Writing outside of my comfort zone

Last Friday, a group of friends invited us to go skating.

A lifelong skater, I jumped (absolutely pun intended) at the opportunity to get back on the ice. For me, the rink is a place that feels like home. I love the crisp air and the feeling of my blades on the ice.

For my fiancé, it was a completely different train of thought. Having not been on skates for years – and admitting not knowing how to stop – he was nervous to say the least. Nonetheless, the day came, he rented a pair of skates and stepped on the ice. The first few strides were wobbly and I can only imagine how intimidating it was to watch everyone else whip by while he was struggling just to stand up straight.

It took him more than a few minutes to get all the way around, he kept his eyes on the ice for fear of falling, and he hung onto the boards the entire time – but he did it. The next time around, he moved a little faster and relied on the boards a little less. By the time the hour was up, he was doing slow but steady laps by himself, his confidence noticeably improved.

He even said he wanted to go back again for regular skating sessions so he could continue to get better – and maybe learn how to stop. His attitude impressed me – he was completely out of his comfort zone but he didn’t back out. In fact, he embraced it. And what bad things came of it? Nothing – in fact, he gained confidence and a potential new hobby. (A gal can always hope!)

It made me think about my own experience with writing. Yes, my Dad’s story has an inspirational component around his organ donation and that’s easy to write about, but there are a lot of dark segments around my relationship with him, his demons and my own that are uncomfortable to share. Without those pieces however, the story just doesn’t make sense.

Staying in my comfort zone would mean dilly dallying for a few more years and shying away from the pieces that truly add pivotal context to the book. But I need to write those pieces for my audience and for the overall story. Most importantly, I need to write them for myself.

So, thanks British, for the unintended perspective. Now when can we go skating again?




The end of another (synchro) era

You ever wish for a day to come and when it finally does, you wish you hadn’t wanted it to arrive so quickly? Yesterday was that day for me.

February 21 – the West Coast Challenge Cup – marked the end of another great synchro season. Now that it’s come and gone, I’m really sad it’s over.

The past five months, I’ve had the opportunity to skate with a new team in a new category with a new coach – to say it’s been an interesting experience would be an understatement – but not in a bad way.

We managed to collect some new hardware – two golds and a silver – and a respectable fourth place finish in Ontario against some of the best teams in the country. Although, a medal would have been the icing on the cake….

We pulled together this season to skate a fun, upbeat, Saturday night 90s throwback routine. And we had a hell of a lot of fun doing it.  

Not uncommon with any team, there were moments where the practices felt long and our patience ran thin. Muttered comments were occasionally made and dynamics were tested. We’re women, we have hormones and a lot on our respective plates outside the rink – we can’t help it.

A few gals experienced life changes, some planned, some not; others had hectic work schedules; some fell ill; others just had an opinion, myself included.

Yet, despite all of this, it’s moments like yesterday that matter. Moments where the differences and BS are put aside and we just skate. We skate for ourselves, we skate for each other, we skate for the sport – because we truly friggin’ love it.

Yesterday, we laid it all out and the results were reflective. We achieved our first 50-plus point score of the season and had more energy than any of our previous skates. We stepped off the ice feeling confident, powerful and united – like we had all achieved something great together because, well, we did. We topped the podium the same day we organized and ran the competition.

We all deserve to take great pride in our achievements. It’s something we may not have been able to pull off individually, but as a team, as Ice Evolution, we’ve proven ourselves to be unstoppable.

At the end of the day, we’re different gals from different walks of life and although we may not always agree on everything, we do share the same love for one thing: synchro.

It unites us in our passion, it’s the reason we get up at 4 a.m. with a smile on our face and head to the rink (coffee in hand, of course) and it’s the reason we return to the ice year after year, despite saying just months before that it may be time to take a “break”.

Having only been back on the ice for two seasons after a nearly 10-year hiatus, I can say that the past two years have really ignited a passion for this sport I thought I’d long lost.

I’m grateful to the two coaches who took a chance on me, allowed me to join their rosters here in BC and came up with fun and challenging routines for us to skate to. 

I’m grateful to the two managers who busted their asses, took time away from their families and made sure the team showed up where they needed to and on time, with a back up bag of extra essentials just in case. 

