Ice Rink Reckoning

by Melissa “I refuse your helmet” Urban

There’s been a lot of talk in recent posts about “training so you can do cool things in real life” versus just “trying to be really good at exercising”. I like to think the stuff I’ve been doing in the gym has been preparing me for challenges I may face in the real world, or athletic adventures I choose to pursue outside of the gym. At least, that’s been my working theory. This weekend, that theory was put to the test, and money met mouth in a very cold venue.

Dallas, my sister Kelly and I were having a chat about weekend plans when Kelly mentioned that she recently went ice skating. See, Kelly and I both took skating lessons as kids. I only stuck with it for about a year, and frankly, I was never any good. Kelly was much better – coordinated, strong, and fearless to boot. I was awkward, all skinny long legs, with no grace to be found. But Kelly said it was fun to get back on the ice, and I hadn’t been skating in probably 20 years, so I mentioned I’d like to go skating again sometime. Then, the conversation took a turn for the worse.

Me: You know, I bet I could still do a waltz jump if I tried.

Kelly: (Silence.)

Me: You know – that little half-turn jump? I bet I could still do one.

Kelly: No. You. Could. Not.

: Um, really? You don’t think so? I remember how to do it in my head. It’s like riding a bicycle, right? Except on ice. Which actually sounds kind of hard…

Kelly: You are high on drugs if you think you could still do one of those. You’re 35 years old. You haven’t skated in 20 years. And you weren’t even that good when you were taking lessons. So… no. I do NOT think you could do a waltz jump.

Me: (All dumb and stubborn) WANNA BET?

Kelly: Really??? YES. Yes, I would like to bet. A bottle of wine at Wine Steals says you can’t do a waltz jump.

So we shook, and I got all kinds of excited, because (a) Wine Steals is my favorite wine joint in San Diego, (b) how hard could it be to pull off one tiny little jump? and (c) I like being better than my sister.

Fast forward to this past weekend, and Public Skate Saturday at a crowded ice rink. I strap on my rental skates, take a few shaky steps towards the rink, plant my left foot firmly onto the ice and push away from the railing. And immediately think, “Oh, sh*t.” Because while my brain still remembered how to glide and use my edges and cross over, my feet apparently did not. After five endlessly long minutes on the ice, I was beginning to regret refusing Dallas’ constant offer of a helmet.

But eventually, I started to feel more comfortable, and moved to the middle of the rink. Sure, I was the only adult out there, amongst a dozen cute children all more graceful than me. Sure, I took a ton of messy spills (can you say, “toe pick“?). But I was laughing my butt off, determined to prove Kelly wrong… and eventually, I started catching some air and landing on one foot. The jumps weren’t especially pretty, but they all met my sister’s specific criteria: jump off one foot, turn while in the air, land on the other foot without falling. Done, and captured on video. Ha.

Emboldened by my waltz jump success (and not intimidated by the 10 year old Asian girl literally skating circles around me), I started playing around with other stuff – edge work, arabesques (called a “spiral” in skating) and a move called “shoot the duck”, which is essentially a pistol on skates. Again, none of these were pretty. But a pistol on the ice is considerably harder than it is on the ground, and I was a little hampered by three butt-protectant layers of pants, so I’ll cut my form some slack. (I did half the Zamboni’s work trying that move.) All in all, I spent a good 90 minutes playing around on the ice without cracking my head open. Success.

Which got me thinking… Maybe there’s something to this “training for real life” stuff after all. After all, I can’t remember ever being able to do a shoot-the-duck when I was taking lessons, and I was way more comfortable on skates back then. (More flexible, too.) There is no other explanation for why I’d be able to pull that off now, other than this – I’ve been training for it.  No, not waltz jumps and pistols on ice, specifically… but real life things that require strength, coordination and balance.  Like our friend Robb says, “It’s almost like this stuff works!”

Now, silly (and poorly performed) ice skating moves aren’t exactly the kind of important real life activities for which our Marines, police and firemen are training. But we’re not all in the business of protecting lives, are we? Soccer Moms, business men and not-particularly-athletically-inclined nutritional coaches have just as much use for staying strong, fit, flexible and healthy. And your training should make you better prepared for whatever it is you need or want to do – whether that’s carrying people out of burning buildings or donning some ice skates and keeping up with your 10 year old. It doesn’t matter HOW you use your gym training – only that you DO, somewhere outside of the arena of barbells and medicine balls. Train, then go put your training to use and DO SOMETHING!

