“My Skating Life: Fifty Plus Years of Skating” by JoAnn Schneider Farris

Black and White photo of Joann Schneider Farris and her partner, Rich Griffin.

I first came into contact with Joann Schneider Farris when she wrote this story about me for About.com, which has now seemed to change to Thought Company. At the time she contacted me–I think it was about 2006 or 2007–I was about as far away from skating as I could be and up to my eyeballs in being a single mother of twin toddlers. Also, I got her confused with someone else. A middle school kid had contacted me because she was doing a story on disabled athletes. She had also contacted Eve Chalom, a Deaf skater (and much, much, much more successful than I ever was) so I answered her questions but kind of felt like an imposter. I was not in Eve Chalom’s league at all. Anyway, I think I got her and Joann mixed up, and so I really wasn’t aware that Joann was going to write an article about me to be put on the internet.

But I am going to try an find out how to contact her and thank her now, because that article has come up in my life several times and has helped me out! I think it has come up twice in job interviews, when the employer had obviously done a search on me.

“So, you are a figure skater?”

“Oh, (laugh) in a past life. Just recreationally.”

“Tell me about that experience.”


It was a fun and more relaxed way to bring up disability and how to work out problems. Legally, employers cannot ask about your disability in the interview process, but you know if they don’t, there are just so many unanswered questions in the air it becomes a massive elephant in the room. Then you have to try to answer the questions you think they have without acting too obvious about it.  The figure skating article allowed me to talk about what it is like to be a Deafblind skater, how people reacted to me, misconceptions I had to dispel, different ways I got around and worked with my disability, etc. Along with just the usual stuff people like to hear in interviews like working towards goals, working with others, being well-rounded, etc. (I think I got both jobs!)

The article also helped me just this past April when I was rink shopping and buying new skates. People really don’t know how to take a middle aged woman who walks in to their rink or pro shop with a guide dog and says she wants to skate. “I can skate. I’ve skated before. Look me up, you’ll see…” I think my experience at Valley has been helped by that article (though its still a work in progress.)

I had seen Joann’s name around and about figure skating over the years, but when I was looking up the Dorothy Hamill book (Similarly called “A Skating Life” which I wrote about here) Joann’s My Skating Life also came up. I bought it off Kindle and read it on the train to the rink with voiceover. I only read it while on my hour long trip back and forth to the rink, so it took me weeks to read it. It became a little tradition. I would get up and be reluctant to go, but I knew if I could just get dressed and get to the train station, Joann would be with me the rest of the way! Then all was good and I was motivated to go. It made the long ride enjoyable.

The book is very long and detailed and really focus’s on skating and just skating. There is a lot of detail of places, names, competitions, etc. that I will not remember exactly right here, but it really does take you on a 50 year skating journey from the 60s to now. It could be roughly divided into four parts: her amateur career growing up, her coaching career, her children’s competitive career, and her journalism career after her kids were mostly grown. I am going to write a few impressions about each section.

Childhood/Amateur Career

This was probably my favorite part of the book because her childhood was very different than my own. It was her father’s love of skating who got her and her two siblings into skating. It did not sound like a “skate parent nightmare” type scenario. I believe her sister quit after a few years because it wasn’t her thing. But the stories of her father sharing his love for the sport with his children were quite sweet.

One lesson I had to learn as an adult that was really difficult as a child was that its ok to just try things or go as far as you can with them even if you aren’t going to be great at it and even if it doesn’t directly hold any monetary/career value for you. I was told the day I started skating that I was never going to be good enough to be an Olympian.  And although this was very likely true, so what? Everything seemed so all or nothing in my family. You concentrated on school, you did your housework. Anything else was completely trivialized. It seemed that Joann’s family (her father was a doctor at a university) had way more money than mine did, and I know that my family simply never could have pulled off what hers did, but even so, it would have been nice to know that its ok to like skating, or singing, or music or dancing or art or anything and just do it for the love of doing it as you are able. It doesn’t all have to be monetized and utilized in some way that will advance your career. (And even so, skating did end up advancing my career a bit!) Its ok to do something even if it is going to take a ton of work, even if you will never be the best at it. It can help and motivate you in a lot of other ways and bring value to your life. This, I did not learn until adulthood and I think I missed many opportunities because of it. Even though Joann’s family was much more serious than just “doing it for fun” I think they had this spirit in mind.

