Putting My Fears on Ice

After a long hiatus from her childhood hobby—skating—one woman lets go of her doubts and makes a triumphant return to the rink

by Karen Stabiner
woman ice skating illustration
Photograph: Dan Bejar

The consensus among my friends is that it’s too cold to skate, and I, after decades in Los Angeles, have heeded their warnings, secretly fearful that I’m not up to the challenge. That’s me striding down a Manhattan street to the subway in an ankle-length down coat, double socks, Patagonia long underwear—three layers from neck to waistline—a hat, gloves and a scarf.

It’s a shameful picture, is what I think. Toasty, practical and cowardly. I’m starting to get impatient with myself.

I’ve skated all my life: a frozen pond in suburban Chicago; equally frozen real estate in Ann Arbor, Michigan; various ice rinks in various cities to show my niece and then my daughter what fun it is. In Los Angeles, I turned to Rollerblades, padded out like the Michelin man to avoid breaking my wrist or elbow or knee.

When I got to New York four years ago, I decided to get back on the ice—with some trepidation, since I didn’t know if the business about never forgetting how to ride a bike translated to skates. The available footwear does nothing for my confidence; the rentals at Central Park’s Wollman Rink are gunboats made out of who knows what rigid, bright blue material, with blades about as sharp as a butter knife.

I made my way the short distance from the clubhouse to the rink, clinging to a railing for support. Once on the ice, I hobbled a few short steps, close enough to the wall to grab it in a pinch. I didn’t need to. One lap and I knew I could manage forward motion, if not reverse; by the third or fourth lap, I’d regained my old stride, and from there it was an hour of clockwise bliss. I was even happy when the Bee Gees hit the sound system. All that matters, when you’re skating, is a solid bass.

A woman of my demographic drifted by at one point and smiled the knowing smile of conscious pleasure. We were old enough to be the parents of almost everyone else on the ice and might have qualified as grandparents if we’d had a more incautious youth. And yet we skated, with something approaching grace, and probably more appreciation than many. A nice swift lap is a given when you’re young. With time it becomes an accomplishment. Yes, I can do this, still.

Down the road, when I graduate from older to old, I won’t skate; I imagine that at some point the fear of falling will trump the joy of circling the rink to the beat of “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” and that’ll be the end of it. I suppose I’ll be grateful if I get to quit on my own terms, because I’m done skating and not because I’ve been sidelined by inevitability.

But for the moment I’m in limbo—not as brazen as my 12-year-old self, who avoided the clubhouse and cocoa until my nose, ears, fingers and toes were numb, but not as sensible as we’re all bound to be, eventually. It’s not a bad place to live, between oblivious and wary. I like to think that I enjoy Wollman Rink on a heightened level, that I’m having a different kind of good time than the kids who zoom past and make not falling into a team sport. I log each stride; I remember my dad on his racing skates and pick up the pace in his honor.

Which is why I’m going back out next week, no matter how cold it is. It’s the ability imperative: As long as I can skate, I must.

KAREN STABINER cowrote the Family Table cookbook, teaches journalism at Columbia University and plans to buy her own skates this year.

Next: Who the Heck is That Face in the Mirror

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First Published Mon, 2013-10-07 09:46

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