Saturday, July 12, 2014

Beautiful West Coast Caps

I was cleaning up the dinner dishes when I heard the Kid yelling, "Mum-mum! Mum-mum! Come here!"

I could tell by the tone of his voice something very cool was going on in my family room. I raced downstairs.

"So, I'm watching iCarly," he explains excitedly. "And they're going to a beauty pageant in Seattle, but look!"

On the TV: The F Street entrance of our favorite hockey arena. Let's go Caps Carly!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Best Lesson Ever

I was mesmerized as I looked onto the ice. All of the skaters were highly-competitive - the older teens who earn medals and wear the officially sanctioned Team USA jackets and have their pictures in the magazines. Coaches followed skaters around the ice, barking orders. This was clearly their dedicated ice time. Serious ice, serious coaches, serious skaters. Not wanting to ruffle any feathers, I wouldn't get on the ice until Dmytri skated over to get me. Dmytri thought this was unnecessary. Then things got good.

It really is amazing to see these skaters up close - beautiful extension, deep edges, impossibly fast. Watching them compete on a computer screen, they make everything look effortless. On the ice with them, you see just how much strength and power is involved. They are fantastic athletes.

"I feel like I have to work extra hard to earn a place on their ice," I explained, nodding to a particularly talented couple.

"They don't see it that way," Dmytri said. "It's just ice, we skate on it."

As I looked around, I decided he might be right. There was no special treatment, good or bad, for the adult skater. I didn't get any strange looks or patronizing comments. They focused on their skating, largely ignoring each other, except to avoid collisions. And they largely ignored me, except to avoid collisions. Intentionally or not, they made me feel like I belonged there as much as they did. Maybe it's because I was wearing their uniform...all black.

Having such talent whooshing around me was at first intimidating and then extremely inspiring. I put real effort into everything. Dutch Waltz was at tempo, crossrolls were a mess. I started to become more comfortable with the speed of the ice and better able to jump into the fray with the others. I'm not sure if Dmytri could tell, but I began to enjoy the intensity.

Other skaters would come barreling toward me; to me, near-misses, to Dmytri, plenty of room. And when Dmytri asked why I screwed up a swingroll I had to admit it was because I got distracted by the cool thing another couple was doing. I refocused on my own skating. Serious ice, serious coach, serious skater.

At the end, Dmytri and I compared calendars and he identified an opportunity for my next lesson.

"I don't know. Might be longer," I admitted. "I'm not sure I'll be able to practice. No sense having a lesson if I can't practice between now and then."

"Practice," Dmytri demanded. Serious ice, serious coach, serious skater. "Text me."

Now I'm highly motivated. I'll practice. I'll text him. If I skate with the competitive kids again, I'll wear all black and I'll get on the ice by myself. We'll share the ice, we'll share a coach, we'll ignore each other. And even though I'll be working on things they mastered in kindergarten, I'll be working hard right along with them. Very cool.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Progress Me Not (Yet)

I was at center ice working on mohawks and 3-turns. Each attempt was getting worse and my leg was screaming at me to stop. I would never progress a client until he or she was absolutely ready. Somehow, I wasn't applying that same rule to myself. My leg isn't ready.

My left hip bone is significantly lower than my right. It's because my left leg is always rotated in. To the untrained eye, off the ice it's imperceptible. To every eye, on the ice my leg looks crooked.

This is me in the Kid's skates. I'm not intentionally bending my left leg, 
that's my knee naturally caving inward and my foot pronating. 

Once I get my hips evened out and my leg straightened, then I'll be ready for turns. To do this, I need to lengthen muscles that are probably short and tight (those muscles turning my leg in) and strengthen muscles that are weak and not doing their jobs. I have to do this for my entire leg, but for the purposes of this post I'm going to give a snapshot of what I'm doing with my hip. (I'll hit the ankle later.)

