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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sketch: The Coach

"You see how she holds the edge?" She poked at the iPhone screen with a finger to play the video.

"Wow," was all I could say. The girl in the video covered the entire length of the rink in three strokes. It takes me three times as many wobbly steps.

"Bet your knees! Back straight! Tuck in!" She shouts at me as I stumble around on two feet. Good skating requires predominantly one-foot skating, preferably on one edge. (Each skate blade has two edges.)

She's short with chubby cheeks but moves on ice like fish in water. And she seems to have a soft spot for complete newbies like me. Sure, any coach would want to hold the hands of cute little toddlers bundled up like teddy bears and teach them march-march-glide, but clumsy old legs and flabby middle-aged bodies stepping on the ice for the first time in our lives? Her eyes tracked her adult students with utmost seriousness.

"You just need more confidence," she said. "Take a longer stroke. Don't put the free leg down."

"I felt like I was falling over," I whined. Slamming the body onto the cold, hard white surface hurts. Scarier than the pain is the sense of losing control, not knowing one's place in space. 

"What?" She leaned in with a palm over the right ear. She's a bit deaf and wears hearing aids.

"I just need more practice," I raised my voice a little. She nodded and said she'd send me a couple of videos of off-ice exercise to do at home.

In off-ice chatting, she let it slip that she went to law school. I don't think she is practicing law though, knowing that she coaches skaters on weekdays. She also teaches mentally disabled kids speed skating. "My kids threw up on ice at the Special Olympics," she said with a laugh. "I took a shovel and got on the ice. And then we went right on." 

She talked about ice dancing with her father as girl in New York, on the rink by the Rockefeller Center. "It's the best memory of my life," she said dreamily. Her mother still lives in New York and she goes up regularly to visit. Of all the women I've met in figure skating fan circles, a large proportion have never married. I wonder whether it's the case with her as well. She mentioned she has never owned a house.

She may or may not have given up a career in law (a speculation to be confirmed), but her career in coaching is no doubt her ultimate calling. She never gets off the ice immediately after her coaching session is over. As she leaves us students to practice in public sessions, she would linger on ice and give a pointer or two to unsuspecting kids or adults gliding around. If they're interested, she would give them an impromptu --- and free --- mini-private lesson right there.

"My friend Debi Thomas ..." She remembered happily. Along with the off-ice exercise video links, she sent me another link of Debi Thomas doing her popular and hilarious Wanda Beezle character --- a stumbling new learner struggling to do the basic stuff. I bet I look just as bad as Wanda and unable to do most of the skills she does.

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