I grew up in the Southwest, so ice skating is still a bit of a novelty for me. Out there, you could rollerblade or skateboard, but winter sports were out of the question unless you had enough money to travel.
On the other hand, I’ve always had a soft spot for winter sports, dating all the way back to when I first tuned into the Winter Olympics on our family’s fuzzy television (Salt Lake City, 2002).
It wasn’t until I got the chance to try winter sports for myself that I realized how strongly I loved it. I love feeling the cold chill in the air and being bundled up against it in a much-too-bright athletic jacket and gloves. I love that feeling of my feet flying beneath me across the ice or the snow. I love arriving indoors, breathless and rosy-cheeked, and brewing a cup of tea or coffee or cocoa after a long workout. I’m not great, but I look forward to all of my little wintertime adventures as the days grow colder.
Recently, I returned to the ice after months of absence. As a change from going with friends or family, I decided to challenge my social anxiety by going alone. Many worries flooded me on the way over: Would people stare at me? Would they wonder why I was going alone? Would they take advantage of my vulnerability? Would I run into people I don’t want to see?
Still, the sun shone warmly as I rushed through a neighborhood decorated like a 90’s holiday film, and I found it hard to keep those darker worries on my mind as I drew closer to the rink. Contrary to that commentary in my head, the rink filled with families and their dozens of children. They had more than enough on their own minds than to think about a girl skating by herself.
I did not skate beautifully.
Many times, I skidded, I wobbled, and I fell.
I did this on purpose.
You see, I returned to the rink when I had a realization about myself. For so many years, I have been the sort of person to freeze halfway up a climbing wall or panic when someone I know asks to see me dance or write something for them. I can internalize and vocalize my interests and passions, but some part of me shuts down entirely millimeters before jumping off the cliff that displays them for others to see.
Fear of failure, of messing up, of people seeing me fall after I leap.
Fear that when I am put to the test, I will break like matchsticks.
Unfortunately, this fear has held me back in many areas of my life. It is not the same fear I feel when I’m claustrophobic or when I see a spider; it is a relentless, punishing, ever-present shame. It’s the reason why I say, “I know,” when someone yells at me for being indecisive because I know. No one can yell at or berate or mock me better than myself.
So, after years of agonizing over it, I took the advice of people older and wiser than me and decided to accept failure. I decided that no matter what I did on the ice, I was likely going to fail and fall, just like many before me, and most importantly, just like many of the athletes who learned to push themselves back up and try again. I decided that I wanted to take some risks and earn some bruises and blisters even if I only became marginally better on my skates as a result.
No, everything wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I still had my doubts and of course it got painful at times.
But I felt as though a huge burden had been lifted from my back, one that I had carried for several years without challenging it.
For a few, blissful, beautiful moments where I flew across the ice and felt my skates carry me wherever I needed to go, it was worth it.
Photo credit: Alex Grichenko