Which leads to my next thought: Oh, my GOD is it hard to get to Nationals of any level! These people worked their asses off and went chasing down many hours of ice all over the LA area everyday, and still only made it to Nationals once (and then not senior level, IIRC). There was driving around to three or four different rinks, there was skating at midnight to 4:00am, there was traveling to camps, there were high level coaches and still…the people who make it to nationals are few and far between. Her brother did make it quite a few times, but so much of this is just talent, luck, and timing.

Her family went on ice skating vacations. They would go to camps in skating meccas like Squaw Valley, Lake Placid or Colorado Springs. The descriptions of these places were fun to read. And Juli McKinstry’s, my first skating coach’s–name came up again. Apparently Juli’s mother pretty much had a skaters boarding house in Squaw Valley and those kids were known as McKinstry Kids. Joann was a McKinstry kid. And here again, it was nice to read about regular people (not the superstars) of skating. The difference in abilities and effort between McKinstry and Dorothy Hamill was probably minimal (she had beat Dorothy and come in second behind her on a few occasions), but look at the differences their lives took. It shows how even when you do not become a skating superstar, you (and your family) can still greatly impact the sport.

It was fun to hear about all of these rinks in LA that they drove to when they were chasing down the ice, especially the Paramount Ice Rink where the first zamboni was invented. The descriptions of the pipe organ and the big ice and everything made you feel like a part of the culture there. All the driving made me feel like my hour long commute to ice is not so unreasonable.

Her descriptions of the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs led me to watching the 1978 movie Ice Castles again (it was filmed at the Broadmoor).  I haven’t seen it in decades. The funny thing about that movie was when I saw it as a kid, the fact that the main character went blind went completely over my head. I thought she had to start over again because her coach was mad at her because she did something wrong. I totally missed the fact that she couldn’t see and that THIS was the problem, because I couldn’t see either and I missed the parts (or misunderstood) the parts where they showed her seeing blurry. To me, that was like, so what? It wasn’t until years later when people started calling me Lexie that I had it explained to me and got it.

Coaching Days

It was fun to see how she developed into a coach and how versatile she became. One of my favorite images was when she talked about being very pregnant and skating around on hockey skates at a PSA conference to test for her Hockey Coach certification. She could pretty much teach it all. I liked how she seemed to teach her adults and Learn to Skate group classes with the same amount of enjoyment as her private, better skaters. I sometimes felt like I was wasting my coaches time (or they thought that) because I was never going to be elite and great. But she got into, again, just the joy of people skating at whatever level. She branched off into roller and inline skating and coaching as well. I’ve only inline skated once, it is similar to ice skating and I could skate ok. I also now totally want to try sled dogs, which are a type of ski boot that has a very short ski-type sole on the bottom that skaters are supposed to transition easily with. Skis seem so cumbersome, but I felt like Id like to just jump in and try these. I bring this up because I had never heard of them before reading this book (also need to look up Pic Skates!) Joann did anything that glided as an adult. Roller, ice, ski, sled, scooter. You name it, if it glides and balances on your legs, she was on it.

She worked for several Ice Capades Chalets, and it was interesting to see that sort of corporate philosophy in action. When I skated at Clackamas Town Center, it was an Ice Chalet (previously owned by Ice Capades, then owned by Dorothy Hamill when she owned Ice Capades, and then somehow was just an Ice Chalet, which was a chain). A lot of what she said about how Ice Capades Chalets worked was similar to my Ice Chalet. The emphasis on ISI and Learn to Skate, the uniformed jackets the coaches wore, the low level competitions, the setting up your month long calendar for freestyle sessions and then getting tickets for lessons was all stuff I was familiar with.

