How Otto the Visionary Became a Well-Rounded Person

Several years ago when we were the mommies of much littler littles, a friend of mine asked me for some mommy advice. My friend grew up in Upstate New York, where winters are bitter cold and ponds form thick ice. Now that she found herself raising her own children in Central Illinois where winter can be bitterly cold for days at a time, and frozen ponds can sometimes be a touch unpredictable, she was looking for a place to teach her children the crucial life skill of ice skating. Exasperated at having to sign them up for lessons at a nearby ice arena, she shook her head and said, “Well I guess that’s just what you have to do so your kid can learn to skate. I mean, how did you learn?”

My friend was truly shocked when I answered, “I didn’t.”

I’m no human locomotion expert, but I think the guy in the yellow pants is just about to bite it on the ice. January Scene, 1820, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

My family had a box of ice skates in various sizes shoved away in the basement, in case we ever happened upon a good thick patch of ice. As far as I can remember we never did. And though my town didn’t have an indoor (or outdoor) ice rink, we lived about thirty miles from a town that did have one. I remember attending an ice skating party one time. Or it might have been twice.

That was it. That’s the only experience I’d ever had with ice skating. Sure there were hockey leagues in the next town and I had friends whose families made the effort to get plenty of ice time. But we weren’t that family. I didn’t mind a bit. When I did make it out onto the ice, I mostly just fell. A lot.

No. I mean, A LOT. I think I made it around the entire rink one full time, death grip on the wall the entire way, before I gave up with very cold tears streaming down my cheeks.

I can honestly say that I never felt myself disadvantaged by my lack of this particular skill. Clearly there is a cultural difference between my friend and me. Ice skating is a skill she views as essential to becoming a well-rounded individual. It’s important to her.

It was also important to the people of Southern Finland as much as 4000 years ago. Historians believe that’s when someone (let’s just call him Otto the Visionary) first decided sliding across the slippery ice on a thin set of blades was probably a good idea. And it might have been, because according to human locomotion expert, Federico Formenti, the savings in energy and time while traveling on foot among the many lakes in the southern portion of Finland, might have been well worth the effort it took Otto to strap a couple of animal bones to his shoes.

Just saving some time, taking a shortcut across the ice. photo credit: R.A. Killmer How is this possible? via photopin (license)

The ice skate has, of course, been improved since those early years. Skating spread through much of Europe and by the 17th century had become a beloved cold weather activity spawning skating clubs, competitions, and innovations that soon distinguished the sports of speed and figure skating. Then in the 19th century, Canadians started playing ice hockey. It’s anyone’s guess what they did before that. Curling, perhaps?

Despite the wide range of ways to enjoy the sport, and even though I do become an expert on figure skating every four years as I comment “knowledgably” about the slight wobble on the landing of the otherwise flawless triple axel that will surely cost the favored skater the gold, I don’t feel the need to participate.

Evidence. Sorry it’s so blurry. That’s bound to happen when you just landed a sick triple axel. Or when you hand your 12-year-old your phone and say, “Take a picture of me looking awesome!”

Except this past weekend when I did. My twelve-year-old son, who has been skating a few times (and is obviously a more well-rounded individual than his mother), had the opportunity to go skating with a youth group he’s a part of. And because I’m super lucky, I got assigned as a chaperone for the outing.

When I chaperone, I generally like to participate. I get to know the youth better when I do, we share some laughs and make some memories. Fun is had. Trust is built. That’s all well and good. But remember the death grip on the wall and the cold tears streaming down my cheeks? I do. And I did.

I admit I was scared, but my son wanted me to give it a go so I decided I would. Sure I fell a few times, bruising both my hip and my dignity a little, and if I’m being perfectly honest, there was probably a slight wobble on the landing of my triple axel. But for a kid from Illinois, who has never felt the need to conserve energy or time by strapping blades to my shoes and sliding across the ice, I think I did okay. And, I’m probably now a more well-rounded person. Maybe even a visionary.


11 thoughts on “How Otto the Visionary Became a Well-Rounded Person

  1. Congratulations on your slight wobbly landing. I have never ice-skaticated, but ski-ed once. From the top of the slope I took off at a thousand miles an hour downhill, and being unable to stop, I ploughed through the large line of people waiting to get onto the ski lift. They scattered in all directions and I crashed (unhurt) into the wall of the ski lodge.

    1. Well, I suppose we can’t all be well-rounded people, but unhurt sounds like success to me! I am a much better skier than ice skater, though I’ve also had my share of spectacular crashes.

  2. Donna Volkenannt

    Kudos to you for being so brave! And to your 12-year old for taking the photo of you being awesome while he was skating backwards.

  3. I did lace on my sister’s skates once and walked across the carpet a step or two on the spindle thin blades. Why anybody would want to don a coat, hat, gloves, etc., to “have fun” just doesn’t make sense to me. Besides, I am perfectly able to fall off kitten-heeled sandals while walking on perfectly good concrete sidewalks, which I can do in the summer, so when I feel the need to break myself, I have that to fall back on.

  4. I love that you put on those skates for the love of your son. It’s funny what our kids get us to do quite unknowingly and we learn so much from the experience and have fun doing so. Thanks for sharing this special memory

    1. So true! I know we are quickly approaching the days when he will not be so excited to see Mom participate with him. It’s already a little hit or miss. I can’t afford to pass up an opportunity, even if I feel like I am risking life or limb. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I used to love skating, back in the days when Peggy Fleming ruled the ice. I imagined myself doing twirls and jumps when in reality, my abilities never went beyond skating forward, backward, and being able to stop.

    Most of our skating happened on frozen lakes at the Busch Wildlife area, and it seemed there were many days during winter we used them. Oddly, in recent years it seldom stays frigid long enough for a lakes to become a safe skating rink.

    1. You can skate forward and backward? You have me beat! After I posted this, my sister commented that she used to skate all the time on the pond at my grandparents’ farm and two cousins (one from each side of the family) made similar comments. But I’m the baby. My grandpa died before I was skating age and my grandma moved into town. Just one more thing Baby Sarah missed out on. Sigh. I might have been the next Peggy Fleming. Alas, we’ll never know.

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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