Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Old Dogs, New Tricks

A couple seasons ago I started going to a few Sabres games a year with three co-workers of mine. We all have varying levels of interest and knowledge in the team, I think, but it's always a good time. I love going to games with Mark but sometimes it's nice to just sit back and hang with the girls.

A couple of months back Kathy, one of these co-workers, stopped me in the cafeteria and said, "I know you like hockey obviously but do you play?" I told her that yeah, I've played a little, never on a competitive team but just kind of goofing around. So she told me that her sister-in-law had started playing and they were thinking about trying to start up a team this winter, would I be interested? At this point I said, "Wait, are we talking about floor hockey?" No, ice hockey. I told Kathy I don't really ice skate (I can count on one hand the number of times I've worn ice skates AND the number of minutes I've spent on my feet while wearing them). Kathy assured me that most of the women they were planning on talking to either don't skate or skate but don't play hockey and that I wouldn't be the only beginner. So I told her I'd think about it.

The truth is, ever since I moved to Buffalo I've bemoaned the fact that I didn't grow up somewhere where kids play hockey because I think I would've really liked it and I think (she said with all humility) that I would've been pretty good once I got the skating part down. In other sports I had good hands, decent vision, a high tolerance for pain, and a good-sized mean streak. And I've really missed playing on some kind of sports team. Our church has a women's softball team but I could never work that out. For a couple of years we were without a car so I couldn't get anywhere that wasn't either on the bus route or within biking distance and then I was working a part-time job in addition to my real job and it was too hard to schedule time off. But I kept coming back to the fact that hello, I can't ice-skate. Who learns to ice-skate at 30 and then starts playing hockey?

One afternoon a few weeks later I was hanging out at work, waiting for a dentist appointment. I jumped on the computer to check out some blogs and went to pull up Sabres Edge. Since I don't have it bookmarked at work - technically it's the teacher's computer and I don't really have any free time during the school day anyway - I went into the blog section of TBN and holy crow, they have a lot of different blogs. I had no idea. I flipped through a few of them and instantly got sucked into Journey to the Finish Line. JTTFL is written by sports writer Amy Moritz and it's about her training for her first triathlon. When Amy started she couldn't really swim especially in open water. I also can't really swim - I'm fine in a pool but if I were drowning I'd probably be in trouble and I'm terrified of swimming in large bodies of water - so that really connected with me. I've been slowly making my way through the archives of the blog (I had actually started an email to someone at TBN to ask how to access blog entries that have rolled off the front page when I suddenly noticed the word ARCHIVE in bold capital letters on the sidebar) and I've really enjoyed it a lot. So I decided, what the heck? Why not learn to ice-skate and play hockey? So that's what I'm going to do.

I thought about taking a 5 week session of lessons that a local rink was doing this summer but I decided to put it off because of my ankle. Now I seem to have found a happy medium between not pushing it enough and pushing it too much and I can really feel it getting stronger but back in May I was still a mess. Any time I tried to balance on my bad foot for more than a few seconds I started to fall and that didn't strike me as very helpful for ice-skating. So I'm going to check back and see when their next session begins and for now I'm just working on getting back in shape a bit. I put on a ton o' weight during my time on IR - I mean, I've never been a skinny gal and I'm fine with that but we're talking way past my comfort level - and more importantly my endurance is for crap. During the two year period we didn't have a car I biked all over the place but you'd never know it watching me on a bike right now.

The other thing I'm working on is that I'm now really scared of falling. Like totally freaked out. I used to go down on my bike at least once a week and I just jumped right up, brushed off the dirt, and checked for blood. I've noticed that I'm definitely a lot tenser when riding, pretty much all the time. I guess torquing your ankle 45 degrees, an ambulance ride, emergency surgery, and four months off your feet and out of work followed by three months of discomfort will do that to a person sometimes though. I had all the regular scrapes and bruises that your average kid gets growing up along with the occasional broken/jammed finger and once a little fluid under a kneecap. But I managed to escape my childhood and athletic career without any major injuries and the whole expereince has been a little more traumatic than I was expecting it to be even months later. I know I'm actually probably more likely to get hurt if I'm running around all anxious and tensed up so that's something I'm going to have to deal with.

In the end the injury was part of the impetus to actually try skating/hockey out too though. When I went to my final check-up I had one last set of x-rays done and when the surgeon came in to discuss them with me he said, "I was just looking at your original x-rays. I had forgotten how bad it was when you first came in. You really did a number on yourself." I told him yeah, i was really freaked out at the time and he put me through some stretches - point your toe, pull your toe toward you, draw a circle with your big toe etc. As he did that he said, "Yeah, you're really lucky. If you'd gotten this same injury 40, 30 years ago we probably would've just handed you a cane and sent you on your way. You would've lost all mobility in that ankle." It's pretty amazing what modern medicine can do so I figure I may as well take advantage of my luck, you know?