As was the precariousness of the ice. It seems like rinks open and rinks close but its hard for them to stay around. Ice Chalet is gone. Mountain View Ice Arena is going soon, Lloyd is barely a rink anymore, and Winterhawks remains but probably largely due to the hockey team. For such a big metro area as Portland is, there is a scarcity (or ice famine as she called it) of ice. It seems like this is happening everywhere, all the time. (Except, she later explains, Canada, where 8 sheet rinks were common. So Jealous!)

Third Generation Skaters

What is interesting about her kids is that they just seemed to organically become ice skaters because they just grew up on the ice with her as she coached. My son Naim has taken a lesson or two and is ok on the ice, but he doesn’t have a strong passion for it. My other two kids show no interest. I wanted to give them the experiences that I missed out on. It didn’t have to be ice skating, it could have been another sport or music or art or something. So, I try to expose them to different things over the years, but nothing really sticks. Its an interesting concept to figure out how much to push (and how much you logistically can push.) Naim wanted to do soccer, but I just couldn’t handle the transportation to all the games. But if I worked on the ice like she did, if it was right in front of them, would they have taken to it? (or something else?) Like many kids, my kids are into electronics and screens. But then, we work with electronics and screens professionally, its what is in front of them. Is that why? I don’t think she pushed her kids into skating, its what they breathed in that family. Her 3 generations of family (Her father, her brother and herself and her children) supposedly have earned the most Gold Medals of any family in the USFS. (Gold Medals as defined as testing at the top/senior level, not gold medals won in competitions.) I have a blind friend whose father was an auto mechanic  and now he is an auto mechanic even though he can’t drive a car. Its funny what influence you have as a parent that you don’t even think about. We teach adaptive technology and ALL of our kids use voiceover and other adaptive technology even thought they don’t really need to. They just naturally fit it into their lives.

Also interesting is that she homeschool’s her kids and so do I. It sort of came naturally to me, as it seemed to her. As a skater, I imagine she saw many different types of schooling and she saw the advantage of flexibility of homeschooling (as did I). It does become a lifestyle, more than just a “thing you do” or an education choice. It does give a lot of opportunity for pursuing interests on a greater level. It was fun to see her kids move through the skating ranks.

And I haven’t mentioned ice dancing, which is featured thought out the book as she was an ice dancer and so was her dad and kids. I didn’t really even know what ice dancing was as a kid until the 80s when I was fascinated with Natalia Bestemianova and Andre Bukin, it wasn’t so much an idolization as a total “can’t look away” awe of them. WHAT are they DOING? I never thought ice dancing was for me until I was an adult and I actually tried it. It is hard and it is fun! Its mentally and physically challenging. I also found it something that I could really work to improve, especially now when jumps are out of the question.  Its interesting that when I was a kid I knew of no other kid who ice danced. But Joann did and so did her kids. I think it is becoming more popular as the US does well in it and people like the Shibutani’s have popularized it to a younger generation. I also wonder if more parents would rather have their kids do ice dance because it is not so harmful for your body as jumping. It really is sort of the soul of figure skating (after figures, I suppose.)


A tragedy in the family brought her coaching career to a slow stop. Although after some time, they were able to recover from the tragedy, I empathized with how caregiving a disabled family member can change everything and wear you down. I have also had to figure out how I could make ends meet by finding work at home and flexible hours. I was a caregiver for a quadriplegic for 22 years. One of the main reasons I can skate now is that I am no longer the primary caregiver of my family member (although we are still in contact and I sometimes do small things on his behalf). Skating to me still feels like a luxury that I struggle to be able to justify, but for her family, it was such an integral part of their whole family’s life that it would be quite an adjustment to give it up.

Her about.com gig was pretty sweet. I think she is a very knowledgeable and thorough writer, but not so much the best writer as a craft. (I wished I could have put her book through an editor. Its not necessary to tell us every time you mention USFS that it used to be called USFSA. Only the first time is necessary. And after you say that getting a (testing) gold medal is like earning a Ph.D. in figure skating, it is unnecessary to say it ten more times. And she also really likes to use “quotes” when they are not needed. Does something feel “normal” or does it feel normal? I think you meant that it feels normal without a bit of irony there, so its really ok to say that without quotes.  But we all have our writing quirks. God knows I am in desperate need of editing, myself.)

