Figure skaters twirled gracefully around me as I weebled and wobbled across the Laramie Community Ice & Event center ice rink, but like the egg-shaped toys of my youth, I did not fall down.
“Put your heels together, bend your knees and use your inside edges to bring your toes together,” said Ice & Event center ice skating instructor Muriah Rothwell, a 25-year-old senior-moves-in-the-field and free-skate figure skater.
Rothwell’s jet black hair bounced gracefully as her snow white skates carved a football shape in the ice.
It looked easy enough, so I put my heels together and pushed outward with little difficulty. But when I tried to draw my toes together, my leg muscles — which were far more used to dangling off the edge of an office chair — threw in the towel.
“Good,” Rothwell cooed as instructors tend to do when their students put forth the effort without yielding the desired result. “Now, bend those knees and just bring your toes together.”
Oh sure, I thought, teetering over my skates. It’s easy enough to say, but I think my skates are faulty, or perhaps the ice is smoother where she is skating. Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for this.
I tried the move again.
This time, my toes came closer, but I stopped focusing on balance and nearly toppled before Rothwell caught me and told me to try again.
“We call this a swizzle,” she said.
A swizzle? You’ve got to be kidding me. Who in the world can’t accomplish something called a swizzle?
A figure skater sailed by on one skate with her arms and free leg out as if she were flying.
Rub it in, why don’t you, I thought before trying to swizzle again.
My toes came together, and I immediately pulled my heels together and pushed out again, completing a succession of three more swizzles; though, nowhere near as effortlessly as I hoped.
Rothwell smiled, praised my effort and immediately jumped into the next lesson.
Pulling into the ice rink parking lot at 6:30 a.m. Friday, I sipped my coffee, rubbed the sleep from my eyes and tried to remember the last time I was out and about so early.
I grumbled about the hour as I greeted my instructor, who smiled knowingly and informed me she started skating at 5:30 a.m. I buttoned my lip and didn’t mention it again.
“Would you like figure skating skates or hockey skates?” Rothwell asked.
I shrugged and asked the difference.
“With figure skates, we have rockers and edges,” she explained. “We have toe picks at the front that help us with our jumps, and the rockers help with spins and jumps.”
My prior ice skating experience consisted of about five minutes spent in oversized skates on a frozen beaver pond more than two decades ago. I was quite sure I wasn’t ready for spinning or jumping, so I opted for the hockey skates.
There might have been a small amount of machismo underlying the decision, but I reassured myself my reasoning was sound. What Rothwell did not explain until we got on the ice, perhaps guessing at my ulterior motive for the choice, was hockey skates are rounded on the back end to make going backwards easier — something I was equally not ready to attempt.
With my skates laced up, Rothwell led me out to the rink and offered to let me use a walker, which looked like a toy version of the type I’d seen used in nursing homes.
“We might have to,” I hesitantly told my instructor. “But I’d like to try without first.”
She smiled and offered me a hand as I stepped onto the rink. Nearly a decade younger than me, Rothwell gently led me onto the ice with a hand on my elbow. Again, I was reminded of a scene from an elder care facility and decided to tuck away what little machismo I had left for another day.
The Pineapple State
Rothwell glided backwards, keeping a watchful eye on the position of my feet as I moved further from the safety of the wall.
“If you want to get speed, the way you go about it is drop your ankle and push with your inside edge,” she said, performing each move as she explained them.
Rothwell’s tan complexion was a stark contrast to the other figure skaters flitting about the rink.
“I grew up in Kapolei, Hawaii,” she said. “I had a birthday party at the only ice rink in the state, and I never got off the ice after that.”
Although she is one of Wyoming’s top rated figure skaters, Rothwell said she prefers to teach.
“My goal was more to coach by the time I got to college,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed the rewarding experience of teaching kids and watching them pass their tests. That’s my main goal.”
Under Rothwell’s instruction, even this old dog learned some new tricks, and it wasn’t long before we were skating around the rink in fine fashion. Stopping, on the other hand, was beyond my grasp and after spending about 15 minutes explaining how to push my feet apart, she was content to let me flounder toward a wall, stopping with a bang.
As we exited the rink, Rothwell said one of the most common mistakes beginners make is flailing their arms, which can cause them to fall backwards and potentially lead to a head injury.
Luckily, I did not succumb to the urge to flail, so the day ended without injury.
While I entered the Ice & Events Center with delusions of leaving as the next Patrick Roy, I was happy to leave with my brainpan intact and the ability to swizzle my way across a frozen lake with the best of them.