Learn To Skate USA
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Learn To Skate USA

Skating at 60: A Whole New Perspective

I never dreamed I’d have so much fun re-learning to skate. I have the kids to thank for that.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For her 60th birthday, Mary Ullmer bought a pair of ice skates to rekindle the joy of recreational skating in her youth. A professional journalist whose career has spanned from her small hometown newspaper to her current job at ESPN, Ullmer has shared her experiences as she went through the Learn to Skate USA program.

When I arrived home after my final Learn to Skate USA® lesson, my neighbor asked over the fence we share (think Home Improvement, except I can see my neighbor’s face), “What do you get out of this anyway?”

I simply smiled and said, incredulously, “What do I get out of it? A lot!”

I thought about my answer a great deal that Sunday evening. Because the truth of the matter is, I got more out of the three 45-minute sessions than I expected. Yes, I learned to skate in a basic sense, which is all I was hoping for (and thus took the Basic 1 class). I’m not ready for a speed skating challenge or to suit up for a hockey game, but I can glide forward and backward, stop (though I still need to work on that), fall safely and get back up (definitely room for improvement with practice).

What I didn’t expect to experience was an escape from the harsh realities of today’s world. I found joy from the minute I entered Lakeshore Sports Centre and saw all the children, a dozen or so who would be my Basic 1 classmates.

The groups in Learn to Skate USA® are broken down by skill: There are four levels of Snowplow Sam for those 3- to 5-year-olds putting on skates for the first time, then Basic 1 through Basic 6. In all, about 50 children participated in the February-March sessions, according to Susie Kelly of Lakeshore Skating Academy, who runs the program. Kelly said there are levels beyond Basic 6, but by that time, most skaters have ventured off into hockey, speed skating or private figure skating lessons.

Whether the children in our sessions were laughing or crying — some are very young kids, after all — I couldn’t help but grin ear-to-ear just being around their energy. While I never had children, I have nephews and nieces who are now well into adulthood and have children of their own. Part of the reason I signed up for Learn to Skate USA® was to spend time on the ice with my 10-year-old grandnephew.

Even seeing what the kids were wearing at our lessons amused me. A little girl from the beginner class was dressed in hockey gear (yay!), complete with a Red Wings jersey. She topped off her ensemble with a bright pink helmet. Another young girl had a helmet that looked like a cat’s face, including cat ears protruding from the top. A boy in my group, Parker, donned a Spiderman helmet. I don’t know if he found it as amusing as I did that his first name was the last name of Spiderman’s alter ego.

I couldn’t help but have a favorite in our smaller group. Perhaps it was his outgoing personality that instantly drew me to Maverick Kleyn. He had a cool helmet, too, a sort of black and gray camouflage. Maverick was very … busy. He is a halfway decent skater when he stays on his feet, but I think he delighted in making me laugh by falling to the ice over and over again, just to show me how easily he can get up using the proper technique. I’m pretty sure Maverick, who turns 5 on March 26, spent more time down on the ice than he did up on his skates.

Mary Ullmer and Maverick Kleyn

For some reason, Maverick took to me, too. During drills (swizzles, anyone?), there sometimes was not enough room for us all to line up side-by-side, so I would take a step back to let the kids go first. “You want me to lead the way, Mary?” Maverick would say enthusiastically, smiling and looking back from his position in front of me.

“You lead the way, Mav. I’ll be your wingman,” I answered. Maverick, of course, didn’t get my Top Gun reference. Why would he, when the movie is likely older than his parents?

Maverick would stand/skate/fall next to me throughout most of our time on the rink. The kid is full of personality, has a great sense of humor and doesn’t embarrass easily. Perhaps that’s why we got along so well.

While I needed lessons myself, I felt a greater need to encourage the kids in our group. To those struggling, I’d say how well they were doing (especially since this isn’t exactly easy), and remind them of the instructions from our coach. To the shy ones, I’d ask questions to get them talking, and was delighted when they started to come out of their shell and relax a little. I’d like to think my encouragement helped them, but that’s not for me to decide.

I do know it helped me, just by being positive and being around the kids, and I’ll be forever thankful for the perspective these three simple skating lessons provided me.

A few women have commented on my blog posts here, and I am inspired by their response. It seems I’m not the only one in their 50s and 60s to take to the ice. A co-worker even let me know she took her mother ice skating for the first time ever a couple of weeks ago. I was thrilled to learn her mother was 68.

I’m strongly considering signing up for more lessons in April. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll join a recreational hockey league or challenge Maverick to a race.

To find a program in your area, check out the Learn to Skate USA® website.

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