I’m grateful to the other gals on the ice who made me feel welcome and who have befriended me despite my quirks, sarcasm and propensity to swear. I’ve made some friendships on the ice that have further been strengthened off the ice and I’m truly appreciative to have met these awesome gals.

Although I don’t plan to skate next year (no, seriously), I know this won’t be my last season. It’s not a matter of if I’ll skate again, just when.

In the meantime, I’ll keep my three new shiny bits of hardware polished, my memories close and my skates sharpened and ready to go…. just in case.

Synchronized skating: Passion or obsession?

It’s great to have a passion for something, be it volunteering, binge watching Orange is the new Black on Netflix, cooking or knitting. For me, it’s synchronized skating. (What?)
For those of you who don’t know, synchronized skating is a team of gals (and sometimes guys) who perform a routine together. Teams can be as small as eight and as large as 20.
Over the course of 13 or so seasons as a synchronized skater, I’ve had the privilege of skating with many different gals from all different walks of life.And while we are all very different, we share a love of skating.
For us, it’s not just a fun thing to do – it’s a passion, it’s a way to embrace our inner competitive beast without feeling like a complete Neanderthal. A way to bring our inner goddess through carnival make up. A way to deliver a performance worthy of an Oscar without making the millions that usually comes with being an actress. Some might call it obsessed but for us, it’s merely dedication.
So, just how far does this obsession go? If you’ve dated a synchronized skater, have one in your family or you are one, you might recognize some of these behaviours.   

We love talking about synchro. Nonstop.
Whether it’s a colleague asking about a weekend competition or a new friend asking what the hell the sport is all about, we love to talk about it. I, for one, love when people don’t know what it is and I get the opportunity to explain it to them. I’ve mastered the art of telling them it’s like synchronized swimming, but on the ice and without the high cut bathing suits, nose plugs and gelatin.

We also love watching synchro, over and over again.
Whether we’re at a competition or sitting at home in our pjs drinking wine searching YouTube, we love watching synchro videos. Programs from previous years are constantly brought up at practice, we post videos to our Facebook of other teams and share videos of our competitors amongst team members on the regular. To the untrained, un-synchro-obsessed eye, the programs may all look the same but to us, they couldn’t be more different.

We love playing detective and researching steps, moves, lifts, arm holds and transitions. For the parts we really love, don’t be surprised if we pause, restart or screen shot the video just so we can make sure we fully understand how something was executed. It’s a beautiful competitive sport, we can’t help ourselves.

We’re really, really committed to practicing our moves.
 When we hear our program music at a grocery store, friend’s party or a club, we’re not afraid to bust out our moves – arms, heads, chassés  and spirals included. Because, the program looks just as good off the ice as on, right?

A bit of advice: if your friend is a synchronized skater and begins doing program moves at a party, be sure to give her a few feet of space either way or you may end up with her foot in your face while she stumbles across the floor practicing her 135.

When it comes to our old program, we’re like elephants – we never forget.
You think we’ve got good memories for practicing our current routines? You should see us bust out the moves from our juvenile years when our skirts were shorter than Rebecca Black’s career, our scrunchies were the accessory of the decade and  we were thrilled to leave grade three gym class early on a Friday to head to a competition.

I doubt I’d find a synchronized skater on the planet who hasn’t skated to either a disco routine, Sweet Caroline or Pirates of the Caribbean who can’t recite, at the very least, circle steps or an intersection move.

We secretly love competition hair and make-up.
Back in the day as young synchro stars, it took hours to wash the craft sparkles from our hair. We’d complain and whine about finding them for days after yet happily put them in again the following weekend for the next competition.
As adults, layering on sparkly make up, adding fake eyelashes, cheap earrings and offensively bright lipstick is all par for the course. While we may half-kid about the number of showers or bottles of shampoo it’ll take to scrub ourselves clean of the competition evidence, we secretly love it.
And don’t forget the helmet hair. If we all knew then what we knew now, I’m sure many of us would have been more diligent in buying stock in Dippity Do gel.

We’re sticklers for details… when it comes to skating.
Should our arms be on a 45 degree angle or straight up? Is it open palm or closed fist? Should our spirals aim to be 45 degrees higher than our bodies or 48? Does the arm change happen on five, six, or between the two counts?

