PURE JOY - Athlete journal by Clara Hughes

Athlete Journal entry by Clara Hughes, national team skater.


PURE JOY

Most people don’t realize that as speed skaters, we spend the bulk of the summer cycling, running, weight lifting, hiking, doing torturous sessions of dry land imitations (don’t ask, you have to see it to believe it…), pretty much everything but skating. Why, one might ask, does a skater take months off the ice, when it seems obvious the best form of training would be to skate?

Skating, in the form of speed skating, is perhaps one of the most difficult positions to be in. That crouched, aerodynamic position makes ones body scream for relief after thirty seconds or so, and it takes a tremendous amount of strength and fitness to complete lap after lap in training, let alone racing. After a long season it is crucial to rebuild all that is lost after a season of tapering, peaking and racing. One cannot gain the endurance necessary to skate on the ice by skating; similarly one cannot gain the strength to output the force necessary to be powerful on skates by skating alone. All that is done off-ice, and after months of preparation the excitement builds, urging the skater, like a fish to water, back to the ice.

This summer was the first time I went about training as a speed skater. Normally I would pack away my blades after the World Championships and not even think about getting into the skating position until my cycling season would end in August. I would rely on the fitness from the bike to enable me, though somewhat awkwardly for the first few weeks, to skate again.

After months of this skating training, almost six months after my 5000 m race at the World Championships in Seoul last winter, it was time to get on the ice. Those first few pushes on the long blades were inevitably awkward ones, cruising slowly on the inner track with a few teammates, wondering out loud ‘We go left, right?’, feeling with all honesty it made more sense to skate clockwise!

The first straight away was fine, until we got to the corner, and my instincts failed to click in. While the long line of skaters shifted from straightaway strides to corner strides, like ants to a picnic, I panicked and wondered what to do. ‘What do I do?’ I wondered, ‘Oh, I turn… turn left!’ It’s amazing how something so natural and practiced can leave the senses, and feel so strange. Eventually, which was likely only a split second later but what felt like an eternity, I shifted into those same corner strides. Another straightaway, then another corner, and I was in there.

Moving along in unison felt like poetry in motion: each skater making up a line, each lap a verse, the swoosh of the weight transfer and the click of the klap skates marking the rhythm of the poem. I felt like singing out I CAN SKATE!! I CAN REALLY SKATE!!!

The effort seemed less than other years of returning to the ice. Perhaps it was all the training specific to put me on the ice again, more ready than ever to begin building for another season. Whatever it was, feeling the bliss of moving in this manner made me feel like the richest human: the oval my palace and the ice my jewels. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, this feeling of pure joy.