When was the last time you tried to pick up an old skill, took on a new one or used your training in an everyday task? Post thoughts to comments, or better yet… put your training to the test and commit to trying something new here. (And then film it and send it to us. We love stuff like that.)

As for Kelly, thanks for putting me up to it, because that Public Skating session was a ridiculous amount of fun. And save your pennies, kid, because there’s a bottle of ’04 Paraduxx with “Chairman M.A.U.” written all over it. Holla!

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  1. says

    Holla! is right – congratulations. Loved the video, too; very cute.

    Of course I totally agree with you on the real-world transfer aspects of our training; a few days before Christmas, when the neighborhood got snowed in despite the fact our neighbor-friends needed to get to Dulles to catch a flight, I was enlisted to help bring their luggage from their house through more than 100 yards of knee-deep snow to our driveway (they were borrowing our Jeep to get to the airport).

    While they slogged and flailed through the snow, dropping bags and fumbling their kids, I cleaned their heaviest suitcase, push-pressed it, and racked it into the high-bar position for a non-stop trudge back to our car. They even snapped photos of me carrying it, they were so impressed.

    “Just another workout, baby,” I said.

  2. says

    @Adam: That’s a great story, and exactly what I’m talking about. It’s not saving lives, or even exhibiting “elite” level athleticism… but there’s something to be said for being able to carry your own damn luggage. Not everyone aspires to a 500# deadlift – in fact, from what I’ve seen during recent travels, most women my age would be happy just to be able to lift their carry-on bags into the overhead compartment all by themselves. Our training helps with all of that stuff, big and small.

  3. says

    @Richard, my helmet-wearing, pistol-loving partner in crime! I thought of you when I typed the author line in this post. Nice to hear from you! I seriously think this was one occasion in which a helmet WAS warranted, but I managed to get through the event unscathed. How is your training going?

  4. Jimi says

    Today I DL’d a HUGE desk to help a lady in the office wire her space heater. Nothing earth shattering but at the same time, I’m pretty sure I’m one of the few in the office that either (1) could do it or (2) have a big smile on my face while doing it. Like Adam said, just another workout. :)

    And now I have a sudden urge to go home tonight and try rollerblade (living in FL) pistols!

  5. Richard Vanmeerbeek says

    Haha love it! You were really impressive, I guess this training philosophy works? ;)

    Very busy with school so I’ve been training less, which isn’t a bad thing as it forces me to have more rest days in the past. As a result, progress is still there and steady. I have also found a way to do back squats that leave my knee pain-free: wide stance box squats. Super happy about it and will stick to it for a moment. There are some videos on my Vimeo account if you ever want to check or critique (check your messages there).

    The Whole 9 is awesome I have to say.

  6. Eva Bigongiari says

    Let’s not forget that though saving lives is not everyone’s daily job, ANYONE can be called to save a life at ANYTIME. For instance, in college I took a lifeguarding course for easy credit. Most of the students were young college age kids in decent shape, but there was one 40-ish year old lady there, named Carol, that looked pretty deconditioned. Turns out her reason for taking the class was because her husband had collapsed to the floor during a heart attack 6 months earlier. The 9-1-1 dispatcher talked her through CPR, but she was physically unable to continue it for more than 1 minute. Her husband died before the paramedics could reach him. Even though her husband was probably beyond her help anyway, she vowed that she would never be too out of shape to save someone again. Everytime I work out I think of Carol. I won’t quit because I never know if I could be put in a situation where I have to save a loved one.
    **But you’re right, being able to easily do the everyday stuff is a cool side effect of our training too. Way to go on the ice, girl!

  7. says

    Nice cross-overs, sister! You should consider roller derby.

    I’m tempted from time to time to return to the track, just to see what a CrossFit-trained body could do in a Roller Derby jam. Think it’s too late for me to come out of retirement and rock the fishnets again?!

  8. David Humphreys says

    There’s been a lot of talk in recent posts about “training so you can do cool things in real life” versus just “trying to be really good at exercising”.

    I’d like to suggest a few more reasons why we train.

