Cross On Over

The rink at Orbit Skate Center

The rink at Orbit Skate Center

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about learning how to do crossovers, kind of. I was able to wrap my brain around putting one skate in front of the other, but I was still unable to convince myself to pick up that opposite foot and plant it next to the crossing one. It just really takes a lot to trick yourself into believing crossing your feet while moving in roller skates is a good thing to do. I practiced again at Start Out last Saturday, but still couldn’t pull them off. That was a good class though, because we learned how to do plough stops and skate backwards, both of which came easier to me than I thought they would.

But I was still disappointed about my crossovers. I wanted to nail them, and get faster, like I was told I would once I learned them. Lucky for me, there was Steve.

Steve teaches a speed skating class several times a week at Orbit Skate Center, the rink I went to after work on New Years Eve. I’ve known about this class for a long time now, after a woman named Sherry at Derby Lite let me know she goes sometimes. However, the times the class is offered are from 8-10 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, or Saturday mornings at 7:30. Since the rink is by my office, it would mean staying in the ‘burbs for several hours on a weeknight before class, or getting up hella early to drive there on a day when I wouldn’t normally have to. Still, I wanted to go, so this past Monday I packed my skates and my laptop and took them to the office. I hung out at a coffee shop and got some writing done before going to the rink.

There was a birthday party going on when I showed up a little early, so I changed in the locker room and put my laptop, bag, and coat into a small locker. I carted my suitcase containing my skates and parked myself at a cafeteria table. As the place cleared out, a guy came up to me and asked if I was there for the speed class. I said I was, and we introduced ourselves. Steve is 32 and has been skating since he was 9 — not speed skating the whole time, but he’s been coaching people in it for the last 10 years.

When I walked onto the rink in gym shoes, I was one of four adults: Me, Steve, a woman maybe a few years older than me, and a man older than Steve. The rest were a handful of children. I felt a little disappointed, because the last time I’d skated at Orbit, that afternoon New Years Eve, I’d struggled to dodge kids and felt anxious about knocking into them. I shrugged it off. We ran some laps, did some stretches, and then laced up.

Immediately it became clear to me that those kids all skated much faster than me, by far. And they were all doing crossovers, without a second thought to how terrifying each one was to me as an observer.

We did some drills as a group, and Steve simultaneously took it easy on me while also improving my form and giving me instruction with each attempt. He was a good teacher and didn’t seem lazily annoyed with me the way my coach at WCR had (justifiably) been. He guessed immediately I was starting out in roller derby and that I didn’t quite have the hang of crossovers yet.

After class, he offered to stay to help me and one of the kids, one-on-one. He had me skate on one foot for as long as I could while he did a drill with the boy, and after the boy left, he asked me if I wanted to give crossovers a try. It was past 10 p.m. by then and I had a 30-minute drive home, but the answer was still yes, of course.

We made a lap, and when I still faltered, he took a new approach. He had me stand mid-rink, on a foot-tall green, painted line that stretched from end to end of the floor. He had me walk sideways along the line, putting my right foot across the left, over and over. My feet got used to the motion after a sideways pass across the rink like that, and then we skated another lap.

I crossed my right foot over my left and stepped into it all the way, just like I had on the line — only I was moving in a circle, fast. The move made me go faster. I lifted my arms in celebration, and nearly fell over. I crossed over again and again, skating faster than I could quite handle and feeling invincible. I thanked Steve.

While on a break at some point, the boy who stayed late, who was maybe 11 or 12, told me I seemed afraid to fall. He encouraged me to do so. I laughed, but I knew what he meant. I’m sure he’s right. I’ve fallen slightly a handful of times, but I still haven’t had my first actual, full-speed, feet-out-from-under-me FALL fall. I guess it shows. The other speed skaters all wore helmets and wrist guards, but I was alone in my knee/elbow pads and mouth guard. I must have looked silly, but as Steve said, I’m ready to fall. I’m prepared for it. Just not in my mind.

I plan on going back to Orbit for more speed skating, but I need to find a time that’s best. Monday nights would have been good, but my friend Gina and I are about to start recording six weeks’ worth of podcast episodes on Mondays. Tuesdays will have to do, unless I want to make some Saturday morning concessions.

The funny thing is, my uncle knows Steve and some of the other speed skaters at Orbit. He once designed a skin suit for Team Rainbo, the skating team that practices there. I guess the speed skating community is tight-knit, spanning states and regions. It’s a small world.

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