December 26, 2009
Every holiday season, I re-watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and every year it both warms and breaks my heart. I can’t help it: I love Charlie Brown’s existential woe, his thwarted attempts to direct the Christmas play, his pitiful little tree, and the way his friends pull together at the end to make it all nice.
Of course, I especially like how the whole thing starts with a wintry skating scene. The Peanuts Gang does an impressive synchro-esque splice right at the beginning. Though Snoopy doesn’t have on a pair of skates, he manages a gorgeous spread eagle (or should I say spread beagle?) After a weaving round of crack the whip, Linus’ blanket somehow gets wrapped around Charlie Brown and flings him into a tree trunk. A pile of snow proceeds to plop on his head. Good grief, I just can’t get enough.
So, naturally, I was thrilled when Charlie Brown himself contacted me a few weeks ago for skating lessons. Turns out he has decided to try and make it to the upcoming Olympics. This has presented me with a dilemma: knowing that Charlie Brown isn’t exactly overflowing with self-confidence, I don’t want to be too discouraging…but.
Well, here’s the first draft of my response.
Dear Mr. Brown,
Thank you for contacting me about my coaching services. I am a big fan of yours. As per your request, I have analyzed the skating footage from the opening scene of your iconic holiday special in order to assess your stated goal of making it to the upcoming Winter Games.
The news is mixed. First, let me say that your ability to skate (and even stand up) amid snowflakes the size of baseballs is impressive and demonstrates a great deal of balance. Second, I have noticed that you are a simple man with simple needs, in terms of equipment. Most competitive skaters these days transport their skates in bags specially designed for optimal performance. Many of these bags even have wheels that put on their own laser light show. Your method of carrying your brown skates old-school style with the laces knotted and looped over your shoulder is unconventional yet refreshing. I presume that since you have no guards over your blades, they are in pretty shoddy condition. I like this: it shows that you are not a diva.
Your costume choices are…interesting. The hat with earflaps is an excellent pick, especially considering that it will be pretty cold up in Vancouver. Your yellow shirt, on the other hand, is a bit problematic: you may want to switch out those zig zags for something with softer lines in a color scheme more flattering to your skin tone.
Your musical selection, by Vince Guaraldi, as rendered by Schroeder, is to be commended.
Now to the skating. Your ability to bellyflop then spin on your stomach with that much momentum tells me that you are more aerodynamic than the size of your head might otherwise suggest. Of course, it is more ideal to rotate in a vertical position, but this is something we can work on.
Granted, in skating, as in life, it’s not always about how much you fall, but your willingness to keep getting up. Unfortunately, I noticed that after you careened into the tree, your recovery was inconspicuously absent from the film.
Before this event, I did spot a few split-seconds of competent gliding on your part. Truthfully, though, you would need many more hours of practice, in fact perhaps thousands of hours of practice, in order to make your Olympic dreams come true. This means that you’ll have to give up your extra-curricular activities, namely your role as the unappreciated Director of the Christmas Play. With all the work we would need to do, you simply don’t have time to be out looking for the most pathetic Christmas tree you can find.
Most importantly, Charlie, you’ll have to make some serious changes in your attitude. Your constant claims of depression and bellyaching about the meaning of Christmas will have to cease immediately. Likewise, statements such as, “Good grief, everything I do turns into a disaster” and “Everything I touch gets ruined,” are not indicative of a gold-medal mentality. Furthermore, you’ll have to wipe that worried look off your face; judges prefer smiles. I urge you to discontinue your use of Lucy’s psychiatric services despite her convenient location right in your path and her bargain price of 5 cents. Instead, I can recommend a few excellent sports psychologists.
This brings me to your mother: I can’t understand a word she is saying! And when I telephoned your teacher to see if we could “tweak” your school schedule in order to get some clear, mid-day ice time, I couldn’t understand her either.
Finally, to make it in this sport, you’ll need to abandon your anti-commercialism stance, as you will probably need corporate sponsorship in order to afford my fees. The good news is that right now several companies happen to be looking for a new athlete for endorsements.
Minor detail: the U.S. National Championships start in about two weeks and you have unfortunately missed all of the qualifying events. However, your association with the legendary, late Charles Schulz could hold some sway with United States Figure Skating.
