Hi! This is a series about my journey into the world of men’s league/rec league hockey in southeastern Virginia. Having never played before at the age of 24 I decided I wanted to, and thought I’d share my thoughts along the journey. Is it great? Am I an idiot? Have tips? Feel free to let me know!
Having acquired a few essentials, it’s time to put everything to the test and see what skating is like. I haven’t bothered to get anything outside of skates because let’s face it- if I can’t skate the rest of this is a waste. I throw my skates in an old medic bag of mine and head to the rink during a free skate session to see if this is even possible for me to do. (To clarify, the skating is not free, but you are free to skate as you like once you’ve paid.) Given a number of injuries I had during my time in the service, I’m particularly concerned of how my lower back and right knee will be affected. I get a knee brace for the occasion. Nothing bulky or metal, just a cloth Velcro brace to make it a little more comfortable. In the mind of the worried guy with a medical background, a brace goes a long way.
Since starting college I’ve become a science guy. I major in biology and as a result I learn plenty chemistry, a dash of environmental and atmospheric sciences, lots of ecology, genetics, evolution. Not a bit of physics though. This might explain why the process of ice-skating doesn’t make a damn bit of sense to me. Something with an additional source of friction between the blade and the ice, probably water I’m sure. But I don’t really get it. This would become more apparent as I watch figure skaters go backwards and spin like an amusement park ride while I’m busying trying to figure out this ‘forward momentum’ concept I keep hearing so much about. I tend to try to watch things on Youtube before really attempting them, but today it’s not much help. After a bit of research on the process, which doesn’t stick in my memory at all, I drive to the same rink I watched Nick play and give it a go.
I tried hard to think about what someone wears while ice-skating and I’m clueless. I see people in coats and jeans in movies and TV but that’s outside. What about inside? I don’t want to be the weird guy in athletic shorts, nor do I want to be the overdressed guy. (These are the kinds of things I worry about on a daily basis.) I finally decide on a pair of work out shorts and a cheap hockey jersey that a girl had gotten me and I hadn’t worn much. It has my fraternity’s letters on it and a nick name on the back. I consider my Red Wings jersey for a minute, but I don’t like being within 3 feet of mustard when wearing that, so I’ll be damned if I’ll wear Yzerman’s sweater to the rink.
On a side note- not entirely sure if I should be calling it a jersey or a sweater.
I get to the rink and I try to learn the protocol for a free skate despite feeling entirely out of place. No lockers or locker room for this, just throw your skates on and get out there. I do so from the bench, partially just from being worried about leaving my wallet and phone unattended. Furthermore, it’s nice to get caught up in the image of a hockey guy. I’m on a hockey bench, therefore I’m a cool hockey guy!
As I get ready to step onto the ice for the first time I have a flashback-like memory. Turns out, I HAVE skated before! It was almost twenty years ago and it was a speed skating thing our parents had enrolled us in. I distinctly remember falling and splitting my lip open, and how no one had explained to us the concept of a race so we thought it rather impolite to skate ahead of someone in front of us. But other than that, ice-skating is still a strange concept to me. It almost feels like my muscles remember what I have to do to keep balance, but my mind doesn’t remember how to skate.
I drift onto the ice and almost immediately I want to cling to the boards. I would see this is common with young boys and girls unfamiliar with ice-skating as I went to more free skates. Nothing makes you feel like a man quite like seeing something you have in common with a six year old as a 24 year old. Given that this entire experience has been an exercise in getting out of my comfort zone, I decide a little physical risk is almost required, and I start skating away from the boards.
Only I don’t really know how. I can drift after pushing away from the boards no problem, but I’m sure infants can pull that off as well. Is this like rollerblading? I doubt it, and I haven’t done that in about a decade and a half either. Is it like walking? I doubt that too. I start to push off a little with my right leg and I get a little momentum. I’m stumbling a lot and I have to do all sorts of bizarre things to keep my balance but damn it, I’m moving! With a little experimenting, I can get into a bit of a stride and I’m making laps around the rink.
I learn a lot this first time skating. First of all, skating is fun! I always thought running is boring, and it’s just painful given my body’s state. Skating is a blast and surprisingly, nothing hurts. My knee isn’t sore and swollen when I’m done, my back isn’t tightening up to the point where even walking is difficult, nothing. I also discover that I can really get a sweat going while skating, something I probably should have anticipated but was still surprised by. So it’s something that feels like a decent workout, isn’t painful to do, and is actually enjoyable? Why hasn’t anyone told me about this sooner? Yes, I’d like to sign up for this everyday please.
As the session goes on more and more people start skating, mostly kids. I also learn that kids are slow and a little annoying and I have to dodge them. I’m not particularly worried about hurting myself, but one continuous fear I have throughout this entire experience is the fear of hurting someone else. As I go to the bench I also learn a very hard lesson. It’s very similar to a lesson I learned the first time I tried to snowboard. This whole ‘forward momentum’ concept? I don’t know how to make it stop.
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