We constantly ask questions and clarify arm placements, holds, under cuts and counts of music. We can tell you exactly what direction our heads should be facing at each beat in the program, whether  stretch or tuck on our mohawks and the exact moment in the program our expression changes from over-the-top happiness to dark and mysterious. 

But ask me where I saved that all important file at work or who starred in the recent James Bond movie? Pfft. I haven’t  a friggin’ clue.

We bitch about skating, but at the end of the day, we really, really do love it.
Sometimes, we like to complain. Be it a bad practice, a snarky comment from a tired team mate, a fall during competition or unfair judging, we sometimes let our emotions get the better of us and end up in a full-fledged rant to whoever is willing to listen.

While we can sometimes complain about the sport, deep down many of us feel more at home on the ice than anywhere else. 

It’s a place to exercise, connect with people who truly understand why you’re crazy enough to get up at 4:50 a.m. for a Saturday morning practice and a way of feeling as though you’ve accomplished something. For me, there’s no greater feeling than stepping off of the ice after a great skate knowing we laid out everything we had. Well, except winning a gold medal.

Oh, for those of you who are still trying to figure out what the hell this synchronized skating is all about, here’s one of the best teams in Canada at a recent competition. Happy watching!

Perspective: Time

The past few days have been a bit overwhelming.
Mike and I are moving tomorrow, our house closes in just over a week and I’m heading out to Victoria, BC for my second and final three-week residency as part of getting my BA in Professional Communication on April 27.
I also hit the ice for the first time in ages and surprised the hell out of myself by making an adult skating team earlier this week. However, all of these things combined don’t take up half the space in my mind as my Dad has the last little while.
Perhaps it’s because Sunday was the anniversary of my sister and I finally laying him to rest in Scotland, where his ashes were scattered with his Dad’s and Mum’s. Whatever it is, he seems to constantly be on my mind, more so than usual.
When I think about my Dad, I usually think about time.
In the initial days and months after he died, I remember trying to bargain with whatever greater power was listening to just have five more minutes with him. In my naivety as a 24-year-old broken-hearted, grieving daughter, I decided at one point it would be worth giving up the next 40 years of my life – yes, 40 years – if it meant I could talk to him just one more time.
In the moment, I meant it with every morsel of my being. Now, hindsight and a little perspective have allowed me to see how ridiculous I was for wishing my life away.
Some days, I feel like the last time I spoke to him was 100 years ago. These are usually the same days I torture myself by thinking about how I’m slowly forgetting him.
Other days, it’s almost as if I’m right at his bedside at Sunnybrook. His room – if you could call it that – was dark and gloomy. The unit had patient beds lining the windows and a “pod” of beds in the middle separated by curtains and concrete bricks painted a light colour. I remember how much it really bothered me that he didn’t have a window. The only light that ever touched his face was the glow of the monitors beside his bed that beeped every few seconds.
I can feel the cool air of the unit, the smell of plastic and hand sanitizer, and the sound of other families praying, crying and whispering at their loved one’s bedside. One night before we let him go, I crawled onto his hospital bed and lay beside him. I remembered him cuddling with me as a little girl many times, usually in an attempt to comfort me after a nightmare. It was my turn to comfort him.
When I think about it hard enough, I can still feel the crispy hospital blankets on my arms and his stiff pillow under my head. I grabbed my iPod, put an ear bud in each of our ears and played Joe Cocker’s ‘You Are So Beautiful’. I can still feel my Dad’s warm hand in mine as I held it tight, desperately wishing he would squeeze it back.
Right up until his accident, he’d tell me how this was “our” song. Once in a while, I’d even get a voicemail about it. His voice shaking from trying to hold back tears, he’d tell me that it came on the radio and it reminded him of rocking me as a baby. He always ended by telling me how proud he was to be my Dad.  
These days, it’s like no time has passed at all.  But I know otherwise.
He’s been officially “home” for a year; this July he’ll have been gone three years; in 21 years, he’ll have been gone from my life longer than he was a part of it. I know it sounds like a long time, but the past three years have flown by and it seems time picks up speed the older I get.
I’d be lying if I said that during the past 978 days since he took his last breath that I hadn’t wished for him to come back at least once.  I know it’ll never happen regardless of how many years of my own life I’d trade. (Thankfully, I’ve grown out of this bargaining phase….)
This time without him has allowed me to see that life continues to move forward, even if I insist on standing still. Since that fateful day in July, I found strength I didn’t know I had and I finally feel like 
I’m keeping pace with my life instead of watching it go by – it’s almost, dare I say it, empowering. I’m in control once again and for a control freak someone like me, that’s a big deal.
My siblings and I talk often about all of the things he’s going to miss – weddings, birthdays, Christmases, grandkids, and graduations. But just because he’s going to miss those things doesn’t mean we have to, too. 
Although I’d give almost anything to have my Dad back, I can’t spend the rest of my life wishing time away and looking backwards. Aging is a gift that you only get through living and I know too many people who have been denied this privilege.
If I learned one thing from my Dad, it’s to enjoy every second and live every moment just like he did. For him, it came in the form of spontaneous road trips, random trips to the Bulk Barn, meeting after work for appetizers and cheap beer, singing with his band, and loving his kids.
For me, it means following in his footsteps and doing what makes me happy. Today, it comes in the form of playing AC/DC in my office and remembering the last time I saw him sing. Tomorrow, maybe it’ll mean finally getting back to writing that memoir I started six months ago… Or maybe not.
One day at a time.

