Stepping it up

When I was a boy, I fell off a cliff. Like, really. Fell close to 20 metres, although I bounced most of it.

It was a strange experience. The actual feeling of falling is so unusual and horrifying it’s indescribable, and I clearly remember (a) seeing the rock break off in my hand and having time to think: “Oh, that’s not good” before the plummet gathered momentum, and (b) a washed-up detergent bottle on the rocks at the bottom rushing up to meet me.

As I lay at the foot of the drop, covered in blood and red dirt, my brain did an unusual thing: a physical inventory. I shit you not. Semi-dazed, I went mentally checked every body part, as in: “Left arm, bleeding but ok. Right arm, same. Left leg … OH JESUS! Broken ankle? Right leg, seems okay …” and so on.

Who needs rest? Let me out there! Dev League last night. Pic: Ben Weisser.

I woke up this morning and went through a similar routine. Legs? Surprisingly not sore. Right arm, fine. Left shoulder … hmmm, tender but functional. Back, good.

I’m not about to equate signing up for Tuesday Dev League, on top of two hours of dedicated hockey on a Wednesday night as the equivalent of falling 20 metres onto rocks, but it was definitely a work out. I’ve been concerned that I’ve been skating more than running over summer, as running gives me a better cardio workout. Those fears are now behind me, for at least the next month while I go back-to-back on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

My footy crew, the mighty Bang, had also reconvened on Sunday so I ran hard and kicked a Sherrin for the first time in two months or so, leading to creaky legs on Monday. Then on Tuesday, 5.30 pm Dev League began. This is technically a level below Wednesday Dev League, open to people who have completed Intro, but a lot of the usual suspects turned up, who can skate better than well and even play for low-level teams. Being at an awkward time-slot for anybody with a real job (thankfully, that doesn’t include me), numbers were thinner than usual, so our teams only had eight or nine, meaning play was shift-on, shift-off, and sometimes a double-shift. Good way to sort out your fitness, right there.

I felt great and loved it, even if I did have to bolt off the ice with 10 minutes to go so I could catch a plane to Brisbane. (Amen for complimentary showers in the Virgin lounge. My fellow passengers were grateful without even realising it.)

I miraculously got into my Brisbane hotel at about 10.30 pm*, was up in time to be at an event by 7.30 am, to check slides and video links were working, delivered a talk about online video at 9 am, hailed a cab, made it back to the airport, flew out at 1 pm and landed in Melbourne around 4, just in time to dump my stuff, grab my hockey kit and head straight back to the Icehouse.

As Danny Glover said repeatedly in Lethal Weapon, “I’m too old for this shit.”

And yet, I got home last night, blood pumping, unable to sleep before maybe 2 am, in love with life. Which was yet another surprise, given the first 40 minutes or so of Intermediate, when my legs were like lead. I barely made it through the warm-up laps. It was pathetic, and I was seriously wondering if I should limp off the ice, especially after a drill to practice keeping an opponent behind you away from the puck, using a carefully-positioned arse. Kittens brushed me aside repeatedly. During all the technical skating drills, I struggled, but then, a miracle occurred.

The final drill was a straight out killer, known as a “bag skate”. Two lines of skaters. Lliam tosses pucks onto the ice at random and pairs of skaters, one from each line, fly after it, in a one-on-one length-of-the-ice duel to try and score a goal – actual goalies at each end. It’s a lot of fun; battling for the puck, plus full ice breakaways, or back-checking chases from goal to goal. Death to tired legs … well, should have been. Instead, somehow, I kicked back in. After 15 minutes, when certain junior members of my household confessed later, they were worried they were going to vomit, I unexpectedly found my legs. And was belting up and down the rink.

Army watches, unmoved, as I fail to successfully bad-ass trash-talk, post collision. Pic: Ben Weisser

Which led directly to Intermediate Dev League and me feeling stronger and stronger with every shift. Which was lucky, because (a) a bunch of Will’s posse had turned up, lightly and rowdily drunk, and were yelling for us every time we went near the puck, and (b) it was an intense game. The sides were pretty evenly matched (every week, they divide us into “red’ or “black” jerseys, so the teams are never the same twice) and after three weeks off the ice because of the skating titles, a lot of the players were in a, um, willing mood. There were more full body collisions than I’ve previously seen in any of my classes or games.

I was involved in several but only lost my feet once, which has me wondering if I’m harder to shift on my skates than I would have thought. I was surprised and kind of thrilled when I smashed head on into a pretty good skater from the other team, at pace, and he went flying backwards, landing on his arse, dropping his stick, like he’d hit a brick wall, while I stood above him, unmoved. Who knows how that happened? My skate must have been on just the right angle or something.

I screwed up though, asking if he was okay before it occurred to me how bad-ass I must be looking right now and yelled: “Take that, motha-fucka!” The photo shows what Army thought of me getting the insult and safety-check out of order. Look at his body language.

There was another spectacular pile-up in front of me later in the game, where opponent spilled and I almost got the puck through, nothing but clear ice and a goalie beyond, before my legs got tangled in the humanity. Rats.

Will (in red) collides with an opponent. On the bench, Jay said Kittens is turning into a Big Cat. (Update: Todd is claiming this original line. Well played. 'Big Cat' has stuck) Pic: Ben Weisser.

Fun night, and oh boy, am I going to be fitter after a month or more of scrimmages two nights in a row. Too old for this shit? Never!

* “Miraculous” because I got in a taxi at Brisbane airport, and the conversation went like this:

Me: Sofitel, please.

Cabbie: The Sofitel? You mean the Novetel?

Me: No, the Sofitel. Next to Central Station.

Cabbie: Central Station? Oh, I think I know where that is.

Me: Um, you think? It’s right in the city centre. Turbot Street.

Cabbie: …. Turbot Street?

Me: You been driving a cab for long.

Cabbie: Yeah, seven years. But mostly around Rockcliffe. Don’t worry, I bought a GPS thing today, second hand, and I’m learning how to use it.

Hooooo boy.


  1. accordion says:

    Love the blog – recently got into figure skating at the Icehouse. Like you I was on rentals, then bought my skates. Fell and hurt my wrist, bought wrist guards. Smacked the back of my head into the ice, bought an ice halo.

    Now trashing the remaining cartilage in my knees, really don’t want knee guards!

    • Hiya. My first figure skater comment! Welcome. I’ve always been amazed how in figure skating, the skaters aren’t allowed to wear protective gear, so they don’t feel vulnerable and unprotected when they compete in lycra. It’s nuts, the risks you take in training. I remain in aw.
      I skate so much better in my full kit, where falling is no big thing.

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