Gold Medal Dreams? Learning to Ice Skate at Age 38

When I was a kid, I loved watching figure skating during the Winter Games. Katerina Witt and Debbie Thomas, Oksana Baiul and Surya Bonali. Their skating programs were so beautiful they would bring tears to my eyes as my mom and I would sit together and watch their amazing jumps, leaps, and spins.

But, dreams of gold medals were not for me. I was purely a spectator. There were no ice rinks near where I grew up, and more importantly, I am what you might call a non-athlete. When God handed out hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills, I must have been in the wrong line. But my kids, on the other hand, have been graced with athleticism that surely comes from their father, because goodness knows it doesn’t come from me. One of the sports they love is ice skating. So I’ve spent the last five years taking my kids to the ice rink for skating lessons and practices. I still love watching it just as much as I did when I was a kid watching on T.V.

Watching is amazing. Doing? For me, that is significantly less than amazing.

When I take my girls skating, my 8-year-old (who is in freestyle lessons) is practicing pretty spins and jumps. My 4-year-old says, “Race ya, mom!” and zips off to the other end of the rink before I’ve traveled about five feet. When I pick her up from lessons, her teachers say things like, “She owned that class!” or “She was killing it today!” For my girls, ice skating is natural, easy, fun, and graceful. But for me, ice skating is awkward, uncomfortable, challenging, and far from graceful.

I tell my kids all the time that if you practice at something, you’ll get better at it. I figure I should walk the talk.

Even if that means a very awkward and uncomfortable walk. So, I decided to enroll in beginner “learn to skate” lessons at age 38.

Gold medal dreams? Learning to ice skate at age 38

In my years of watching skate lessons on Saturday mornings, I’ve noticed that usually there are only one or two adult beginners slipping and sliding awkwardly on the ice. At my first lesson, there were 10 adult beginners. Most of them looked like they were way more comfortable on the ice than me. Throughout our 30 minute class, I was firmly in the bottom two.

After listening to me talk and joke about my ice skating antics that afternoon, my son’s face got serious and he said to me, “Mom, not everybody is good at everything. Some people have to work really hard to be even a little bit good at certain things. I think that might be you with ice skating. You’re going to have to work really hard to be even a little bit good.”

That bit of wisdom from my 10-year-old sounded to me like it was hard-won from things that he works really, really hard at to be even a little bit good.

It made me think about all the things we ask our kids to try and learn. Those things don’t always come easily, but we make them keep trying and practicing.

So, again, trying to walk that talk about practicing, I spent my Friday lunch break practicing at the ice rink, determined that I would not be quite so bad at my second lesson. And it helped; I felt like I was doing a lot better. I could do what was being asked of me most of the time, albeit slower than most people. Then, I had to laugh at myself because my “better” was still far from good. One of my instructors skated up to me with a sort of perplexed look and said, “What you are doing…it’s not wrong but it looks so stiff and uncomfortable when you do it. But…not wrong. I suppose that is what’s important. Continue!”

“What you are doing…it’s not wrong but it looks so stiff and uncomfortable when you do it. But…not wrong. I suppose that is what’s important. Continue!”

I kept up my weekly practice and next time, my comments from the instructor got a little better, “Look, your technique is perfect. You know how to do this. You just don’t have any confidence and you are scared. I can teach you technique, but I can’t teach you confidence. You just have to work on that yourself. But, you are doing it right and the confidence will come with time.” My takeaway from that was that even though I may have been one of the slowest in the class, I wasn’t completely awful. For someone with my level of coordination, I counted that as a win.

By week four, I actually started having fun in class. They had us skate back and forth a bit, assessing skills, before breaking us out into two groups. I was definitely put in the “you’re kind of terrible at this” group. But I told my kids after, “I was the best of the worst.” And, actually it was really helpful to be put in a group where I was able to work at my pace and ability level and take the time to figure things out before getting rushed on to the next step with the more coordinated folks.

At this point, I’ve got four more lessons to go. Though there’s not a chance in the world that I’ll ever be gold-medal-good, I am working really hard to be a little bit good. And it’s making a difference–I’m much more comfortable on the ice than I was a month ago.

More than that, I think it’s really good for me to be a beginner sometimes. Especially at something I’m kind of terrible at.

Why? Because it reminds me to give a little grace to other people–my kids, my coworkers, my husband, whoever. I’m reminded to be patient when I’m getting frustrated with someone struggling to do something “easy.” What seems easy to me might be the thing that they are working really hard to be even a little bit good at. And if my very talented ice skating instructors can put a smile on while they attempt to teach one of their worst students how to not look like a fool on the ice, then I can put a smile on and pull out my extra reserves of patience, too.

Have you tried to learn something new as an adult that most people learn as kids? What was it? How did it go?

We’d love to hear about your adventures as a beginner in the comments!


Laura is a mom of three who works full-time from home as a Development Director for a children’s charity. Laura grew up in Maryland, spent her 20s living in Southern California and South Carolina, and has spent her 30s and now 40s in Iowa, moving to Iowa City in 2010. Laura loves dancing, reading, baking, and music. She and her husband Ryan started dating in college (gasp – over 20 years ago!) and they have been sharing life’s adventures ever since. Their biggest adventure is, of course, parenthood. With three kids, the action is non-stop - which is just the way Laura likes it.


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