The Glory Days Are (Officially) Back!

At around 9:30 last night, after refreshing my inbox over 500 times during the course of the day, the email from Ice Fyre finally arrived. When I opened it and read the second line, I nearly cried from excitement:

The Ice Fyre Coaching staff are proud to offer you a position on the Ice Fyre Adult II Team for the 2013-2014 season.
After an eight-year break and having convinced myself I’d never be able to skate again, I’m officially on a synchronized skating team. I feel like a kid on Christmas morning.
Given how many people were at the second try out, I was worried about my chances – there were only 20 spots and many of the skaters were really talented. The email itself said the decisions were difficult. I certainly didn’t envy the position the coaches were in.  
That being said, I can’t begin to describe how elated I am to be part of the skating world again.
The past two weeks have reignited a flame I thought had long burnt out and it really does feel amazing.
I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the girls I skated with before and meeting the new members of our team.
With three competitions planned for the 2013/2014 season not including nationals, we have a lot of work ahead of us and I can’t wait to get started. Our practices begin in August so that gives me plenty of time to come back down to earth from cloud nine and get myself in shape.
Bring on the skating tights, blisters, Sunday night practices, run-throughs of the program just “one more time”, competition buns, sparkles, and Peterborough Petes hockey parties memories.
Look out synchro world – Whitby Ice Fyre’s Adult Team is ready to top the podium!

Reliving The Glory Days: Round 2

Last night, we had our second of two skating try outs for Whitby Ice Fyre’s adult team.
Since our first session last week, I’ve been thinking nonstop about the possibility of skating again. I’m borderline obsessed.
On Saturday, I went to a figure skating store to buy tights and gel socks. I’m a serious figure skater after all – tights and gel socks are necessities.  
Although I knew exactly what I was looking for, I found myself wandering around the store touching the skating dresses, fiddling with the sparkles, playing with scrunchies, and trying out the skating 
After 15 minutes, I finally went up to the cash and word vomited all over the poor cashier about how excited I was to skate again “because, like, it’d been so long”. He politely nodded while he rang me through but the look in his eyes said it all – this woman is I-N-S-A-N-E.
All day before the try out, I had nervous butterflies. I thought about what I was going to wear, what time I should leave, I Google-mapped my route even though I’d been there 100 times, and set my skating bag by the door.
I tried on two different outfits and I hummed to myself while I did my make-up – yes you read that correctly. 
As I brushed my hair, I began to laugh uncontrollably. Tears streaming down my face and my make-up essentially ruined, I realized I just did my make up before a skating practice. I barely have time to do my hair and make-up before work but here I am applying mascara and eye liner before a work out. Apparently my inner poptart isn’t totally gone. I’m not sure whether to be embarrassed or proud.  
(Photo credit: Britta)
When I arrived at the arena, I felt at home again. Even the sight of the Zamboni resurfacing the ice gave me goosebumps. (what?!)
The cool, crisp air was almost intoxicating and this time, I felt more in control and more confident in my ability. 
Although I struggled with some of the movements we were asked to do, I felt like I was on a high. In fact, skating last night almost made me delusional.

