Once in the water, I was in for a shock: I could do everything I used to do. I climbed up the ladder, dove, touched the bottom of the deep end, walked on my hands underwater with my legs straight up in the air. I was mostly shocked by how shocked I was.
“You made that look easy,” my friend said as I surfaced from a dive.
Holy shit, I thought. What else can I still do?
It is no longer the 1980s, and roller discos are sadly uncommon (R.I.P.). But there are more than a hundred ice rinks in Toronto. The public skating sessions are free. You just show up with skates, walk in, and go.
One morning in early December 2018, I exited the subway station, walked past a bunch of smokers, and continued down the cement stairs to find a quiet little ice rink with a fence at one end. I found a warm changing room with benches where I put on my skates. Minutes later I was standing on the ice for the first time. I held the fence and took small, marching steps. Very slightly, my skates glided forward. About an inch.
It was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life.
The guy in hockey skates called out, “Hey, you’re learning!” and told me he was a beginner himself. He looked pretty nimble on the ice, so this gave me hope. I’d signed up for skating lessons that would start in January. My goal was to, maybe, let go of the fence.
As it turns out, my body has some surprising advantages on ice. I’m short and bottom-heavy, giving me a low center of gravity. I gain speed quickly, thanks to my strong, thick legs, and I maintain momentum for a long time, thanks to my weight. My big feet require long blades, adding stability and glide to my skating. If I fall, my bones are well protected. (I do wear knee and head protection. Stay safe, kids.)
Contrary to what I saw on TV growing up, when my mom and I huddled together in her bed to watch Tonya Harding at the Olympics, figure skaters come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. There are tons of adult figure skating competition videos on YouTube to prove it, and even more plus-size adult skaters on Instagram with amazing videos of their jumps and spins.
Finding these images of adults who looked like me, doing the things I desperately wanted to do, helped dissolve the last layer of fear that maybe my body size just meant that I couldn’t.
I can. I do.
I can skate forward and backward, turn, spin, and hop on two feet, glide on one foot, cross one leg over the other, and stop dramatically in a spray of ice. I can crouch down and hug my knees while skating, but I’m still working on shoot the duck. Soon.
It’s just over a year since I first stepped on the ice, and I skate between two and five hours a week. I take lessons once or twice a week, and time off whenever I want to. Once I stayed home for two weeks, for the sheer novelty. Then I went back, because skating is the joy of my life. I’ve located two vending machines that take credit cards, but I have yet to find a functioning snack bar.
I still occasionally swim with a fat friend or two, and most days I get up early to go skating. It does not require any of the discipline I learned to associate with exercise, because it does not feel like work. It feels like play. It’s exploring and goofing off. I approach the rink, the ice like a sheet of frosted glass, and then I’m gliding, slaloming, sliding, the slice of my blades echoing under the arena dome.