To lengthen the muscles in my hip and thigh that are short and overactive, I'm using a combination of self-mysofascial release (SMR) and stretching; and, I'm hitting my hip flexors, piriformis and adductors. I do this every day.
  • Hip flexors - Hip flexors are muscles that originate from the spine and attach to the leg. They are responsible for hip flexion and external rotation, extending and rotating the lumbar spine and stabilizing the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (LPHC). I use a Trigger Point ball on my stomach to try to inhibit overactivity and pair that with static stretching (holding the stretch for about 30 seconds), often a kneeling hip flexor stretch (sometimes band-assisted.)
  • Piriformis - The piriformis runs from the sacrum to the femur and is responsible for hip external rotation, abduction and extension. My weak glutes have been causing this little muscle to work overtime. It hates me. I sit on a Trigger Point ball for a bit then do either a supine hip stretch or a table hip stretch
  • Adductors - Adductors are the inner thighs and they are responsible for hip adduction, flexion and internal rotation. I use a Trigger Point Quad Roller and static stretching

I'm doing a whole lot of butt work. On the ice, my glutes aren't strong enough to hold me up. You can see my adductors doing the work instead by the way my knee caves inward when I skate. This is what gives my leg a crooked appearance and it's ridiculously painful. 
  • Floor bridges and tube walking - These were the first exercises I did when I started the first round of physical therapy. Tube walking was especially helpful for turning on gluteus medius (the muscle on the side of the hip.)
  • Single-leg-this-and-thats - Bulgarian Split Squats (my favorite), single-leg squats, skater squats, single-leg RDLs, single-leg windmills, lunges in all three planes of motion. Oh...and this little gem. I do 'em all all the time.

And this folks, is just some of what I do for my hip. 

Some skating I can do using (mostly) the correct muscles - forward stroking, edges to a degree and, increasingly, backward skating and backward edges. I can do this stuff well enough that I can work on it on my own, stretch properly afterward and be relatively pain-free. But when I tried working on turns on my own, my butt wasn't doing its job. I should have stopped right away but I didn't. Because stubborn. And I paid for it for several days, feeling pain and enough weakness that even crossovers weren't happening the next time I skated.

So I'm regressing. I'll keep plugging away on the stretching and strengthening off-ice and on-ice I'll continue to work on those things I have the strength to do without aggravating my injury. Turns I'll do with Dmytri, but not on my own.

Not yet.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Back It Up, Baby

"Good, Michelle, good," Dmytri said as we finished warming up the end of Dutch Waltz, the part with the wicked tight swingroll. It's not often that I get such unadulterated praise during my skating lesson, especially 10 minutes in. Dmytri suggested I quit while I was ahead.

"Okay, do a left outside 3-turn, then we go backward," Dmytri directed. I wanted to jump up and down with joy, but that's not really an option given I would just end up on my ass. I'm super-excited that Dmytri is putting backward skating and turns on the priority list.

In my on-again-off-again figure skating journey, backward skating and turns have been huge hurdles. At first both scared me so I never practiced them. (God was I lame.) Then I got hurt and was off the ice. When I returned I had to relearn everything and by the time I got back to backward skating and turns, my leg functioned in ways that made it impossible to do either. My injury got worse and I was banned from the ice again. And now I'm back, relearning everything, again.

I really do think this time will be different. I've conquered the fear aspect and I could kick myself for wasting all that time being terrified when I should have just skated for god's sake. I was such an idiot. I now have a much better understanding of how I need to move to be able to execute skating skills. And I have acquired the knowledge and ability to rebuild my body properly. Now, if only all of this could happen over night, because I'm impatient.

Summer is the perfect time to work on turns. The ice is crowded with camp kids, so I set up shop at center ice and trip through mohawk and 3-turn attempts. I sometimes can crank out a few good attempts holding on to Dmytri, but on my own I got nuthin'. Part of it is a strength issue, which I'm working on, but I've just got some really bad positioning and timing going on that I need to work out.

Backward skating is getting better. Or at least I thought so. I'm strong enough that I can mostly shift my weight, but I'm leaning forward. Apparently a lot. Dmytri had me warm up with some backward swizzles, then he changed what he wanted, but I wasn't understanding the change.

"So, like a backward c-cut? Like the Kid does in hockey?" I asked.

"I don't know what this is," he answered, clearly not interested in reliving our recent hockey experiment. Mostly he was yapping at me to get deeper before I pushed.

Then he laughed at me.

"Oh! You think you're going to impress your coach by getting really low," he teased. "No! You were just bending over!" He was using the same tone I use when I tease the Kid for being a dork and he mimicked me bending at the waist instead of sitting back deeper into my hips (which, by the way, is remarkably hard to do when your ass sticks out as much as mine does when I skate. Dmytri diplomatically reminds me to "pull hips forward.")

I really, really wanted to stay and practice. I was feeling strong and optimistic, despite my inability to impress my coach. And I was on dance ice which was beautifully empty. But I'm a grown up with real-life responsibilities, including a kid who has expectations of being picked up from camp on time. I reluctantly got off the ice.

