenever possible. The result is that I have realized that my lack of ankle mobility and my imposter edges are related.

When I bend my ankle more, my weight feels like it shifts forward towards the ball of my foot. That means (a) that I can actually apply pressure, or “press” into the ice, in order to deepen my edges, and (b) that instead of being back on my skate, my body is centered more towards the part of the blade that has more curve to it: not as far up as the “spin rocker” but farther up than I have been skating.

I feel like working on getting more ankle bend will lead to a win-win situation. This helps me feel more connection between my  blade and the rest of my body (including being able to push much more through my entire leg). I also feel like my turns happen more easily because I can deepen my edges by using my ankles rather than the rest of my body.

The challenge will be to maintain and ingrain these new habits of ankle-bending. I have been trying to make myself hyper-conscious of what I am doing. It’s like having to rebuild my entire skating repertoire from the ground up again.

So I’m starting from scratch–and not even doing a spin! Will report back with lesson notes and maybe an update on my flowing locks as well.


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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!