It wasn’t until this morning that I thought about some of the things we were asked to practice and realized that I probably didn’t execute them as well as I thought I did in my mind. Field moves like Ina Bauers and spirals were much more challenging than I ever remember them being.

In my mind, my spiral looked something like this:
From everyone else’s perspective, this was probably more accurate:

… But less canine and more human. You get the idea.
I think there must have been something in the air. Or perhaps I’ve just become a full blown addict.
As soon as I got off the ice, my muscles began to ache and fatigue started to set in – I loved every second of it. With my 2003 Gold Medallion competition CD cranked the entire way home, I realized how badly I wanted to make the team. 
I know I have a long way to go to reach even half of the level I was at before in terms of flexibility, confidence, skills and strength but I’m committed to doing it and know I can bring myself to reach a level of ability that would allow me to a great member of the team. Let’s hope the coaches agree.
We were told offers will be emailed over the next day or so I’ve been patiently waiting for mine and haven’t given it a second thought. 
Who am I kidding, I’m (nearly) pulling my hair out. I hate waiting for things. In fact, I may or may not have refreshed my inbox 276 times already waiting for the message….
Stay tuned!

Reliving The Glory Days

Last night, I had a chance to relive the glory days. 
No, I’m not talking about the “high-school Alyshia” glory days. I’m talking about reconnecting with my first love: skating. 
France 2004
Back in the day, I was a competitive synchronized skater with Whitby Ice Fyre. A member of Team Canada for two years, our junior competitive synchronized skating team competed both locally and internationally, representing Canada at two competitions in Europe. 
Our 20-member team was like a sorority – minus the Greek letters and secret handshake. We were all very different but were united by the one thing we all had a passion for: synchronized skating. (Well, that and hockey players.)
We partied together, we cried together, we succeeded together, we lost together. I formed lasting friendships with many of the girls I skated with – one of them was even a bridesmaid in my wedding. 
Just another practice circa 2005
The year I stopped skating to pursue college, the fees were several thousand dollars and the time commitment had reached upwards of 20 hours a week. I never thought I’d be crazy enough to skate again have the opportunity to be part of a team again.  But when I found out a few girls I used to skate with were hosting an open session to gauge interest in a potential adult team, I was more excited than I expected.
It took me a few days to locate my skates and after sharpening the rust off of them (literally), I was ready to go. I hadn’t been on the ice in over six years, but somehow convinced myself I’d be able to do it.
Last night, reality began to sink in. When I walked into the arena, my cheeks flushed and my heart raced. What the hell was I doing here? What if I made a total fool of myself? I wasn’t even sure I’d remember how to stand on the ice, let alone skate.
The second I stepped on the ice, my anxiety and fear disappeared – I felt at home. The cool air nipped at my cheeks as I began warming up and I realized how good it felt to just skate.
Our signatures are still in our old change room
Standing on the ice with some of the girls I skated with eight years ago, it was like no time had passed at all. As we worked through different warm ups and skills, my mind wandered to memories of three-hour practices, the competitions, sneaking out to buy alcohol in Paris, and sharing secrets, tears and laughs.  
It felt like nothing had changed…. until I woke up this morning and realized time had changed one thing: my body’s ability to bounce back after a skating session.
I could barely swing my legs over the side of my bed. I’m sore in places I didn’t realize I had muscles. Evidently over the past eight years, my body has taken a bit of a turn for the worse and doesn’t recover from a work out like it used to when I was 18. I feel like I have a skating hangover. The crazy part is I can’t wait to do it again.  
I was proud I managed to make it through the hour-long session with only four blisters and without falling – on the ice at least. I did take a tumble (read: face plant) in the change room afterwards – evidently I need to get used to my toe picks again.
So, I’m looking forward to the session again next week, joining the team in August and making new memories…. Unless of course I don’t make the cut, in which case I’ll just tell everyone I decided against skating after all. 
Stay tuned!