    It feels good. Okay, maybe not *right* at the moment that you’re trying to haul your post-Christmas ass up in the air, but on either side, there’s a sense of accomplishment and pride, not to mention the rush of those beautiful chemicals. You train because you are here, and you know you’re doing what’s right.

    You meet some great people. I’m a reformed computer geek, with little background in athletics. When my wife talked me into going to the gym, I expected to meet a bunch of ego-driven lunkheads who were dedicated solely to looking their best. Wow, was I wrong. The people who are committed to working out hard also tend to be committed to other ideas and people in their lives just as fiercely. Men and women who will get up and stand in the cold at five in the morning to do squats will also go out of their way to do other important things. Your workout partners are likely to be beautiful and strong inside and out. You train because you meet some great people at the bottom of a pushup.

    You train so you’re not fat now. If you’re in the United States, you’ve seen what a morbidly obese population looks like. It’s not pretty, and it’s not the best that we can be. You train because you can avoid the ill effects of carrying additional weight, so that you can be closer to the best version of yourself, and so that you can lead by example.

    You train so you’re not dead later. In our house, the race is not the next benchmark, or the next marathon, it’s to old age. I want and expect to live a full, long life, and I don’t want the end of it to be dragged down by my own fat ass. If I keep moving now, I’ll have an easier time later. You train because growing old is not for sissies.

    Finally, you might train because every moment has a price, and a value. You train because every second you’re alive and in working order is worth the sweat you pay. You train because the cost of a good life might include, in part, getting up at some ungodly hour, standing next to people who have made the same smart, dedicated choice, and moving.

  9. says

    @Jimi: Let me know how those pistols go! I’ve received some advice from a friend at CFNYC – the faster you go, the easier it is to keep your balance. Good luck!

    @Eva: Wow – that’s a tragic story. You’re right – you never know when you’ll be called upon to perform any sort of physical task. It’s nice to think that you’d be up for it, should the need ever arise.

    @Mel: I bet you’d ROCK those skates today. (And the fishnets.) Let’s hit the rink when I come visit and you can show me some moves. I’d totally love to be checked by the famous Melicious. (Is that weird?)

    @Dave: Beautifully written, and well said. “The people who are committed to working out hard also tend to be committed to other ideas and people in their lives just as fiercely.” I’ve found this to be true, which is why some of my best friends are also my training partners. Thank you for contributing!

  10. Kevin says

    For variations on the shoot the duck, try it with the other leg, or going backwards. Helps that it’s a short fall. In terms of trying new and old stuff, it’s just nice to be able to participate in pretty much anything. It’s nice to have a foundation that lets me play basketball or racquetball or dodgeball or go skiing, or whatever else I have the opportunity to try.

    It’s also seeing a 50 something year old guy take skating lessons for the first time. (his shoot the duck doesn’t go quite as low as yours) I don’t think it would’ve worked at all if he didn’t maintain a certain level of fitness.

  11. matt says

    Maybe it’s a little thing, but I just went outside to throw the football around with a friend. After tossing for a few minutes, I decided to try one of those ‘fade’ patterns-run straight ahead, and catch the ball over your shoulder without turning to face the quarterback. I’ve NEVER been able to catch that ball. I suck at ball sports, have since I was a kid. Haven’t played football catch in probably 2 years.

    You know where this is going: reeled that fade in as pretty as a picture (at least in my mind it was) it almost like this CrossFit thing actually does something…hmm…

  12. Brooke says

    Good job on the ice! As an ex-gymnast I took to CrossFit well, but never thought I would be able to do back-handsprings again…Well, I have been proven wrong and to boot they are easier than they were 10 years ago! My eyes have also been opened to a boatload of new activities that I never would have done before.There is something about knowing you throw around heavy weights at the gym that gives you the confidence to do things that you would have never thought possible! Love the blog!

  13. Melissa Glasscock says

    @Eva – wow, what a story! That is very sobering but also inspiring.

    @Melissa – I was excited to see this post, as I was just thinking to myself the other day how long it’s been since I went ice-skating, and how it HAD to be easier now that I am so much stronger and better coordinated. Well, you’ve sold me on the idea – I’ve got to go try it now!