In all, I think your chances of making it to the Olympics are slim, but I’d hate to say that your goal is impossible. If nothing else, I’m sure your skating career will not pan out any worse than your attempts at becoming a kicker for the NFL. (Again, Lucy’s services might not have been the wisest choice.)
There is some extremely exciting news in all this: while your skating talents are really only mediocre, some of your friends I saw skating on the tape look to have great promise. In fact, Snoopy seems like he could be a real podium climber. If he does not already have another coach, please have him contact me so that we can start training immediately.
Jocelyn Jane Cox
Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays! If you have any advice on this letter or any suggestions I can pass along to him, please click on “comments,” below.
If you haven’t already seen it, check out my article on page 30 of this month’s Skating Magazine. It’s about sibling ice dance teams. I know: it’s shocking that I’d report on that subject…
January 6, 2009
Once an athlete, always an athlete, right? Hmm…unfortunately, this isn’t really the case.
Oh, those muscles, the flexibility, and that cardiovascular strength I took for granted, until they were long gone.
One of the crazy things about growing up as a skater, or perhaps as an athlete of any kind, is that “working out” and being “in shape” were basically byproducts of the larger pursuit. We trained for all those hours and of course did all that off-ice cross-training – weights, stretching, and dance classes – but this focus had very little to do with appearance or even health. It was about getting stronger, faster, better, improving skills in order to maximize our programs (and scores).
When all that is over and done, it’s strange to exercise for exercise’s sake. You want to maintain some semblance of that former shape, yet how to muster the motivation?
Many non-skaters and non-coaches in my life often proclaim, “You’re so lucky to be on the ice, working-out all day!” Granted, it’s true that we coaches probably expend more physical energy than those who are hunched over their computers 40 or more hours per week (exactly what I’m doing at this minute, by the way). Really, though, aside from an occasional (and highly risky) demonstration and some gliding around with students, we’re not “working out” at all. It’s kind of like the jobs I’ve had in retail: you’re on your feet just enough to exhaust you but not quite enough to qualify as exercise.
So, over the years, I’ve dabbled with yoga, pilates, power walking, and ice hockey (more on the latter some other time – the tales on that topic are numerous and entertaining, indeed.) For the last few years, I’ve belonged to that dreaded thing called a GYM: the local YMCA. I visit this gym exactly once per week, no more, no less – once is all I can tolerate.
It’s pretty much drudgery. While there, I lift some barbells so tiny you need a microscope to see them; I fold myself in half on the crunch machine certain I’m contracting lice even through the towel I put under my head; I stretch on the mats trying not to think about germs; I ride o’er hill and vale on the stationery bike; and then I force myself to…drumroll, please… run on the treadmill.
I detest the treadmill. The only way I get through it is thanks to the distracting power of People Magazine. If there isn’t a new edition on the magazine rack, I throw a silent yet violent inner tantrum. All I can do, instead, is watch good ol’ Rachel Ray and The View, in closed captioning on the TV looming above, the words scrolling across the bottom of the screen a few annoying seconds after they’re spoken.
I have to be careful: despite all the skating and the balance you’d think would go along with this sport, I am kind of…well, klutzy. I drop things, spill drinks, and trip over invisible seams in sidewalks. For example, during my latest adventure in homemade soup, I managed to overturn a burning-hot portion of it so that it sizzled its way through my hand. Point is, I’ve had a few mishaps on the treadmill. Think about Lucille Ball, if she were going to visit the gym. That would make a great episode of I Love Lucy, but in real life it’s a source of vague terror and potential embarrassment.
Yet, I force myself. What has made it slightly easier in the last few months (even when People Magazine didn’t come through for me) is that I’ve had a distinct goal: I signed up for the Midnight Run in Central Park, a 4-miler that starts at exactly midnight on New Year’s Eve. I did this wacky run five years ago and it was one of the more memorable New Years of my life. It was time to try it again.
I enlisted four friends to run with me and started “training”. Ha! What I mean is that I started running on the treadmill for 15 minutes then increased that by either one or two minutes every week so that for my last run of 2008 I was up to 29 minutes. In other words, an absolute eternity.
I’m not sure if skaters should run. I tend to think it’s a little too jarring on the knees. It certainly makes mine feel somewhat creaky and this bothers me since one of the main things I coach (and demonstrate) on ice is kneebend. But I was yearning for a goal and a New Year’s plan apart from the usual debauchery.
