High Tech DeafBlind Ice Skating/Sports?

Here is my brain fart for today.

So, I notice that I am very slow on the ice. Part of this is because I suck right now. But part of this is the level of concentration it takes for me to be aware of where I am and what goes on around me. My brain can only process so much of the veiled visual, audio and tactile cues that I get in order to keep oriented. This has gotten a lot worse than in the past. And though I know that my speed could get better after I get “back to it” and get some of my basic skills back, I question if it will because of the speed I need to go to keep orienting.

My husband and I run an adaptive tech business. He is the tech guru, I provide administrative support. So often when I come up with a challenge like this, I think to myself, “ok, how could tech help?” And then I go to my in-house tech guru and see what he has to say.

Micronavigation is all the rage in tech right now in blindness adaptive tech. Its an emerging industry and it has not reached its full potential yet. But it may be promising for the future. There has been tech that has helped blind people by leaps and bounds when dealing with more outdoor “macro” travel. GPS on iphones and mapping apps have helped tremendously. One of the most widely used ones is called BlindSquare. This app takes crowd sourced navigation information and puts it in your ear. For example, you can be walking down the street and it will say “SW 5th Avenue, 20 ft ahead.” or “Jamba Juice at 3:00.” It will also give you turn by turn directions.We have used it to navigate around Chicago’s Botanical Gardens and even to find our way back to our son’s sand castle after a beach walk by setting a “beacon” at that point.

I am at a disadvantage with blind square because I can’t hear it outside. It can work clumsily with a braille display, and this is one of the things I have been bugging the company about. I can still use it, but I have to set it to give me a very low amount of info at once and then stop often for the braille to keep up with it. This is typical for DB people. We usually have to wait for developers to remember we exist, too.

Another option for me is to set up directions in maps and then use an apple watch to give you tactile prompts for when to turn left and right and other information. This has been great for many deaf blind people. I don’t have an apple watch–not at all because I just spent $500 on skates! But someday, I will get one. The tactile cues for deaf blind people and their applications keep getting better and better.

But micro navigation is giving information about the so-called “last 30 feet,” such as the door to the store you want to go into or the evevator or bathrooms in a building. Blindsquare has used a technology called iBeacon to label hotel rooms in a conference or even gates at an airport. Here is a short video that shows how it works:

So, I started thinking about whether this could be useful in a rink setting.  Could I put beacons on the rink to send tactile info to my apple watch to give me location information? And if I got used to this, could I then skate faster? Like, what if there were beacons on the four “corners” of the rink and when I got near them, I would get a different kind of pulse on my watch? It would be another (less distracting) set of orienting information. Hmmmm….

I don’t think the technology is there quite yet. It might be more like nano-micronavigation? (Someone can let me know if it is!) But who knows what could happen in the next few years. And maybe this could work with other sports and rec activities like soccer (on the goals) or basketball or the gates on ski slopes, etc. It would take a lot of goofing around with, but an interesting concept may be coming down our way.

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Little Victories

So here are some of my first few minutes on the new skates:

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First Skate in Edeas from Lisa Ferris on Vimeo.

Now, I understand that this is completely and objectively unimpressive, but for me, it represents several minor victories.

Backing up, I ended up needing counseling over these boots! Not psychological counseling, but boot expertise. I had been wearing them around the house and they were just KILL.ING.ME. So much foot pain! And I was completely depressed and thought I had made a terrible decision and blah, blah, blah.

So, I talked with an online pro tech guy, who schooled me about the difference with Edeas and what everyone gets wrong about lacing their skates. He said I was lacing them too tight and that I was causing potentially permanent damage to my foot. But, I argued, when I lace them loose, I can’t even walk in them! I’m wobbling all around like a newbie on rentals! He says the problem is with my weakling, wobbling ankles, not the skates. And if I would just lace the skates right, eventually I would be able to stand in them and skate in them comfortably as my ankles and legs got stronger.

