Skating right

By Jennifer Stevenson

Less than a month away from the national speed skating championships and I’m quietly a-dither.  I’ve never in my life competed physically for anything.  Closest I ever came before was French horn

My old skates–girl Vandals with dirty Stroker wheels and cheap bearings

competitions in high school.  Setting aside the fact that I’ve got no “show nerves,” as we say in the horse world, I wonder if I’ll remember how to do this when I get there.  What are these heavy slippery things attached to my feet?  Aaaugh!

Because there’s several ways to skate right, and a dozen to do it wrong.  And I’m a slow learner.

My latest breakthrough was breathing.  I started wearing a heart monitor after I got chest pains during one very hot, muggy practice.  The heart monitor told me that I simply wasn’t breathing enough.

“You’ve got to be a machine,” Coach Jason says.  “I just suck air like crazy,” says Coach Rowena.

Behold me, sucking air like a machine.

This actually works.

I find that I can get the lungs moving with Hindu squats, lunges, and plyometric hops.  If I do a hundred reps of these before I put on my skates, my lungs are ready to work.  Then the “warmup” ninety laps don’t hurt so bad.  And then I don’t get discouraged.  And then I have muscle to push with, when it comes time to sprint, or do starts, or run relays.

Just like every other sport, there are right ways and wrong ways to do the simplest things.  Taking a proper step involves tipping over like a motorcycle on the wall-o’-death, convexing the knee a tiny bit, letting it roll–what?  That’s what Coach Jack is going to teach me today, I hope.  That little roll.

But don’t lean over too far.  Don’t torque your torso.  Don’t swing your arms like a monkey on crack.  Instead, swing like a clockwork soldier.

Hoo boy.

The only way to get that into the old reptile brain, where it will work properly when the starting gun goes off, is to do those ninety warmup laps correctly.  Every single step, correctly.

That takes enormous concentration.

Behold me, concentrating.

Sheesh.  No wonder I can barely walk once I take off my skates.  Walking, breathing, taking a drink of water … it all takes thinking.

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