In any case, it was fun to read about her trip to the Vancouver Olympics. Around that time (2010), we were really close to moving there and had a job lined up and almost had a place to live. We took a few trips there and I poured over maps and learned all the public transportation lines. When we went, it was after the Olympics, so it wasn’t quite the madhouse she describes, but still it was fun to read about all the places I had gone and to be like “I’ve eaten fast food in that mall! I’ve gotten off at that sky train stop!)

Overall, this book is probably a skater’s skater book. Its probably a little too tedious for the average reader to sink into. But if you want to learn more about how  most skaters live, not just the famous ones, this is a good book.  I really enjoyed reading about a person whose life has revolved around skating even though she is not a superstar and has not won a ton of medals. This is the reality for 99% of the skating community. And it is a natural community that I have found pieces of throughout my life. People like Joann are greatly responsible for holding it together so well. The book has a lot of fun links (the Kindle version, at least) so you can actually click and link to the exact program or concept or person she is talking about (many of her About.com articles are linked.)

Skating is a joyful activity that has a lot of positive by-products such as physical fitness, creative outlet, musical enjoyment, perseverance, courage, friendship, community, etc. If there is anyone who has taken her love for the sport far beyond what anyone might have thought it could be (and do it without a bunch of gold medals) it is Joann. She has really taken advantage of everything it could offer her and her family and taken it as far as anyone could go. I can only strive for that kind of enthusiasm and perseverance that she has.



Progress Report!

Here is a new thing I am trying. I forget what to work on when I’m on the ice. I have an app that shows descriptions of the skills in the Adult Basic Series. I transferred those to a google spreadsheet which is more accessible to me. So, I’ll keep a running list of my progress there. I’m not quite sure how it will work to share the document, so experimenting here. But at least I have it for myself now!

Progress Report

Weekly Wrap-Up 9/Goals Week 10

Last week was a week with a lot of sickish days. I only got one skate in and exercised 5 days total. I also had a light rail delay problem so it made it harder to get to the rink and back in a reasonable amount of time. Mornings are hard for me because I always wake up feeling nauseous, headachy, and unable to eat much. Often I have to work out the night’s worth of toxins or whatnot that your kidney’s usually filter. I take a medication in the morning that gets that process started, but it can take a few hours for it to work. One of the main reasons I decided I probably needed to work from home was because of this issue. Its hard to get up and work by 8:00am when you know you are going to be barfy, yet hungry and want to pee every five minutes for the first 2-3 hours of your day. Skating is not particularly early (I usually leave around 8:20ish) but it is a challenge those first few hours. I remember when I skated at 6:00am!

So, Monday just wasn’t happening. I did skate Thursday for the first time with the superfeet inserts in. I think they helped! Before I was dealing with plantar cramping and shin splints. This time it was only shin splints. An improvement! Also, by the time the group lesson rolled around (we had a sub) my skates felt pretty good. The sub had us doing a bit of simple synchro, which was fun. She wanted to know if we were doing the “Fourth of July Show” and they said that there were too many new people (raises hand), but she had us doing some line skating anyway.

I once joined a synchro team for a practice when I could skate well. I thought it would be easy because I watched them and I could do every thing they did. However, its a whole different ball game when you have to skate at a pace and timing not your own. Also being connected to people feels weird and it feels like you are getting pulled in different directions at once. I must not have liked it too much because I never joined the team. I had a new appreciation for how hard it is, though.

I really, really wanted to skate Friday at Valley, but my kids had a field trip and there would be no one to watch my littlest guy. And he doesn’t like to skate. : ( But then I did off ice training at home and I could tell my legs were really tired so it was probably for the best. I’m not yet ready to skate without a day or so in between.

I was sick the entire day yesterday. Very bad headache and then just dizzy and low BP all day. It always amazes me that I can go skate for two hours one day and then I can’t walk to the bathroom without looking like an 90 year old woman the next. I had to take breaks! Ugh! I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it today to the rink, but I did. I felt really nauseous on the way to the train but it got better on the ride.

