Skating’s secret tonic for the soul

Ksshh, ksshh, ksshh. There’s something so soothing about the sound of a single skate blade slicing the ice, even more so when the arena is empty and you can glide around in solitude before the music blares and the masses arrive.

That first skate this week after the kids returned to school imbues a sense of solace I simply can’t uncover elsewhere. Although I enjoy the escapades of the hordes of skaters of all sizes with parents in tow during Christmas break, it’s better when the chatter and laughter rising above the mix of music descending from the speakers in the rafters has been stilled.

As much as I miss the little critters – the skill of those who fly around effortlessly and the determination of beginners clutching the boards for support with each tentative stride – the return to just the handful of skaters who venture out onto the ice on Tuesday and Thursday mornings is welcomed nonetheless. I can skate alone again, lost in the inner sanctum of my thoughts, no longer burdened by the need to have my head on a swivel to track the kids who skate like Bobby Orr and those that tumble in a tangle of limbs without warning directly in front of me.

Almost all of the usual suspects who show up have been skating since childhood, while I only laced them up for the first time for lessons just long enough to learn how to keep myself upright to and fro a few years ago.

The slow, inexorable deterioration of the discs that comprise the crumbling infrastructure in my neck limits what I can do, but doesn’t lessen the sense of accomplishment that floods me whenever I manage to complete the circumference of the rink backwards without a single stumble.

I’ve gotten to know a few fellow regulars well enough to fall into easy conversations ranging from the current state of our favourite team to whatever antics Trump’s been up to that particular week; no shortage of topics either way. I appreciate that they take the time to slow their stride enough to engage in banter and don’t feel a need to explain when they choose to accelerate away.

The tunes piped in courtesy of whatever era the Stingray music dial is set to evoke a mix of emotions, some songs causing a shrug of the shoulders and skyward roll of the eyes.

Occasionally, others unlock a vault in the musical memory bank that leaves you pleasantly surprised. I detest the sessions when hip hop rules the rink, but certain songs put an extra zip in my stride, a futile effort to end a particularly annoying tune sooner. It’s funny how as much I cringe through “You Used to Call me on my Cell Phone” by Drake, yet find myself singing the same limp lyrics an hour later while working up a lather in the shower.

Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.

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