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FOR WANT OF A HEEL
17 February 2014
I was on skis once in my life. It was when I was at UC Berkeley and there was a Newman Club ski trip. I took pre-ski lessons from a guy named Mike McHale, where he taught us basic moves on our skis on the floor in the basement of Newman Hall. We learned the position for the snow plow and I was excited to be trying it out.
We all packed up our stuff and headed to the moutains, snow, and the bunny slope.
Learning the tow-rope was the first obstacle, and after some embarrassing failures, I finally made it to the top of the bunny slope. In those days, I was the unofficial house mother for the house where Walt and other guys were living, so I had acquired the nickname "Mom." I still remember my descent down the bunny slope, feeling out of control, Mike at the bottom yelling "Plow, Mom, PLOW!"
I might have become the Lindsey Vonn of my day if I had stuck with it, but something happened when I got to the bottom of the bunny slope on that fateful day. Somehow I managed to twist my foot so that the heel of my boot broke off.
There I was with a Berkeley-rented boot with no heel and, apparently, no way to have it fixed. Thinking back on it, I'm sure if I was diligent I could have found a work-around, but I didn't. Instead, I spent the weekend in the lodge watching others plow and whatever the more experienced skiers did. I never tried hitting the slopes again.
I was never blessed with the athleticism gene, though my father had been quite athletic in his youth (he was into body-building) and my mother was apparently the star softball player on her high school team and one of the stars of the basketball team. But my clumsiness today is only an exacerbation of how clumsy I was as a kid. I was one of those "last picked" for any team I had the misfortune to be on. I know I had to take gym class in high school, but I have absolutely no memory of ever playing on any team in any sport. (This is ironic, since my best lifelong friend, Sister Anne, was the gym teacher and quite athletic!)
When I was in Girl Scouts in grammar school, our group took skating lessons from Harris Legg (whom, I read on the Internet, has been described as "one of the greatest athletes to ever come out of Galt." I wonder if my mother knows that--she was raised in Galt.) Legg qualified for the 1936 Winter Olympics but couldn't afford to go, so joined the Ice Follies instead. After he retired from the Ice Follies, he opened a skating school in San Francisco.
I was terrible. I barely learned how to do the skate cross-over that allowed me to make a turn at the end of the rink. I never did learn how to skate backwards, but I did enjoy skating and my friends and I often went to the old Sutro Baths to skate. In my father's day, the Sutro Baths, out by the ocean beach, was a large, privately owned swimming pool which, according to its publicity, was the largest indoor swimming pool in the world, containing seven different pools, six salt water in varying temperatures and one fresh water.
In my day, however, half of the pools had been walled off to the pubic and the other half had been turned into a giant ice skating rink.
I really did have a good time at that skating rink, though I never learned to skate backwards and though could skate several feet without falling down, I never got actually proficient at skating. At least my ankles eventually learned how to hold my weight on two thin blades.
So with that as a background, it amazes me that every four years I spend hours watching winter sports. I guess it's the vicarious thrill of watching all that aerial artistry and speed of the downhill skiers, the fearlessness on the luge and skeleton, and those speedy races, but I don't know any of the rules of anything and the rapid fire commentary by the pros watching each competitor on his or her downhill run doesn't help at all. I can't see the difference between any two competitors. Unless someone falls, they all look the same to me.
I watch hockey games and when someone makes a goal I'm shocked because I thought the puck was at some other part of the rink.
The only sport I'm sort of learning about is curling which seems to
be played at my speed, and slow enough that I can begin to understand the lingo and the
rules. I'm sure it's quite athletic, but if I had to choose a winter sport, I vote
for curling. At least if you break you heel in curling, you can probably continue to
play. Of course it does involve sweeping, which sounds too suspiciously
like housecleaning to me...
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