This corresponded, interestingly enough, with a guy I met at Valley last week. His daughter came up to me to ask about my guide dog, and I ended up getting into this whole conversation with him about speed skates. He was wearing speed skates, and I had never really seen them before. Maybe I knew the they did not come above the ankles??? But this is the kind of detail I can’t see on TV. So he totally let me check out his skates by touching them and he was explaining them to me, the very, very long blades, the “slap” part where the blades disconnect from the back heal, and the low, shoe-like boot. I was all, “how do you STAND in them?” I pretty much thought skates had to put your ankles in a head-lock of death to work and that is just the way it was. He said that you just do after a while. Your ankles get strong enough to support regular skating on them. They would not be good for jumps, where you need to land with a lot of support, but you can skate without ankle support.

This, apparently, is what you are supposed to do with the Edeas. Be like Maya Usova, said the skate pro guy. Apparently she wouldn’t even lace her skates up the hooks so she had more foot freedom. You are supposed to keep the toes loose, the bend of the ankle tight but not strangled, and the hooks loose.

Okay.

Well, I was too chicken to do it at first, and I went around the whole rink with my feet hurting so bad, I couldn’t get off and unlace them fast enough. Then I decided to be brave. I laced them like they said, I walked to the ice as wobbly as a person wearing broken down rentals. And I skated! And that is what you see above. It feels quite weird, I can’t hardly pick up my feet. But I can tell that if I work on it, I will develop the muscles to do it. It started hurting different muscles after a while. Like my shins and quadriceps. But it was the kind of pain like, I’m sore because I haven’t used these muscles in awhile, not like I’m going to get gangrene. It was a pain I could handle. I can tell it puts me in a deeper knee bend in the skates, which is good for everything.

The blades weren’t that hard to get used to…yet. I mean, I’m not doing anything. So they aren’t really being tested. I can tell that they are different. I was trying 3-turns and Mohawks on the wall and I could tell that they are much more maneuverable than my old blades. So glad I’m going to relearn on these from the beginning now.

Another minor victory was that I was very sick that day and I went out anyway and still completed my goals. When you have a chronic illness, this is a constant management issue. How much do you push yourself when you feel lousy? I grew up thinking I was lazy and useless and I skipped a lot of school, so I have this constant thing in my head that if I don’t meet a commitment or show up for something it is because I am being lazy and taking the easy way out. But, then one day a long time ago, I was in my office job in such kidney pain from chronic kidney stones I was awaiting one of many surgeries on, and I was laying on my office floor doing work because it was the only position I could stand. And I thought, all those people who called me lazy NEVER went to work like this, and I do regularly. So screw them.

It was still a balance that was hard to find. I have always had orthostatic hypotension. Most of the time, its not a big deal. I manage it without anyone noticing several times a day, every day. But sometimes, when I have other stuff going on, it gets pretty bad. Once, I was in a meeting (with important outsider types) and I got up and was so dizzy and about to pass out that I slammed into a wall. Just a few minutes later, I was fine. But my co workers (after making sure I was ok) were really upset with me. They were saying how bad it looked and how I looked drunk and how I need to be responsible and stay home if I am that sick. But orthostatic hypotension is not really being ‘sick” I argued, its just a few minutes out of my day where I need to take a few seconds of  extra time. But you LOOK really sick, they said. Oh. So that is what counts. Got it.

Its hard to balance how you look, how you feel, what you could do in a different, less socially acceptable  position (laying down) or with a flexible schedule and short breaks. Its hard to be really honest with yourself and know when to push and when to stay home as to not get any worse. Its hard to commit to people when you don’t know from day to day if you will be able to meet the commitment. This is probably why I’ve arranged my life so that my schedule is very flexible and I can work from home and take on projects that I know I can do as they come up.

But sometimes I wonder, since I’ve been fortunate enough to make this flexible schedule for myself if I still can push through or if I’ve gotten too soft. I want to keep that muscle of being able to push through. And on this day, I did. I had hardly slept because I had a really bad headache to the point where I was nauseous, but I got up and went anyway, and it was difficult, but I accomplished my goal of getting over my fear of these skates.