It’s hard to say what’s more challenging about the Midnight Run: staying awake and pumped for it (thanks Beyoncé) or weathering the cold. Our pre-party at my apartment was like a festival of layering interspersed with uncontrollable bouts of dancing (again, thanks Beyoncé). The temperature this year was 17 degrees and with wind chill the radio said it was going to feel like 5 below – I would have said more like 50 below, but who am I to niggle? The winds were gusting at 25 miles per hour. Eek – it was even colder than the rink! The funny thing is that, once we started running, we discovered that there was lots of ice underfoot. Of course, this caused me to think, I should have brought my skates, har har, a notion I would have shared with the group if I hadn’t been panting so hard.
A particularly tall and handsome member of our running group runs this loop in the park all the time so he was preparing us for what was ahead. “We’re going to go up again, then back down, then flat, then up, then down, then that same thing about three more times, and then we’re done!” He made those next 2,000 miles sound so simple. One member of our group was like a lightening bolt out ahead. I tried to line myself up right behind her to see if I could get any benefits from drafting, like cyclists do. One of us had to stop “to re-tie her sneakers” twice, but everyone saw right through that as a resting ploy (and appreciated it). The fifth member of our group boldly took off his mittens mid-race in defiance of the cold. I was certain his fingers were going to freeze then fall off but they apparently stayed attached.
I guess what I’m getting at here is that it was fun. It was kind of like skating with all those other teams back at the University of Delaware when I was a teenager. It was difficult and sometimes painful, but it felt like we were all in it together. Besides, the long-dormant athlete in me enjoyed having that goal: the finish line. Okay, and also the all-night diner we planned to visit afterwards where they would be serving French fries for as far as the eye could see (or that’s how I was envisioning it, anyway, during that tough patch around mile 3.5).
Will I do the Midnight Run again? Yes. After all, I really like fries…
Happy New Year! Hope you also had an excellent one. What did you do? Leave a comment below.
Thanks to my fellow runners and thanks to everyone for your extremely kind comments in my last installment.
To see some impressive photojournalism and read more scintillating details about the Midnight Run in the words of The Informer (me), click here.
December 24, 2008
(Every once in a while, there comes a time,
When all you can do is, um… rhyme?)
So, here goes:
A little breathless, a little dazed,
Utterly ecstatic and still amazed.
He got down on bended knee,
Opened a tiny gray box with glee.
Rockefeller Rink, snowflakes fell,
Applause from the crowd began to swell.
The tree sparkled and so did the ring,
Of course my heart started to sing.
Yes, I said, drinking happiness, as if from a cup.
He grinned and grinned…then asked if I could help him up.
Thank you to friends and family for your well-wishes. And thank you, Rob, for a night, a dream-like scenario, a brief yet infinite moment I will never forget.
December 16, 2008
Well, you know how much I heart writing this blog, but I’ve gotten caught up in a few thousand other things this week. Like painting ornaments, baking Scottish shortbread cookies (my grandmother’s recipe), and being just generally elf-y.
Above is an example of the ornaments I painted last year. Would you like to purchase one? They are one of a kind, and only $999.99!
Amid all the gift wrapping (and okay, also some rapping), I did this week, I managed to fit in just a bit of writing for other equally wonderful sites…
To read my article for icenetwork about Ann Patrice McDonough and Jonathon Hunt performing with the Rockettes in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, click here.
To read my piece for the Upper East Informer about the joy of gift-giving (especially gifts under $15), click here.
And tune in to Current Skate of Mind next week. Charlie Brown and the Peanuts Gang turn out to be accomplished skaters. Unfortunately, we all know that this sport is all about how you skate on the day of the performance…Good grief.
Finally, here are three holiday jokes that are sure to secure your popularity with kids and adults:
What do santa’s helpers learn in school? The elf-abet.
Why does Santa have three gardens? So he can hoe, hoe, hoe.
How do sheep in Mexico say Merry X-mas? Fleece Navidad.
(Oh, and the way you are shaking your head at me right now? Be careful not to sprain your neck.)
What is your elf-quotient? I’m probably 112 out of 100. Click on “comment” below.