Why am I telling you this? I dunno. Partly because I think putting it out there will help me actually follow through. Partly because I'll probably talk about it occasionally once I officially start up and you'll be all caught up with what's going on. Partly because it's my blog and you'll read what I tell you to read :P

So... I know some of you out there skate and/or play. Any advice for an old beginner? Things you found particularly challenging? Tips that really helped you out? Things it might be helpful to work on before I even step on the ice? This is going to be totally easy, right? Right? ... Hello?


amanda said...

Heather - I applaud you for deciding to learn to skate and to play hockey. I was planning to do exactly the same thing until - boom - I got pregnant.

They discourage pregnant women from doing things where they could fall on their abdomens, so no skating or bike riding for me. My husband and I are avid cyclists - we wear the jerseys and shorts and shoes and everything - and the fact that I can't ride during this glorious summer is bugging me to no end. The hubby is supposed to be setting up my bike on a trainer indoors but it's just not the same.

Good luck to you, and maybe I'll see you a few years from now when I've got enough energy to attempt hockey again!

Anonymous said...

I was you, last year. (Don't worry, I am not you anymore...you can be you again ;-)
I grew up in Buffalo, but acccording to my mother (who I do love dearly), "girls don't play hockey" so I was never allowed to play. Anyway, I decided shortly after I turned 30 that maybe...just maybe...I would be old enough to decide what girls can do!
So, I took some hockey ice skating lessons for a couple of weeks, and then signed up for a league! I've been playing for 10 months now, and I LOVE IT!
It's evident that I am not Wayne Gretzky on the ice, but I may be able to beat Kalinin to get a shot on net! ;-)
And, to brag a bit, I am currently 12th (of 60 skaters) in league scoring! (Okay, 1+5=6, but hey, It BIG to ME!!!)

My advice - do it!!!!
I ALWAYS wish I started earlier - even by months - then I would be that much better by now.

and BTW, when you have all the equipment on, you really dont get hurt when you fall.

Sara said...

Hi there -- I read your blog fairly regularly, and this is the first time I've posted. I've never done any skating on hockey skates, but really, ice skating isn't as difficult as it looks. And it's fun!

How is your balance? Ice skates are like a bicycle in that you have to learn how to adjust yourself to keep from tipping over. If you're comfortable and steady on the skates, you're much less likely to fall. There are some yoga poses that are great for improving balance, if that's something you want to work on.

Meg said...

Learning to skate and play hockey sounds like an awesome project! I know how to do the former but not the latter (I'd probably have been really, really bad) and think skating is a lot of fun. I don't really have any advice for learning as an adult but I will say that unless you're trying to do something super fancy or going very fast, you're unlikely to get hurt while learning. Particularly if you take classes and have a teacher helping you out.

karen said...

I started skating and playing hockey at the ripe old age of 33, the year of the lock-out. I love it! I have realized your fear and broken my leg while playing...but I'm glad to say I'm back to playing and loving it. It was a little freaky to play the first game on the rink where I went down but I got over it as soon as the puck was in play. Go for it!!

Anne said...

You cannot possibly be a worse ice skater than I am. Let me know what you find out about these classes, I'm sure it'll do wonders for your self esteem to see someone like 7 years younger doing much much worse, haha.

Lee Andrew said...

You should play goalie and just stay in the net. Minimize your skating and falling down time.

Jennifer said...

I like Lee's advice. And with the way goalies stand, your butt is a lot closer to the ice than if you were standing upright, so you don't have as far to fall.

Seriously, I wish you the absolute best of luck. You can do it, in your 30's, you are hardly even considered an adult. You are still young. Make sure you get a good brace for that ankle.

amy said...

Heather, I think its awesome that you're going to skate and play hockey. I'm looking forward to reading about your exploits!

Good luck!

Heather B. said...

Thanks for all the encouragement, guys. Geez, now I guess I have to actually do this, huh?

anonymous, if you wander back this way, would you drop me an email if you're willing? I just want to ask you a couple questions about lessons and your league. Email address is at the top right of the blog. If you're too shy, no problem! And I think 12th out of 60 in scoring is worth bragging about! By NHL standards that makes you Marian Gaborik!

Sara, I would say my balance is average overall, still a little wobbly on the injured side. I've been doing a couple of small balance exercises so I'll take a look at some yoga poses. That sounds like a great idea! (And thanks for reading! Feel free to comment any time!)

Meg, so you're saying I have to be slow and un-fancy? Well, gosh, where's the fun in that? (I have a feeling slow and un-fancy will describe my skating perfectly.)

