Growing numbers of adults are living on the edge - and finding it a place of serenity, friendship, and satisfaction.
That's as in “forward edge,” “outside edge,” and the other edges on the blade of a figure skate that they use to launch themselves into the air, around the rink, and sometimes onto a podium to collect cheers and medals.
It's a passion, pure and simple.
“We're not going to go to the Olympics, we know that,” says Maggie Harding, 41, of San Francisco, chairman of the United State Figure Skating Association's adult skating committee. Ms. Harding, who says she began competing about seven years ago, is getting ready to leave the house for day one of the Pacific Coast Adult Sectional Championships - one of three sectional events across the country that lead up to the 2003 Adult National Figure Skating Championships, scheduled April 9-12 at the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor.
As public interest in world-class figure skating has grown in recent years, so too has adult competition. Long limited to exhibition skating, adults got their first national event in 1995 in Wilmington, Del. Sectional competitions began only about two years ago.
Local enthusiasts include Kay Anderson, 49, of Maumee, who captured first place in the bronze ladies 3 free skating category at the 2002 adult nationals in Ann Arbor last April; Perrysburg residents Jim and Debbie Marlowe, ages 58 and 61 respectively, who brought home pairs and individual medals from the Adult Midwestern Sectional Championships in Wyandotte, Mich., on Mar. 1-2; and Judy Koren, 53, of Oregon, who took first in bronze ladies 3 free skating at the Buckeye Adult Figure Skating Open in Cincinnati last October. All belong to the Bowling Green Adult Skating Club.
Miss Anderson and the Marlowes will compete at this year's nationals. They'll also skate in Ice Horizons 2003, sponsored by the Bowling Green Skating Cluband featuring former Olympian Scott Hamilton, at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. April 26 at the Bowling Green State University ice arena. Tickets are $18, available by ordering online at www.icehorizons.org.
More than 500 skaters, ranging in age from 25 to 75, are entered in the adult nationals next month, says Ann Dougherty of Ann Arbor, chairman of the competition.
“You won't see the type of skating you see on television,” Miss Anderson says. “Most people are doing single-revolution jumps. A lot of them have started [skating] later in life, or like me, they loved it when they were younger but got involved in something else.”
And, because they usually have to juggle a job and other responsibilities, adults can't train the way youngsters can, she points out.
Instead, adult figure skating is all about camaraderie, exercise, stress relief, and artistic expression.
“You meet a lot of people - and a lot of people who love the sport like you do,” says Mrs. Marlowe, an artist who has been skating for more than 30 years. She and her husband, a mechanical engineer, met at an adult group lesson at a rink in Park Ridge, Ill., in the late 1960s and got married in 1970.
Audiences and co-competitors are exceptionally supportive. “If you fall down, they'll clap for you to get up, and they'll clap when you get up,” says Mrs. Marlowe, who has suffered a broken leg and fractured hip in mishaps during practices.
“Adult bodies don't bounce back up the way kids' do,” Mrs. Dougherty says, although she adds that she hasn't seen any severe injuries occur in competition. “We've had hyperventilation and hives because they're so nervous,” she recalls.
“Everybody cheers everybody on,” says Mrs. Koren, vice president and controller of L and L Packaging and Plating in Toledo. “I have so many friends from across the country now, and we just can't wait to see each other skate. Whether we win or lose, it doesn't matter as long as we skate. Somebody could do the tiniest little jump, and people applaud, just because they're out there trying.”
Miss Anderson, a film and video producer, remembers being terrified the first time she skated in front of judges, at a Columbus event in December, 2001.
“I was a total wreck. As soon as the music started I fell. I was shaking. I started doing backwards crossovers and then wham! against the boards.”
Adult competition is divided by gender, age, and ability. Level 1 covers ages 25 to 35; “2” is 36 to 45, “3” is 46 to 55, and “4” is age 56 and up. National free-skating competition is conducted at four skill levels - starting with bronze and working up through silver, gold, and masters - as determined by test standards of the United States Figure Skating Association. Ice dancers have pre-bronze and pre-gold national competition, and local competitions often include other age and skill categories.
Miss Anderson, who entered competition at the bronze level and has since passed her silver test, started skating on a creek in Maumee as a child. When she went to Ohio University for college, she discovered the ice rink there and began using it daily.
She says she tried out for a spot with Ice Capades and was invited back for a second audition, but decided after graduation to pursue her dream of acting. She says she found some regular work in New York City, including bit parts on the soap opera One Life To Live, but eventually switched to the other side of the camera. Film and video production took her to Dallas - and back to ice skating - in the early 1990s.
She didn't consider competing until she had returned to northwest Ohio and joined the adult skating club in Bowling Green. There she met Mrs. Koren, who urged her to compete on the adult circuit. The emotional jolt of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, gave her the final push.
She needed something to focus on, she says, so she could purge all the negative thoughts and feelings. When one skates, Miss Anderson explains, “You can't let your mind be confused with the stock market or war or anything, because you'll fall. I used to run, but my mind would wander. It didn't clear it totally like this does.”
Mrs. Koren says that she, too, skated as a child before quitting when she was 20. “Life just takes over,” she explains. She went back to it at 48 in a surge of mid-life adrenaline. “All of the sudden I had to get my skates on again.”
It's both physical and emotional therapy these days for Mrs. Koren, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in December and has been undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. She manages to skate two days a week in addition to working full time, but says she doesn't have the energy to gear up for nationals. “By the time I get home at night, I'm done for,” she admits.
Mrs. Koren didn't skate throughout December, during the worst of her illness leading up to the diagnosis, but went back to the ice after her first chemo in January.
“It's for exercise, but it's also great for stress,” Mrs. Koren goes on. “I get on the ice and I don't think about anything but skating. Not work, not home, not problems, anything.”
Her goal is to compete in the Peach Classic in Atlanta in September, she says.
Skating doesn't come cheap at this level. Mrs. Dougherty, the chairman of the Ann Arbor nationals, says ice time can cost $200 to $300 an hour (costs that are shared by club members). A coach might charge $40 to $100 an hour for a private lesson, while competition fees can run into the hundreds of dollars, depending on how many events a skater enters. Travel expenses, lodging, meals, and costumes boost the bills.
Yet Ms. Harding of the U.S. Figure Skating Association says she's constantly getting e-mails from adults who have found their way to the association's Web site and discovered the adult program. “At least once a week someone who is brand, spanking new is asking, `Where do I start?' It's wonderful,” Ms. Harding says.