    I really enjoy being able to lift and carry things more easily in real life. (People always try to carry things for me because I am a young, petite woman and they assume I can’t handle it. I like proving them wrong!) Much to my great surprise, the weightlifting component of Crossfit has become one of my favorites, because of the strength and confidence its given me.

    As someone who always dreaded PE class or group sports, doing ANYTHING athletic (especially in a group) is still novel. My whole life I felt weak, uncoordinated, and completely intimidated by most physical activity. Doing Crossfit has given me the confidence to try surfing, play a casual game of volleyball with co-workers, and learn to throw a frisbee so I can play disc golf — definitely small stuff to most athletes, but a huge step forward for me. I can’t wait to see what else I will try as I get older, stronger, and more confident.

  14. says

    That video brought back memories of sitting, shivering in the stands, while they learned to skate. Back then blind perseverance was the operational mode. Endless repetition was the method. Balance, flexibility, muscle control and strength were not in the conscious equation. They silently developed until it all came together and the first “waltz jump” was landed.

    Perseverance has become training. Aware repetition is the method. Abilities are developed which have the greatest value in the way they support everyday life.

    20 years later you still “remembered” how it felt to do the jump. Your body was ready to follow orders.

    Love you, Dad

  15. says

    Oh! This comment reminded me of my dad sitting with me at the piano — same experience different activity. Lots of painful repetition, completely devoid of grace… but then, magic! I can still play pieces now that I played back then, even if I haven’t seen them in 20 years. Neat how our bodies remember stuff we think they’ve forgotten.

    I think MY dad is a little surprised by the more athletic turn my life has taken, but handstands, pullups, and tricky solo passages actually have a lot in common: practice, focus, control, and a big leap of faith.

  16. says

    @Kevin: Shoot the duck on my left leg isn’t happening right now – I’ve got a janky ankle on that side. But backwards – that I’ll have to try!

    @Matt: I second your football experience! I’ve always been terrible at throwing and catching, except lately I seem to be much, much better. It’s super cool to be able to snag something out of the air when you’ve been dropping stuff your whole life. I make Dallas throw things at me all the time now. True story.

    @Brooke: Back handsprings – nice! And I’m right there with weight training as a confidence builder for all KINDS of activities.

    @MelissaG: Yes, on all counts. The other day, someone grabbed ME (not any of the guys I sit next to) to change the water bottle at work. It’s nice not to have to ask for help for things like that. Again, maybe heaving a 40# jug of water isn’t “elite fitness”, but the ability to do so is still darn practical.

    @Dad: Parents commenting on blogs is pretty much the coolest thing ever. Thanks for sitting through all those awful routines and wobbly spins. Love you too.

    @Mel: Well put, as always.

  17. says

    As a Canuck, I love to see Yanks strap on the skates! Considering your junior team just won gold as well! Was that even news there?

    I hadn’t been on the ice for a year and I’d been crossfitting hard..I had major speed and a crazy hard slapshot…but NONE of the matching motor skills for the 1st game…it came back fast…but I wasn’t even breathing hard after my 1st non fit buddies were sucking wind hard and crying the next day….like Adam said “just another workout…..”

    Nice waltz…and a crazy big up for the shoot the duck…

  18. says


    I got divorced this year. I have a farm. With nine horses.

    In July, I wrestled 26 tons of hay, in 95-lb bales, into 12-foot stacks. By myself.

    I’m female, 5’3″ and 122 lbs of muscle that I appreciate more than I can say… ’cause them ponies gotta eat! :)

  19. Amber says

    Love the video, and the Pirates of the Caribbean music is awesome too :) There are days when I think I’ve forgotten everything I did in Ballet class, and then we do some balance exercises at the Gym, and it all comes back. And usually causes some amusement as well :)

  20. Sookie Smackhouse says

    Love this post! I tried my first adventure race several months into CrossFit and was surprised that I felt stronger and had more endurance in other road races I’d done previously when I had been training with just tons and tons of running. I’m planning all kinds of new fun things this year b/c of CF.

  21. kwan l says

    Totally agree and also a big fan of your blog! I have been training in a gym for over 2 years…I still have a great time to go to the gym. But now I pick up more outdoor sport like ice skating and cross country skiing which requires body’s strength, balances and flexibility. It push me to look forward to get back to the gym to train harder so I can now play harder!