I finished reading the JoAnne Schneider Farris book called “A Skating Life” on this trip. I have been reading skating stuff on my hour long train rides. I’m going to make a post about that book, but not today. This book took me weeks and weeks. I’m going to miss it, I will have to find something new for the train now.

Today, I worked on forward outside edges, two foot turns, stroking, and forward and back 1/2 swizzles on a circle (prepping the muscles to work on crossovers.) Here is the deal, it took forever to warm up and get the pain out of my legs, I still take small skate breaks where I take the skates off for a few minutes, but it IS getting better (with the boots) and I am getting better. Its just slow, slow, slow. Every single time I skate I improve, but its incremental. About the time my feet/legs really start feeling good, they are tired out, so its a balance. I’m hoping with some work on stamina and taking breaks in between skate sessions, I will shorten my warm-up time and lengthen my “good to skate” time.

It is extremely hard to set goals when you are dealing with chronic illness. I did not meet all of my goals last week, but I am happy with what I was able to do. It has become a day-by-day thing and my main goal is to keep going. #keepgettingup as they say. There are days that are a total bust, like yesterday. I barely made it outside where my kids had planned a picnic. It even got moved from the park down the street to my backyard. There are days when you can’t do all you want to do, but you can modify it and do something. And then there are days when you defy your own expectations, like Thursday when I was able to find a different bus to take, walk an extra 1/2 mile, do the group lesson (with synchro!) work a bit on edges, walk an extra 1/2 mile to find yet a different bus, come home and stay awake all afternoon and get other stuff done. So, the goal is to be able to see the differences between these days and take them as they come.

I’ve been so focused on skating, I think I am driving everyone nuts, but it does help my anxiety if nothing else then my giving me different anxiety. And this is sort of a grateful anxiety if that even makes sense, because–I don’t HAVE to do any of this. I’m lucky that I can worry about boot break-in or whether I’m improving my edge quality and all that type of thing. Its a relief a lot of times to just worry about this kind of stuff that really has hardly any consequence to anyone else but myself. I’m working it out.

Weekly Wrap Up Week 8/Goals Week 9

My guide dog looking sad and lonely at the Valley rink. She is tied up to a bench and has her harness on. She much prefers her friends behind the counter at Lloyd.

I’m pushing nearly 50 and I have kidney disease. As annoying as that is, that is my reality that I have to accept. Its ok, I was never under delusions of grandeur, here. (Ok, after seeing stuff on Facebook about USFS Adult Nationals, I did secretly want to go…but even if I skated well enough for that, then we get into both money and time. You have to FLY to both sectionals and if you make it, nationals and pay for hotel rooms, your coach, etc. Again, reality is annoying. But it does look like they have a lot of fun.)

All this is to say that I’ve hit a bit of a wall and it will not stop me, but it has slowed me down. It hasn’t even slowed me down…its just slowed my expectations down. So, its more accurate to say that my skating didn’t really hit a wall, my brain did. This is a management and strategy issue, as are most things related to getting shit done while disabled.  I’m still improving, just at a much, much slower level than I expected. By seven or 8 weeks, I thought I’d have a lot of things back already. Nope. Still working on boot comfort and stroking.

This week, I decided to not skate Monday because I wanted to go to the pro shop on Friday and get my blades mounted the rest of the way and talk about boot adjustments. So, the pro shop is next to the Valley rink, and I can only skate there on Fridays. So, I did Pilates Tuesday, then skated with a group lesson on Thursday (lessons always make me work harder) and then skated again on Friday. By Friday, my legs were literally going to stop working. I had to take more breaks than I wanted to.

