Epiphanies grow from joyful movement

What over 10 years of skating have taught me

My seventeenth birthday was a Friday, which meant I had to (got to, really) spend my evening at Center Ice Arena. At this point I had been skating for almost eight years, had been a junior coach for a year or so and occasionally got to teach my own classes of toddlers how to get on the ice and try not to fall.

Anyways, my seventeenth birthday, Friday. My boyfriend, we’ll call him Larry, was a dick. The morning of my birthday, I got all cute, curled my hair, did my makeup, picked out a great outfit and was ready for everyone to pay me the bit of attention I believed I deserved. I went into my first block of the day and class began. Larry was supposed to be there, but he was not.

Disappointed, I looked down at my phone to see a text from him telling me to go outside the class. You can imagine the excitement bubbling inside me anticipating what may have been in store.

And there he was standing against the wall adjacent to the restroom, stupid electric skateboard in hand, staring at his phone. No flowers, no balloons, no present and no card, Larry just had the stupid skateboard. He didn’t look up or acknowledge me until I was standing right next to him.

His careless hello and no mention of my birthday sent a shock through my system. It wasn’t like we’d been together for only a few weeks and he didn’t know when my birthday was. We had even made plans weeks in advance for the next day we would celebrate. Then nine words filled the space between us like a thick fog that turned day into night: “Hey, so you’re not doing enough for me — sexually.” But that also meant that I wasn’t good enough for him, period.

My heart sank, with good reason. The tears from my eyes and nonchalance from Larry poisoned my day. And there was still no happy birthday from Larry. What followed was a panic attack where Larry was forcibly removed from grasping my arm, a conversation with a guidance counsellor about what could be fixed in me “not being enough (sexually)” and one more panic attack. And still, I had received no happy birthday from my boyfriend.

The rest of the day, I felt like no one cared, like no one wanted me around.

But the day had to go on, and I had skating students to coach. Later, I got to the rink and played games with my toddlers, picked them up when they fell and watched a few skate toward me without my help. I had a lesson with my own coach and skated around helping and just hanging out with some of the other kids and junior coaches, numb.

My mood had improved a little, but I still felt like shit. I told a few of the girls skating with me I was going to take my skates off and head out, but they asked me to come with them. I followed them into the café — “warm room” as we called it — and they sat me down at one of the tables.

Right in front of me, there was a container with a two-layered chocolate cake slathered with chocolate icing and “happy birthday Sarah” written in green. The girls began to sing happy birthday. I had no idea they knew it was my birthday, or that they cared enough to make me a cake.

They did care. Everyone at the rink cared. If I wasn’t cared for by Larry, I was cared for by the people I skated with. “Happy birthday Coach Sarah” everyone announced, and happy birthday played throughout the building. Every feeling I had from the day, of not being worthy or enough, dissipated for just a moment.

Now that I am 21, I’ve had time to process everything from high school. Larry is long gone, and I no longer live in California or work as a coach. But holy crap I miss it — not the Larry part, God, not that part.

I never realized just how much my rink and the sport of figure skating meant to me. When I was sad, I would go for a skate. When I was happy, I went for a skate. Whenever I had good news, the people at the rink were the first ones I wanted to tell.

In October of 2020, I was in a bad car accident and nulled the thought of skating ever again. But six months later, the head coach asked me to come back as a full-time coach. The joy I felt the next year was monumental. I was at the rink every day, sometimes for 10 hours a day, teaching and watching my skaters grow in the sport. The excitement we felt when they mastered a skill and the rush of adrenaline from my students’ competitions felt like nothing I can thoroughly explain in words.

I got to work with so many kids of different ages and abilities and now that I’m away from it, I want it back. It was fantastic money for a job that didn’t feel like work. It was home.

Don’t let go of your happy place. Being on the ice made me feel invincible, safe and most importantly, wanted.

Do what makes you happy in life. I may be getting a degree in criminology, but all I want to do is play “Baby Shark” on repeat and have toddlers glide their little feet across the ice toward me every day until they don’t need my guidance anymore.