Can I still skate? Make sure you check out the video after the blog post!
Here’s an understatement of the year! Growing up as a young gay male figure skater in small town Alberta in the 60’s and 70’s was difficult! In order to make it through each day, at a very young age you learn which bully to avoid and where your safe spaces are. You become a bit of an introvert so as not to draw attention to yourself. You say it’s because you’re shy, but really its because you’re scared! So with all of that reality a huge part of growing up, it made it especially astonishing for me to relive this memory while I was building our outdoor rink.
Edson’s arena was just a 10 minute walk from my house. Winters seemed especially cold and always seemed to have meters and meters of snow when I was in elementary school! I started to skate very young so I still needed my parents to get up at the most ungodly hours to drive me for the early morning practices. I loved skating so it wasn’t as hard to get up at 5 AM as you might think at such a young age. The arena, in so many ways was a sanctuary for me. It was one of those safe spaces, unless there was a hockey practice after us. Then the ‘macho’ guys would be grouped in the bleachers, verbally taunting us while they waited for their ice time to begin. It was uncomfortable to hear the mean words and hateful slang but I could skate to the opposite side and get far enough away I couldn’t hear them anymore. It mattered to me throughout my school years-what they said- but it certainly didn’t matter to Bunny!
Bunny was a local man in his 50’s or maybe 30’s…who knows, I was under 11 so everyone was really old! I’m not sure if he had been a figure skater as a youth or decided to take it up as an adult. Either way, you could tell he really really loved to skate. He’d step to the ice to take his guards off with one hand, the other firmly on the boards. With both hands free, he’d push those first few steps forward and down the ice with the biggest smile on his face. The smile grew even larger as he glided around the corner! At the same time you could see his arms slowly loosen from the sides of his body. He was in heaven as those hands moved freely with a certain amount of drama! There was definitely a strong sense of satisfaction for him while he skated. He wasn’t Olympic quality, but then, none of us were. He just wanted to be out on the ice, with the music playing and like us, feel the freedom this environment afforded him! The rink it turned out was not just a safe space for me, but obviously for him as well.
With COVID messing up our lives and plans this year, we decided to hunker down and make the best of winter. Our plan was to build an outdoor skating rink for fun, but we’d use it as extra cardio exercise as well. It’s been a ton of work for a number of weeks and I could not wait to head out. I even ordered brand new skates for the new rink. The day they arrived, I rushed to open the box and tried them on! Just like I remembered, they were stiff, unbendable, and that felt perfectly normal.
Many a cold day, these past few weeks, I stood on the area we had packed with buckets and buckets of snow, with a garden hose dripping on my gloved hand. When the water didn’t freeze inside the hose, I’d alter between using a wand or sprayer to add more of a mist and lighter spay to make the ice smooth and even. Eventually I had to put on snowshoes together with my hiking boots to keep my body upright because remarkably, the space was beginning to become a slippery rink! I stood there one evening anticipating the first day I would be able to tie up my skates and head out. I was so excited…almost giddy! I was looking forward to playing my music up as loud as possible as I glided across the fresh ice! I could see it…crossover, crossover, turn, turn, arms up! It was going to be incredible. It was at that moment I suddenly realized that I knew exactly how Bunny felt!
There was no reason for me to be the person sitting in the dressing room, trying to be cool with my fellow skaters as we laughed about the old guy who showed up to skate. It was cruel of me, a kid who was constantly being made fun of, to make fun of someone else. All he ever wanted to do was to experience the activity that brought him such joy! It completed a part of him and you could tell from his happiness, it made him feel alive. He showed up each day fearless and resolute. I could see that as a young boy, then, and especially now as I reminisced! Suddenly I realized, today at 61, when I pulled those laces through the eye hooks, tied up my skates and stepped out onto the ice, I am going to be that guy. I am Bunny! I should have known better but I was mean to Bunny for no reason other than that he was different…and for that I am sorry. As I stood there flooding my home rink, I feel guilt and sadness over this tough life lesson. It’s the kind of lesson I have always known, but this moment brought it home so clearly!
No matter our age, we should all find something to bring us such joy! Especially now, during COVID. I hope we all have those moments that are filled with such happiness! I hope you can all step on your “ice” with the same amount of confidence and passion. The negative words, the childish laughter, the hurtful looks, disappear with each push of your blade. We all need to turn up the music, let our arms fly through the air, feel the same freedom as Bunny felt the moment he stepped onto the ice! Skate like no one is watching!