This leg fatigue I’ve never had before quite like this. Its a CKD thing. Its when the large muscles in your legs don’t get enough oxygen and protein to recover and they literally shut down. I would stop about 5 minutes before they had me splayed on the ice requiring me to slither off like a floppy fish in shame, but its a weird feeling. Its like, you can tell your legs to move, and they ain’t gonna do it. They just don’t have the juice. When skating, your legs are in a continuous squat or lunge type position since everything in skating is done with bent knees. I’ve been doing basically constant squats for up to two hours at a time. When I skated two days in a row, my legs couldn’t take it. They just started to shut down. After I dumped my skates off, I didn’t even think I could go home if I wanted to. So, I went to a nearby Italian place and had a big piece of chicken and some vegetables. Then I sat in the rink and rested and drank lots of water and watched the hockey guys practice for a bit. By that time, I could make it home, but was still pretty tired. I did nothing on Saturday except I did have to walk a bit at an event my kids wanted to go to. It didn’t feel great. Today I did nothing but stretched a bit.

I haven’t slept at home after working out, but some days I’m really just pushing myself to stay awake and I don’t get much done. So, this week and for the next few weeks, I will be “dialing it back.”

So this week, here is the tentative plan:

I’m no longer going to do Pilates Reformer. Its not just the class, its the whole trip. I may go back to it later, but for now, I’m putting it aside.

I’m going to skate for just an hour two days this week, and not two days in a row!  The light rail is a mess this week, so I’m not yet sure which days. I can avoid the light rail mess if I go to valley. And there is no group lesson this Thursday. Also, I’m noticing a bit more friendliness at valley as I show up more and put my time in. Nothing to get too excited about, but people are saying “hi” to me a bit more now. Besides, I like that rink in many ways, its big enough to get some work done.

I need to warm up and stretch before getting on the ice. Duh. But it didn’t feel like I was doing all that much before to warm up for. But I am hoping that warm up will help.

I will concentrate on low/no weight cardio and stretching at home this week.

I will try to front .load more protein at breakfast before I skate. I have trouble eating in the mornings, so I’m not sure how well this will go, but I can usually do smoothies and “drink” my breakfast so I’ll try that.

As far as skating itself…I AM improving, just very slowly. I can skate on one foot on both sides with much more control, but stroking is getting better. In group class, I worked on edges and stops. (I can do a right foot snowplow and hockey stop just fine. I can probably even do a T-stop just fine. But I’m week on the left side.) I’ve worked on the adult basic stuff like dips and front back swizzles and marching and all that. I even worked a bit on front crossovers, but was not successful because by then I was getting major leg fatigue. I continue to work on getting used to my boots (the blades are a nonissue thus far) and am going to try some superfeet inserts this week.

Here is the score card I’ve been keeping. This isn’t very accessible and I’m going to come up with something else, because its not ideal for me either. But basically, its the Adult Basic Curriculum. If I can do something satisfactorily, it shows a + for that skill. If I can do it but it needs work, it has a -. If I can’t do it or have never worked on it yet, it is left blank.

A laminated card that shows Adult Basic Skills. I will figure out how to improve this.


Peaking Around a Corner?

…As in, maybe turning a corner a little.

I started this project about six weeks ago and have been skating 7 times. All this time, the skating itself has been kind of boring because it was just lousy and pain-ridden forward skating around and around and around. Not too exciting. Most of this time has been dealing with foot pain, equipment problems, fatigue, and getting used to rink dimensions and  sensory overload and how to manage it, and finding good ice time. As far as the skating itself, I haven’t seen any improvements.

But I’m starting to. My boots are still not foot paradise, but they improve greatly after just about ten minutes or less. I am no longer skating with an hour of severe foot pain followed by days of mild to moderate lingering pain. I have sore muscles in my legs, but that pain is not that big of deal to me and I know it will improve.

I had a long way to go to get my skills back. But I can see improvements in my basic stroking and have been able to work on Basic Skills stuff. I can feel my right side getting stronger.

Ice time is ok for now. The Lloyd Ladies (and men) are all pleasant and I have enjoyed meeting them. I had my first group lesson with them yesterday and there are some minor kinks to work out with being able to follow along with the lesson, but it was good to be in it. Lessons help push you further than sometimes you would have pushed yourself that day. I need to arrange for someone to tell me when it starts and when its “my turn” because I can’t tell otherwise. I also had too many helpers. They were all well-meaning, but if 4 people are surrounding me trying to tell me what is going on, I have no chance of hearing/seeing ANYTHING. I need just one person so I’m going to have to kindly manage some of my overabundance of help!