Patience, Michelle, patience.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Summer Project

Apparently, when we properly nourish our chakras we become healthier, happier and less pissy about summer skating schedules. No, I haven't lost my mind, but I am going to spend the summer doing a nutrition experiment that is completely uncharacteristic of me. Here's how this all got started.

I was sitting on the deck of the house we were renting. The sun was warm and my skin was still tingling from the salt and sand of the beach. I could see the expanse of intensely blue ocean from my chair. Now was the time to dive into my IDEA Fitness Journal. The June issue was dedicated to exercise and mental health. At the beach, surrounded by my favorite type of nature and all kinds of healthy food options, I was most receptive to chakra nutrition.

A few months ago I attended a lecture by Teri Mosey, founder of Holistic Pathways LLC. Mostly, I was interested in her culinary studies. (I'm the world's worst cook, so I live vicariously through others.) But I enjoyed her presentation, I thought I might like her journal article. Hell, I didn't know I had chakras, much less that they need nourishing.

I wish I could share Teri's article with you, but IDEA won't let me. The quick and dirty is this:

Chakras are vortexes that spin along the spinal cord giving and taking "Universal energy." They impact our physical, emotional and spiritual health. There are seven of them and they're color-coded. (How convenient, Garanimals of nutrition.)
  • Root - The root chakra provides stability, consistency and accountability. It grounds us, making us strong and physically healthy. (Red)
  • Sacral - The sacral chakra is about relationships, emotions, sexuality and energy. (Orange)
  • Solar Plexus - The solar plexus chakra gives us our sense of self. (Yellow)
  • Heart - The heart chakra is about love, forgiveness, gratitude and acceptance. (Green)
  • Throat - The throat chakra gives us the ability to express ourselves. (Blue)
  • Third-Eye - The third-eye is about our sense of perception and imagination. It can make us intellectual and intuitive. (Purple)
  • Crown Chakra - The crown chakra is straight-up spirituality. (White)
There are specific foods associated with each chakra and I'm now looking closely at the foods I'm eating, not from a calorie perspective or a macronutrient perspective, but from a chakra perspective. (Is that a thing?) As I do this I'll periodically post here about what I'm eating, which chakra my food is impacting and how, and we'll see if I become a healthier, happier, less pissy skater. The truth is, I tend to be pretty skeptical of this new-agey stuff, but it's summer...time to try something new.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Soviet Stress Relief

I would like to introduce you to two Soviet stress relief techniques: 
Ukrainian ice dancers and vodka.


My tires may have squealed a bit as I pulled into the rink parking lot. I'll blame it on the hot pavement, but really it was my lead foot. First there was Beltway traffic. Then road construction. Then the guy who sat through an entire left turn light. I was hot, sweaty, late and completely frazzled.

When I looked up (probably scowling), Dmytri was getting on the ice, playfully dancing around and doing all kinds of intricate toe pick maneuvers. He knows this freaks me out given my innate ability to trip over my toe picks. When Dmytri's playful it's infectious. I laughed and traffic became a distant memory. We started stroking.

"Tell me when you're going to turn," I said as Dmytri crossed over and I kept stroking.

"About five steps ago," he answered.

This theme would play out throughout my lesson, Dmytri going one way, me going another. We were doing Dutch Waltz and had turned into the left swingroll in the direct path of a cone blocking off center ice. Dmytri's instinct was to tighten the swingroll, mine was to widen it. The cone kept coming closer and closer. Dmytri pushed me out of the way at the last second.

"It's just a cone," he laughed. "We'll hit it and it will move." Maybe in his perfectly choreographed world. In mine, I hit the cone, then I hit my ass.

When we're warming up skills, Dmytri admits things are "not bad" and I've been trying to work on all the little nit-picky stuff he yaps at me about - turning my head, not swinging my legs around, aligning my hips, holding outside edges as long as possible. I don't know if he's noticing this or not, but he was noticing something wonky about my free leg placement on swingrolls and he kicked me accordingly.

It's possible I'll be ready to test in the fall if I can swing lessons once a week through the summer. We're close to speed and placement with Dutch Waltz but I'm still thinking too much. I'll know we're closer when my brain can shut off and just let my body do what it's being trained to do. Unfortunately, weekly lessons are highly unlikely given summer schedules. I'm going to try to make it happen, but I won't be surprised if I slip into a bit of a holding pattern for the next couple of months. It's okay.

