Grown-ups break the ice

Lessons: Adults seek fitness, grace or friendship in a figure skating class.

October 21, 2002|By Elizabeth A. Shack | Elizabeth A. Shack,SUN STAFF

Carla Hackley, "Left. Right. Curve."

On this rainy Wednesday evening, the only sounds in the Mount Pleasant Ice Arena in Northeast Baltimore are the soft mechanical whine of equipment, the scrape of figure skate blades and a single voice calling instructions.

Carla Hackley leads three students in a serpentine pattern. "Come into the line, push and curve," she says. Arms straight out from their shoulders, the students obey, skating tentatively, leaning as they glide in a semicircle. Another push, and they curve the other way, making a series of S-curves down the length of the rink.

These are not little girls starry-eyed with Olympic visions, or little boys hoping to become hockey stars. Hackley, who has been teaching skating in the area for 30 years, is leading a beginning figure skating class for adults.

Adults learning to figure skate for the first time might be 25 or 55, out for exercise or for fun, planning to compete or just hoping to keep their feet under them.

Figure skating has "a pretty big adult niche," Hackley said, estimating that about half of the adults who figure skate learned the sport after childhood.

"Based on what I've seen over the past years, there's more interest on the part of adults," she said.

The U.S. Figure Skating Association, which organizes competitive skating, introduced a curriculum designed to teach basic skating to adults two years ago, she said.

Tonight, three students braved the rain to come skating. Bundled in sweat pants and jackets, they follow Hackley around the freshly smoothed ice.

As Heather Fowkes, 28, lifts a leg to curve on one foot, Hackley says, "That's very good." Fowkes, a White Marsh resident, has skated for a year and a half on and off. She says her goal is "not to fall."

Later, the class moves to the blue circle in the center of the ice to practice turning around to skate backward. Hackley holds onto Joanne Hama's gloved hands to help her hold her arms properly. With her arms in the right position, the turn should be easier.

Hama, 30, started skating about six years ago but had stopped during graduate school.

Donnie Sigwart, the third student in the Wednesday night class, started skating a few years ago because it was good exercise. Now, says the 50- year-old Parkville resident, she continues because it's fun.

"I love it," she said.

Sigwart skates every Wednesday with the class, which usually has five or six students. Mount Pleasant began offering the adult program last spring after the Winter Olympics, drawing 12 students, said Terry Mannion, vice president of Baltimore Ice Sports, which runs the rink. He said he expects 18 to 20 students to enroll in the second series this fall, which begins Nov. 4.

It's hard to track the number of adult skaters by USFSA membership because many adult members are parents or coaches of skaters, said Tony Conte, a skater and judge in Florida who heads the eastern section of the USFSA's adult committee. The number of adults entering competitions gives an idea of the numbers, he said.

The first U.S. Adult National Figure Skating Championships were held in Wilmington, Del., in 1995, he said. At its peak, nearly 1,000 adults entered the event, but recently "that number has dwindled down to about 600 due to economic conditions," Conte said, referring to the costs of figure skating.

One of those competitors is Phyllis Friello, 42, who started skating 13 years ago. Friello competes in pairs, freestyle and interpretive skating and has seven medals from nationals. "Adult Nationals has been a lot of fun, and I've skated in all of them," Friello said.

Friello said her goal when she began skating during graduate school was "to be upright."

"I was finishing my master's and needed to do something fun, so a friend suggested we take lessons," she said. They enrolled in an adult class at Northwest Ice Rink on Cottonworth Avenue.

"It was really quite a nice group of people, and I'm good friends with many of them now," she said.

Friello takes lessons from two coaches, and skates two to three times a week. She'll start skating more frequently as nationals gets closer, she said.

Julie Pittet, 56, has also found friends in skating. She is a coach and member of the Ice Club of Baltimore and the Baltimore Figure Skating Club. Pittet said she likes being involved in a sport with others who share her love for it.

"It's very social," she said.

Pittet didn't find time to get serious about skating until 1991. She went into ice dancing, which uses no jumps or spins, because she thought that would be all she could do. Six years later, she started to learn freestyle skating. In 1999, she entered her first freestyle competition.

Pittet said she plans to keep skating as long as she can. "I don't know what I'd do without it," she said.

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