Skating is a metaphor for pushing myself socially, physically, and emotionally outside of my comfort zone. And this was a day I did all of those things. Funnily enough, 2 other people there were breaking in new skates, too. I was having a really tough time communicating with them because the sicker I feel, the worse I see and hear, but we did manage to bond a bit over our silly little boot crises.

I have a lot of work ahead to build the muscles to get used to these boots, but this was a major hurdle, with a lot of tiny victories.

 

New Skates!

I knew that I was going to have to get new skates if I started skating regularly again. My feet have changed too much in 20 years with age and pregnancies and etc. The question was when and what and how much.

As a deaf blind person that takes public transit and walks with a guide dog, I need working feet. There is a risk to skating, namely orthopedic injuries that affect my ability to walk. I’ve had two major orthopedic injuries in my life. One was a skating injury in which I sprained some ligaments around my knee. I ended up wearing an immobilizer for several weeks, and although I could walk in it, it was laborious and made me feel even more disabled while trying to get around. The other was a (not skating related) broken foot a couple of years ago, when I was on crutches for a while. This brought my life to a complete standstill. I can’t walk on crutches without using a cane or guide dog and there is no way to do it with hands tied up in crutches. I did uber a few places but the whole thing was pretty limiting. (Now, I see that they have these hands-free leg braces that allow people with below the knee injuries to get around without crutches. This would have helped me a lot!)

I’ve also had ongoing plantar facsiitis problems related to skating. This has required me to use orthotic inserts in my shoes and sometimes wear shoes all the time in the house. I haven’t had this in years, but as I started skating in my old boots, guess what? Its back.

All this is to say that my mobility is extremely important to me and I have to balance that with the inherent risk of skating. I was going to wait longer to get new skates, but with the plantar issue flaring, the old skates causing issues and every single skating person in the know and their DOG telling me I was stupid to wait, relearn my skills, then have to start all over again, I decided to go ahead and get new skates. The choice was really to get new skates now or quit this project all together.

So, I went for Edea Overtures with a Reidell Eclipse Dance blade. This is a big difference and so the time to do something big and different is NOW, not later. This combo costed about $550. Yes. I know. But honestly, I was being economical in my purchase. Skating is an expensive sport. My original covet was Edea Flamenco Dance boots with an MK Dance blade. That would have ran me about $1200 and would have definitely been overdoing it for my level.

I chose Edea over the Reidells because of the promise of easier break in and the reports of quality and longevity. I chose the Eclipse because they were about $250 cheaper than almost all MK or Wilson blades. I don’t pretend that skates are anything but a frivolous hobby purchase. But if I am going to do a frivolous hobby, I need to do it comfortably and with reduced risk of injury. You know, I’ve  never bought a car, I’ve never bought a single piece of clothing over about $200. I’ve never bought more than about $1000 worth of furniture or home improvements at any time. My kids are well fed and clothed and have enough extra for some extracurriculars. We go on one or maybe two small, close by vacations every year. My husband and I work hard. I’m not going to feel too badly about this. If it sounds like I’m defending this purchase, I am. But I know the comments I will get. And, yes, I suppose this could all be a bust and I could get a major injury next week and my “skating career reboot” would end in a bang and a whimper, but I’d rather say that I tried my best and it didn’t work out and I’m out some money than not ever try anything at all. I have found that if you try something, you will get some level of success and value out of it in some way, even if its not what you expected.

My plantar issue is bad enough this week that with it and the new skates and some other work I need to do, I’ve decided to take a week off of skating, continue doing my stretching and pilates, work out my feet and wear shoes constantly to recover from the foot pain, and wear the skates around the house a bit each day.

I can already tell from just wearing the boots around the house that this is going to be a Really Big Deal. Like, I see frustration and failure in my future with these. Skaters have been telling me their horror stories of tears on the ice and their need for counseling sessions after getting new skates. I’m hoping it won’t come to THAT, but I’m prepping emotionally for a restart and a lot of woes and blows posts. I’m getting advice to only go out with them with a pro initially, since I idon’thave one, I don’t know if thats realistic, but its setting me up to expect failure and frustration for a while and that this is going to take TIME.

Here is a total geek out video of me describing my new skates.