I wanted to stay and practice after my lesson, but my to-do list was ticking off menacingly in my head. I raced about the afternoon, battling traffic and construction and bad drivers. When I arrived home I was hot, sweaty and frazzled. This time vodka made me laugh.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Good Sport

By now I suppose everyone has seen this really cool thing Jason Brown did. Not gonna lie, my heart swelled a little as I read what happened. What an amazing demonstration of sportsmanship and kindheartedness.

And then I thought of my own moaning about how the summer campers are going to be invading the ice soon. If Jason can be patient and good-natured about his program run being interrupted, surely I can be the same about my poorly placed dance patterns. We need more of Jason's attitude in figure skating. Mine has been appropriately adjusted.

As Jason told little Lucie Reizian, the ice really is everyone's to share.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

10 Weeks

"Don't panic, Princess!" Dmytri called out as we twirled around the ice.

I laughed, nodding at a teenager. "Are you talking to me or to her?"

There's been a girls school coming to the rink this week. Usually, they wear tiaras and skate on the Olympic ice, which is good because the public session continues to be just us regulars. Of course, the day I have a lesson, they end up on the NHL ice. They stared wide-eyed as Dmytri and I swooped around them. It's kind of fun to be the swooper instead of the swoopee, but part of me felt bad for them. I know we (more accurately, Dmytri) won't crash into them, but all they see is two grown ups barreling down on them and it's got to be a little terrifying.

We finished up a pass of Dutch Waltz and Dmytri said, "Very good!" with that catch in his voice that betrays his surprise.

I've only got two weeks left before summer skating starts and the timing couldn't be worse.  I've been able to increase my practice time and results are coming fairly quickly. Dmytri's using words like "power" and "confidence" when he describes how I'm skating, I'm cleaning up some bad habits and I'm genuinely enjoying my time out there. But in two weeks, summer camp kids will take over the ice and Dmytri and I will struggle to get our schedules to cooperate.

Last year I took a class during the summer, but this year I think I'll just catch lessons with Dmytri when I can and practice to whatever degree is possible. (I need practice more than instruction at this point anyway, you know, with the rebuilding and all.) I may get back to my ballet classes, because I miss them.

A friend and I looked out over the crowded ice. "I just started working on my axel," she sighed sadly. We had made the most of the beginning of the session, axeling and Dutch Waltzing as much as we could before the kids took over. But it appears summer skating has started early. It's only 10 weeks, right?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Just Call Me Meryl

"Oh god no!! Please don't let go!" I begged.

"I've got you," Dmytri said, holding my phone in one hand, my hand in the other and snapping pictures.

I've always thought I'd make a better hockey player than figure skater. I'm not particularly graceful but I can bang around pretty well. So when I learned the Montgomery Youth Hockey Association had started a program to teach hockey moms how to play, it seemed perfect for me. I was going to need to buy some equipment, but I thought I could use the Kid's skates. I figured I'd try them out during a skating lesson so that Dmytri could help me with edges and crossovers and the like.

Yeah, right.

For about five minutes I shuffled around the ice, clinging desperately to Dmytri and thinking that my son is seriously badass for being able to skate in those deathtraps. The blades are so short and thin. And there's zero ankle support. I couldn't wait to get back in my sturdy figure skates with their long, thick beautiful blades.

I always joke that I have no natural skating ability (this is true), but it turns out I am more Meryl Davis than Alex Ovechkin. No need to buy hockey equipment after all...but maybe a new practice skirt?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Black Magic

It appears Marissa and Simon are splitting up. (Yeah, don't come here for breaking news in figure skating.) I'm unexpectedly bummed by this development, mostly because I've been spending a lot of time with their short program lately. While I was banned from the ice, I watched countless figure skating videos to study how skaters use their legs. I watched mostly dance and pairs, but pairs ended up being particularly helpful for two reasons: 1) it's my favorite, so I could watch the same program over and over and over and not get bored, and 2) the women wear dresses that are perfect for observing the leg in action - ankle, knee and hip.

I like Marissa and Simon's Black Magic Woman program. Strong, powerful, athletic, sexy skating. This program had a good mix of all four without a lot of gratuitous flourish. (I have a pretty low tolerance for theatrics in figure skating. Yeah, I know...)

I've watched this video a lot, pausing it throughout to see just how Marissa is bending her knee or extending her leg or leaning into an edge. I've watched this enough that if I could skate with any degree of skill, I probably know the choreography well enough to trip through it. (You know, if I could jump and spin and be thrown across the ice.)

So as a final toast to Marissa and Simon, let's take one last look at Black Magic Woman.