Not too late to skate


Skaters pass in front of the Christmas tree at the MassMutual Pittsburgh Ice Rink at PPG Place Downtown. (Photo by Christian Snyder | Contributing Editor)

By Sarah Connor, Staff Writer

Kristen Steffes was sprawled facedown on the surface of the choppy, snowy ice at the outdoor Schenley Park Skating Rink.

The first-year biology and gender studies double major shrieked with laughter as her night of ice-skating started off with a bang — actually, it was more like a thud. She got back on her feet with the help of her friend, first year Emily Vith, Friday night. The two laughed at the imprint Steffes made, comparing it to a tape-outlined body print at a crime scene.

“I don’t think I’ve been skating since middle school, so that might explain why I toppled over,” Steffes said.

This comment led the girls — old friends of mine — to reminisce about their days as middle schoolers in the suburban Pittsburgh area, when an ice-skating rink was the place to be on the weekend.

“The only thing kids did on Friday nights in middle school was go skating at the Robert Morris Arena — we thought we were so cool,” Vith said.

Growing up in one of Pittsburgh’s many suburbs, I also experienced these Friday night skate sessions. Days when I went ice skating became the highlight of middle school for me. I was a quiet kid who preferred individual activities like reading, running, more reading and, of course, ice-skating.

Starting at the age of 9, I was a competitive figure skater. I competed with the Pittsburgh Figure Skating Club, which is part of the U.S. Figure Skating Association, and was based out of the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center.

As a shy, awkward student in middle school, I didn’t get much of an opportunity to show off and feel confident. But when it became a trend to go skating after a long week at school, it was my time to show off my skills.

Pittsburghers skate at the Schenley Park Skating Rink Thursday evening. (Photo by Christian Snyder | Contributing Editor)

And now, the night I made an appearance at the Schenley Park Skating Rink and encountered Vith and Steffes, I was going to try and make a comeback after being off the ice for more than six years. My career came to an abrupt halt when I had to make a decision between pursuing lacrosse or figure skating during my first year of high school. Figure skating is a very expensive sport to pursue, so my decision went to the sport with the smaller price tag — lacrosse. But after all this time, I was surprised that some of my skating skills stuck, and I wasn’t tripping and falling all over the place that night.

Enjoying a night of ice-skating isn’t too hard in the Pittsburgh area. It’s ridiculous that it took me so long to get back on the ice. There are plenty of rinks for recreational skating, including indoor rinks for year-round skating and outdoor rinks for colder months. Aside from my former training rink at home, other indoor rinks include the Ice Center in Mt. Lebanon, the Alpha Ice Complex in Harmar — the official home of the Pitt Panther club hockey teams — and the Pittsburgh Ice Arena in New Kensington. Outdoor rinks other than Schenley Park can be found in North Park, South Park and, of course, the MassMutual Pittsburgh Ice Rink at PPG Place Downtown during the holiday season.

Back in the day, I performed at the Downtown rink yearly. During the popular Light Up Night, the RMU ISC skaters perform a piece from the annual Christmas show. I remember performing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and dressing up as a Who from Whoville. Crazy tights, fluffy skirts, thick knit scarves and ridiculous hairstyles were a staple of this show.

We performed a medley of songs from the movie “The Polar Express” for my last year appearing at the rink. I wore an elf costume and skated to “Rockin’ On Top of The World,” a song Steven Tyler recorded for the film.

That was one of the last times I performed as a figure skater. The holidays passed, spring came and I had made my decision to hang up the skates.

Skaters pass in front of the Christmas tree at the MassMutual Pittsburgh Ice Rink at PPG Place Downtown. (Photo by Christian Snyder | Contributing Editor)

But I was happy to pick those old skates back up last Friday. As it neared midnight, the lights of the businesses near the rink dimmed and the only skaters remaining were groups of teenagers, college students and couples. The rink was clearing out, and I knew this was my moment to see if I could pull off any of my old spins and jumps.

“You sure you want to skate? There’s only a half an hour left,” the cashier at the counter said.

Of course, I was sure I wanted to skate.

So I took to the ice. I was sure I couldn’t whip out combination jumps like I used to, but it still felt amazing to simply glide across the ice. It was almost therapeutic for me. Circling the giant Christmas tree, wearing the very same seven-year-old pair of Jackson Competitor skates I had on the last time I performed there, I turned on my edges. I went backward, then forward, then started hopping around, wondering if I could still jump.

I gave it a go — I wound up into the jump, planted my toe at the angle and took off. I could only manage one rotation, but that was still more than I had done in a while. I landed it. Not only did I land, but I exited the jump smoothly, with great form.

Somehow, no time had gone by. I was 14 again, “Rockin’ On Top of The World” was playing and I had just landed my solo.

I always felt like if I went to college far away from Pittsburgh, I would come back to places like this feeling nostalgic. It turns out I never even had to leave. All it took to get that feeling back was lacing up my old skates and getting back on the ice.