New Skate Geek-Out from Lisa Ferris on Vimeo.

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The second I took my skates off the towel, my guide dog decided it was her personal bed. LOL.

 

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Step 2: Get Equipment in Order

The skates I have been using for the last 20 years are Riedell Silver Star boots with MK Competition blades. Those blades are low end stainless steal blades that actually came off of a pair of my sister’s skates from the 1970s, they  don’t exist anymore. When the skate pro shop guy looked at them over the weekend, he was laughing at how old they were and how they came in third-inch sizes instead of fourth-inch sizes like they have for the best couple of decades. He was a skate blade nerd who was trying to look up these blades in old books, so it was funny. I kept telling him they were from the 70s. Seriously. The 70s! At some point in the last couple of years, I was at a rink and lost my skate covers and thus threw them in my bag with the skate guards on, leading to them getting some rust on them. There is also the problem that they are too long for my boots and have a weird mount because of that. Its not like I didn’t use them for years like that, but they drove my skating coach nuts back in the day because she always wanted my feet to be closer together for crossovers, mohawks, etc. and when I tried, the back tail would clank.

Here are the bottom of my skates where (I don’t know how well you can see) that my blades have some rust and are in desperate need of sharpening.

 

The skate pro shop guy did a pretty good job of sharpening them up so all the rust is gone now, but even he laughed at my weird mount set up.

After sharpening, they are shiny again, bur still too long, with mismatched and missing screws.

So, then we talked about new blades, and I had my eye on MK dance blades, but they are pricy, so he showed me some Riedell Eclipse blades that are high carbon steel (holds edges longer and less rust-prone) and much less expensive than the MK blades. Of course, we could then get a shorter blade to fit and fix the mounting.

And THEN, since in the end he is a salesman trying to sell me shit I don’t need, he started talking me out of my boots. (don’t worry, except for the sharpening, I have purchased nothing…yet.) My boots are not broken down and although they do have a few bumps and scrapes, they are in decent condition. The insides are a little scraped up, but not too bad. The issue is this: When I was skating a lot in these boots, (like nearly every day for several hours) I did develop a very nasty case of plantar fasciitis. It was painful. We tried different custom inserts and things, but they still hurt severely for the first 30 minutes that I wear them. I also busted some ligaments in my knees once, and although that is likely because of several falls and not the boots, it did drive home to me the fact that walking is very important to me, and when I can’t do it, I become much, MUCH more disabled.

Current state of my boots, in pretty good shape, but would new boots protect from injury? (Notice also I bought new skate covers. No more rust for me.)

I have not been fitted for boots in 20 years. I guess my feet could have changed in that time. Also, I no longer feel like I need this type of big cement boots that are capable of quad jumps. Quad jumps are not in my future.

Elite level ice dance is also not in my future, but ain’t these nice? The inside looks so comfy. (Edea Dance Boots)

So, we talked about dance blades and boots. I’m a little scared to get new blades that are shorter and have a more severe rocker. Will I have to learn to skate all over again? And, could I get a less rigid boot and still have a safe and comfortable boot that would help prevent injury? And could I do this without spending a fortune? The truth is, I don’t need skates that cost a grand. I am going to be doing at most, dance patterns and waltz jumps and things TOPS. Can I get a comfortable set for a reasonable price? I paid about $300-something for these silver stars 20 years ago. They are worth about $700 new in 2018, believe it or not. I paid nothing for the blade.

If you buy a good blade that fits your boot, it can last through several pairs of boots. Really, it can last your lifetime if you take care of it.  I’m thinking of getting the eclipse blade (low $200s) and then seeing if there is a cheap boot out there that still is very comfortable (looking at edea?) OR, I could buy the blade with these boots. OR I could do nothing now that I have nicely sharpened shiny blades again.

All this and I haven’t even skated yet. I feel a bit like some middle aged man with a midlife crisis that buys an overpriced sports car to relive his youth. But at least my skates will be a lot cheaper than a sports car no matter what I do.

My main goal is to skate comfortably without injury to help improve my mental and physical health. So, trying to keep it in those parameters and not just go off the deep geeky end.

 

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