I long for fast-paced big ice, but I don’t need it yet. If/When I do, I will relook at my rink options or add to the Lloyd Ladies. But for now, Lloyd Ladies are fine. I’m a bit concerned about Lloyd Ice, though. Now that I’ve walked through the mall with my son, Naim, I realized that the mall is not dead, but is “sick.” Its got really only one anchor store, which is Macy’s, and Macy’s is struggling. Several vacant spaces exist throughout the mall. And now with the other rink closing soon, what will become of it. Seriously, they should take one of the big vacant stores and make two big standard sheets of ice on it. And then try to get a fitness club in there as well. Think of all the people that would bring in to the stores! But, for now, I’m hoping Lloyd holds out for me and the others who skate there and/or someone can work out a new rink or two in this town. Calling Tonya Harding! Did your movie make you any money, Tonya? Can you invest it into a new rink? I’ll come! I’ll bring my friends!

But I digress…

My biggest challenge so far has been scheduling and fatigue issues. Even there, I see a little bit of improvement, although its not worked out, yet. I read up on exercise fatigue, kidney disease and fatigue, etc. I realized that I developed a low RBC and had to take epoetin shots the last time I was skating heavily. But it also was a time when I had kidney stones and went through 4 kidney surgeries in a matter of 8 months, so that was probably the more likely cause. (And I don’t remember falling asleep immediately after skating back then, just overwhelming tiredness all the time, but I skated when I could still.) So, I get blood work about every 2 to 3 months and I will check my RBC next time, but I’m leaning more towards this being exercise fatigue. I’m thinking of dropping pilates for the time being, but then just yesterday after I skated, I was tired and not fully functional, but I could get a few tasks done in the afternoon and I did not fall asleep, so maybe there is improvement already. I tried to drink more water during skating, have a small snack immediately after, and some of the other tips that they say can help exercise fatigue, but its not like I’m brand new to exercise, either. So its still a bit up in the air, as is scheduling to both get everything else done and to not overdo it to the point of being dysfunctional. It might kind of be a day-by-day or week-by-week thing for awhile.

I sometimes have tiredness and “oh, god, do I really want to get my ass out of here to skate?” feelings in the morning, but once I get there, I’m fine. I no longer feel anxious about the skating itself, although I’ve struggled with guilt and anxiety over sleeping too much, being gone too much, not getting as much done at home. But hopefully I can get rid of that. There is something nostalgic about walking through Holiday Park and a mall by myself with my dog and skating bag to the rink. It brings back so many memories of my single, child-free days. I am getting kind of protective over that time, and it does help with my overall day-to-day anxiety and enjoyment of life. I’d be on the ice every day if I could, but for now, I am just happy to start feeling the skating high that comes with a level of comfort and confidence on the ice.

Weekly Wrap-Up 5/Goals Week 6

I got so caught up in the new boot business that I forgot to do this, so very quickly:

Week 5 was just a lot of working on foot exercises, resting my foot, and getting used to the new skates. I skated one time, which I already wrote about. I FINALLY, did a pilates reformer class, which worked mostly on arms but was good. I did lots of StretchIt app and, I think, one Daily Burn and took a couple of walks. But because I spent a lot of last weekend and Monday/Tuesday resting my feet, exercise was a bit on the light side.

This week:

  • Skate Monday (I already did this). It went well. I got about 1 hour and 15 minutes in. I took less breaks and worked on lifting my left foot in a proper stroke instead of dragging it along for the ride. Its got a ways to go, but was an improvement. Also worked on other Adult Basic 1 stuff like “rocking horses”, dips, snowplow stops.
  • Pilates on Tuesday or Wednesday;
  • Skate Thursday. This will include my first group lessons with the Ladies of Little Lloyd. (aka: the Hooky Club) If I get the chance, I want to see what that pro (I think her name is Jane) thinks of my blade mount. I still need to get it permanently mounted at Valley with my pro shop guy, Jim.
  • Continue with stretching on the other days, also work on developing an off-ice routine to strengthen my ankles, legs and flexibility. (I downloaded Sk8strong’s Guide to Off-Ice Conditioning, but I haven’t really looked at it yet.) This maybe something I can do at the gym while kids are playing basketball because they have the bosu balls and stuff like that available.
  • Continue working on stamina and management of other stuff around this “project.” Okay, I failed this today. I came back home and slept! : ( But I did leave plenty of work for the kids to do while I was gone). Seriously, though, this needs to get under control and quick. Maybe it will be easier when I work through the summer. But damn. “Staying awake all day.” should not have to be a goal.

