I live in Canada's capital and here right in the middle of our city is the Rideau Canal. Often called the world's longest skating rink. People come from far and wide to skate on the canal. I was thinking about the canal yesterday and about skating. I was also thinking about how hard it can be for someone who has been totally blind since birth to learn a sport. When I first was learning to dive in swimming, I would stand on the diving board, put my arms over my head, but then instead of diving in head first, I would jump in feet first. I didn't see how people dove. Just heard the splash. The same thing is true for skating.
My dad had grown up on the prairies.
They had had a back yard rink and he played hockey with his friends all of the time.
When I stood at the side of the outdoor rink, I could hear people wizzing by on skates.
I liked the sound of those skates.
The blades cutting into ice. The rhythmic squeaking and swishing and crunching of those skates.
I listened to the sounds of skating at about age five or six and said to myself that I would love to do that. I also felt these furry pom poms with bells on them and wanted some of those for my skates. I pictured myself with the pom pom bells ringing out like faery bells.The smooth ice under my skates. I had touched the ice with my hands.
Smooth and cold like the glass in the window on a winter morning.
I wanted to do that.
I asked my parents.
Sure I could learn to skate they said.
They took me to the rink.
The ice felt slippery under my skates.
I fell on the hard ice.
I got up. I tottered along.
I liked the sound of my skates.
Click click click like a lady in high heeled shoes.
But it didn’t sound like other skaters.
Click click like horse’s hooves.
“You’re not really skating,” my brother said, “You’re walking in your skates. You need to slide your feet.”
I decided that what I needed first was some of those furry pom poms with the bells on them.
I asked for some and we got them.
I tied them on my skates.
This was even better.
As I tottered around the rink on my skates, the tap tap of my skates rang out and the bells rang and I imagined I was in a faery carriage with wonderful horses and a lovely faery queen who was taking me to her castle filled with magical things.
Rooms filled with magical stuffed animal toys that talked.
Gardens with flowers that smelled wonderful.
I followed the boards of the ice rink with one hand. And I dreamed as I heard my skates tapping and ringing.
“isn’t this great. Don’t you love my skating.” I said to my family.
They said I was doing well but was really only walking on skates.
But, I didn’t care. I loved the sound of my skates tap tapping and the bells ringing.After a while though, I realized that the people skating around me didn't sound like I sounded. I decided I should learn to really skate. But I wanted to skate on the canal and really skate on it.
I asked if we could go.
“The canal can be a little bumpier than the rink,” my dad said, “the ice isn’t as good sometimes and people can fall down more. But if you’re careful, it should be fine to go.”
My brother said that I had to learn to skate better first and he took me to the rink again.
Before he did that, he told me to slide on the kitchen floor in my sock feet.
I liked doing this.
“Now do more of that when you skate,” he said.
I tried to slide more with my feet.
I went a little faster.
I still did a lot of tap tap tapping in my skates but there were some swishing and creeking noises too.
Maybe, I was starting to slide.
The next weekend, mom and dad took us to the canal.
It was cold there.
It was freezing.
The cold wind blew in my face.
But I loved to hear the sounds around me.
People laughing and talking.
The sound of sleds being pulled along the canal.
A swish swish swish of the sled.
The sounds of skates.
Of people stopping fast.
Different rhythms of skating.
The smell of hot chocolate.
The cold night air.
The sounds of music.
My dad tightened my skates for me as we sat on the snowbank.
It was cold taking off your nice warm boots and putting your feet into those icy skates.
I couldn’t tighten mine enough but dad was good at it.
My parents took a double mittened hand each and we set off along the canal.
I was surprised when my feet first touched the ice.
It wasn’t smooth like the window or the glass of the mirror when I touched it.
It felt bumpy under my feet.
It made my teeth bang together and my body shake a little.
It reminded me of touching the rough bumpy wall of our house or a particularly gravely road.
But I still loved it.
My parents were good skaters and I held on tight and we skimmed along the ice.
Looking back, I probably didn’t do all that much work.
I tried to slide and to sound like their skates sounded.
But I also tap tapped and rang my pom pom bells.
And dreamed that I was in a grand carriage sweeping along the canal to the magic palace where hot chocolate flowed from the chocolate fountain.
I loved listening to all sounds around me and feeling myself held up by my parents and skimming along. I was so proud of that first canal skate. I've skated on the canal many many times since. Sighted people are sometimes surprised that blind people participate in sports. Sports and recreation has always formed a big part of my life. At this time of year, as winterlude approaches here, I think back about learning to skate and am grateful to my family who took the time and had the patience to show me how.