The new stride. Arms swinging, skating on the left foot, heading out towards 11 o’clock, and now the right skate, in the air, touches the left skate at the ankle. Not a bounce, not a click, like Dorothy in Oz, just a gentle touch.
And with that, the right foot touches down, takes my weight and on that foot, pushing through the upper leg and the knee, I glide off to 1 o’clock, left foot trailing and now coming to meet the right ankle, underneath my body, ready for the exchange of weight right under my hockey stance.
The new stride? Hell, this should always have been my stride. Somewhere I went wrong, especially in games, and so I’m back in a General Skate, hanging laps like I was constantly last year, but not so much this year. My skates feeling strange under me, as my weight is in different places, very deliberately not camped on the inside edge, dodging the random learner skaters scattered around the Bradbury Rink, and the figure skaters working on their moves pre-class.
A bearded figure emerges from inside the skate sharpening booth, and waves, so I hop off the ice and am met by Lliam Webster, standing extremely upright and turning like Ned Kelly in full armour to face me and say hello. Or maybe like Val Kilmer as Batman, in that movie where they truly screwed up his suit so he couldn’t turn his head at all and had to twist his entire torso to look around.
Turns out Lliam pulled up from the weekend with a sore neck.
I have a bandaged wrist; either from Friday night’s three hours of stick handling or an overly-ambitious Diesel Williams handball attempt gone wrong at the Bang on Sunday, I’m not sure.
Both battered from the weekend. Life’s good.
I return to the rink for the last few minutes of General Skate before the figure skaters take over, and work on my still depressingly non-existent outside edges. I creak around corners, trying to move my shoulders, even do the airplane like Martin Kutek showed me. At one stage I fall, but I’ve got knees and elbows on, as well as my gloves, so it’s okay. Eventually I get frustrated and try to skate as fast as I can, which leads to an even better stack, as I lean too far forward at high speed and end up sliding from red line beyond the blue on my knees and gloves. I resist the urge to yell: “Weeeee!”
Shouldn’t I be past incidents like that by now? I guess not. Joey Hughes told me he goes back to the absolute basics for a couple of weeks before Melbourne Ice pre-season training starts. Does everything they teach us in Intro class; swizels, C-cuts, inside and outside edges work, crossovers … if it’s good enough for him, then I can do it, to get my new stride happening, and leave wide-legged, immobile Nicko behind.
I work some more on my edges and then notice a child, flawlessly skating on her outside edge, arms spread in figure skater stance. She cuts a tight left hander and then goes into spins, completing four perfectly before stopping. She bursts into tears and heads for the boards.
Her mum explains to me that she has to get to five spins to complete the move and is frustrated she can’t get that fifth turn. This little girl who literally maybe comes up to my waist. She’s five years old, started skating two years ago.
I’d kill for her outside edges and balance.
She cries gently into the boards as her father consoles her.
I hang a few more laps until Army and Tommy wander past, on their way to the Zamboni garage. They’re heading to Perth this weekend, the Ice needing one win in the last three games to confirm top spot in their division of the AIHL. Joey’s back from suspension for the second game in Perth, giving the Ice two killer lines. Mercifully they’re not flying the plane that lands early on Saturday morning, needing to play later that night. Instead they’ll arrive on Friday and get some sleep. Lliam’s neck is in for a rough weekend.
I wish them luck. Army encourages me to keep working on the stride. Says he’ll see me at class tomorrow. Then kicks me off the ice. I unlace my skates, leave them for a sharpen, wander into the cold dusk, to my car and my dog, and let the real world swallow me whole.