Mostly, the next couple of weeks will be working on getting used to my skates, strengthening my legs, and working on Adult Basics. And STAMINA. I mean, geeeeeeesh!

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.

Little Victories

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


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.


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.

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





Weekly Wrap-Up 4

A lot has happened this week! Both good and not so good. But I met all but one of my goals for Week 4, I tried to make up for that today, and it ‘kinda” worked.

So, to jump right in, on Monday I skated with the hooky club. I really liked that and the people and staff were nice and with the exception of that small rink, it is a very good deal for me. I enjoy people who just try their best to improve themselves, have a good time, make and achieve some goals, no matter what their age or disability or whatever. I am not the only visually impaired person there (Nik: should I send some brochures with you? Our company provides blindness skills training.) Anyway, one of them is working on dance, moves in the field, etc like I want to. Of course she is way ahead of me, but it gives me something to aspire to.

I also learned that they do a group lesson on Thursdays, some of them take private lessons during that time, and they skate all through the summer! This may be my saving grace for summer, since I thought that I might be screwed with kids out of school. But they buy the ice time, so they are the only ones on the ice. On Monday, I think there was about ten people, and once they get to know me a bit better, they will all figure out the best way to stay out of my way or tell me they are coming so I will have an easier time keeping track of where people are. They all skate fairly well to very good. Its the best ice time deal that I have found.

I’ve tried getting a pro at valley but I’ve been completely ignored. I get it on a level. I’m just some old person that is not going to advance their careers or anything. I will not pay their mortgage but I could buy them a nice dinner once or twice a month, right? Or maybe they just can’t take on any more students. In any case, just telling me a polite “no” would be appreciated. But I’ getting the complete brush off. They let me skate there, but they otherwise completely ignore me. Its fine. I was happy to see that Lloyd has pros that work with some of the older students.

Also, I skated at Valley on Friday, and although I totally knew there was no school on Friday in relation to my kids, it didn’t register what that would mean on the ice. Dumb, dumb, dumb. So, I got up to go to Valley on Friday and although I skated, it was a lot of kids and it was difficult. I did not get to start on anything, really. But I stayed to wait until the pro shop opened, so I got about an hour in.

I decided that for the time being, I am going to do both days at Lloyd with the hooky club and pretty much drop valley. I may still skate there sometimes when I need a skate sharpening or something. I like the guy in the pro shop. Or I may come back later when my skills are better, but for now I will stay in Little Lloyd with the Little Ladies.

I did track my food, I lost a small amount of weight, I did exercise all of the other days. But I missed pilates. This time it was my fault, not theirs. I had been working on a sore throat all week and felt like I was getting sick. So I took the day off from heavy exercise. I did take a walk that day, and today I tried a yoga class to make up for it. But my yoga class (called restorative yoga) was a little TOO restorative. It was basically taking a nap in different positions. Oh, I know it was really meditation, and I see its place. But it was not a workout.

So I did 3 hrs and 53 minutes of working out. This is not counting the yoga class from today. Tracking food went well and it was also good for me to see that I have stayed within my protein limits. BP is fine. My biggest challenge for the week ahead is….

I got new skates! And I’m scared to death to try them out! I’ve just been wearing them around the house. Its a big change but I needed to do something because I was getting a flare up of my plantar fasciitis of old. This week is going to be a bit weird, so I don’t have a firm plan yet. It might just be letting my feet heal while wearing the new boots a bit every day. Its a set back that I hope will work out for the best in the long run. I will write more about my new skates later, but for now…here is a funny preview one of my kids took of me wearing my new skates in the living room after coming home from yoga today.