Karen, you're officially my inspiration! :-D

Lee, I did actually think about goaltending. It has to be kind of sort of the same skills as catching, right? At the very least I have experience with small, hard objects being hurled in my direction. But I don't know, those goalies work hard and get up and down and around pretty quickly. I'm not very bend-y.

Jennifer, the one good thing about the injury is that my surgeon assures me that all the hardware in my ankel will make it pretty impossible to break it again. Of course, I do have another one...

Kate said...

Heather! I'm so inspired! Good for you! What am I going to do to keep up?! :P

Kirsten said...

I dunno, I learned to skate when I was 3. I had a lot shorter distance to fall.

S.A.M. said...

Heather, that sounds great!

And the blog about a triathalon looks cool too, I'm gonna pass that one to my sis, who wants to do one when she gets back from Iraq.

As for advice, I say GO FOR IT! Hockey is the best game in the world and skating is amazingly fun.

I taught myself to skate when I was 13. We got into hockey, so my sis and I spent every Saturday night *and some fridays too* for 2 years going to the only rink in town- the rec center- for open skate. Sometimes we brought friends, sometimes it was just us and the other people there. I learned by watching other kids and watching loads of hockey. You'd be amazed at what you can pick up that way.

I always tell people this when learning how to skate- keep your balance towards your heels, keep your knees loose and slightly bent, and DONT BE AFRAID TO FALL! It really (usually) doesn't hurt that much, because you slide on ice, and it absorbs much of the impact. Not to say that I didn't get my share of bumps and bruises from falling, but ice is a whole lot nicer than gravel or cement. (no skinned knees! LOL)

So after years of skating on my own, when I was college I took an intro to hockey class. It was awesome. We worked on a lot of skating, most of which I already know- but then I finally learned how to stop. (the hardest thing about ice skating, I think.) And we got to play hockey. It was glorious. If my school had started their club team a year or 2 earlier, instead of my senior year, I would have tried out. I probably wouldn't have been the best, but it would have been amazing.

I would love to play hockey, but I never had the money or the time. Now I have both but I live so far awy from everything that it makes no sense.

Anyway good luck, do keep us updated on the progress and all that good stuff.

Oh and hockey skates have really great ankle support!

Icecat62 said...


You can contact the Wheatfield Blades Women's Hockey Club for more information on playing in your area. They're not too far from Buffalo.

Don't worry about being thirty. I met a woman a few seasons back that was starting at age 54. She said she had always wanted to play hockey and since she was retiring, now was the time. I've seen so many women beginning in their 30's and 40's. You're never too old to play!

Don't worry about being a bad skater, just go out and have some fun. I'm still not the greatest skater in the world and I've been playing for 28 years. Some people pick it up faster than others. You might surprise yourself.

As for the injury...don't worry about that either. I know women playing with bad discs in their backs, a double hip replacement, reconstructed knees, etc. It's not like we're going to the Olympics.

Hope to read in your blog that you're playing this coming season. Once you start, you'll never want to stop. Hockey is an addiction. :)

Vanek's Hair said...

Go to a local rink with open skate and rent skates. Putz around on the ice for a while. If you like it (I imagine you will) commit to a pair of skates at a local skate shop. You can get a solid pair for $130. Maybe less.

I did the same thing about four or five years ago. Never really skated before (aside roller rinks circa 1986). I think you will find skating phenomenal exercise, and if you take up hockey, find it very addicting. There are women who play in my league, so you won't be alone. There are a lot of instructional programs in the Greater Buffalo area.

Bowl of Pork said...

Oh man, for the love og God don't do this....

"Go to a local rink with open skate and rent skates. Putz around on the ice for a while. If you like it (I imagine you will) commit to a pair of skates at a local skate shop. You can get a solid pair for $130. Maybe less."

Rink rentals are usually horrid pieces of crap that have been used and abused 6 ways from Sunday. More importantly, they are NEVER sharp and that makes learning much, much harder. My advice? Go buy a pair of entry-level hockey skates and take them to the rink to have them sharpened. This time of year you can get a pair of comfortable (but inexpensive) skates on sale for $40-$50.

There's no doubt that they won't be pro-level gear, but a cheap pair of CCM's always beats rink rentals!

Patty (in Dallas) said...

Heather, it sounds like a ton of fun! I think it'd be really cool to take lessons. To learn how to fall and how to stop and stuff, instead of having to figure it out yourself.

Good luck and let us know how it goes! I wanna try it too!

zot said...

Heather, it's very cool that you're considering learning to skate and play hockey. I've only ever played floor hockey (which is super fun), but I want to learn to skate and play on the ice as well.