If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read the words: "You have to start figure skating when you're very little", I'd be very rich. Probably even rich enough to skate full-time.
I don't blame the people who think that way. Once upon a time, I thought that way too. That what I had seen, what I had fallen in love with, on the television during the Vancouver Games was something far beyond my reach; that my furtive laps around the local rink were as far as I could ever get.
But there's a growing aspect of the sport that is now starting to become more and more visible, and more and more vocal. You don't have to be a small child to start skating. You just have to be able to stand on the ice - and have the willingness to try.
I have seen this jestingly referred to as Adult Onset Skating Syndrome, and I will readily confess to having a terminal case of it. It's been five years now since I plucked up the courage to ask a coach if she would take me for lessons, and in that five years, I've injured myself in ways I didn't even know were possible (you can sprain your shoulder? This was news to me!), spent more money than I'd like to think about, but more than all of that, I have learned so much that I never thought I would, and found out more about myself than I ever knew before.
Now, let's not go completely crazy here: learning to skate as an adult is a completely different beast to learning to skate as a child. There's a reason the top skaters all started as kids. Kids are fearless and will try anything. Adults are generally more wary, knowing the potentially serious consequences of a bad fall. But in some ways, it is also an advantge: adults often have greater focus and attention spans, and often can also grasp concepts quickly. (Executing them, on the other hand...)
But on the ice, none of that matters. You are equal with everyone else: sweating and straining and pushing yourself beyond your boundaries to make your body do something that it was never designed to do. Throwing yourself at the mercy of judges who have been rigorously trained to pick out your every technique flaw. Feeling the frustration when something just won't click, or worse, something that you have decides to pack up and go on holiday.
Being an adult skater is a completely rewarding experience, and something my life is definitely far more enriched by than I ever could have imagined. It also has the uncanny knack of developing skills you might otherwise be lacking - at least in specific areas. (When I first told my friends what I was doing, they were horrified. I don't blame them. I'm a total klutz.)
The hard work, the sweat, the blood, the tears, that glorious euphoric feeling when something goes right - it's all insanely, hopelessly addictive, to the point that everything winds up revolving around it. Oh, I am sorry, I can't go to dinner this weekend, I have a competition. I'm not going to buy that new pair of shoes, I'm going to put the money towards new blades. Going on a trip to Melbourne? I wonder if I can squeeze in a skate while I'm there?
It is passion, it is joy, it is hatred, it is a thousand feelings all rolled into one. The ice is my boyfriend, and it's such a fickle one at that. He's cheated on me more times than I can count. But like a fool, a lovesick, obsessed fool, I keep going back, and I keep loving it. And I keep learning, and inching my way towards my goals.
So if ever you've had that fleeting thought that you might like to try it, you should. No matter your age, no matter your fitness level, you can learn to skate.
I promise you, you won't regret it. I never have.