Twenty years ago, Richard Callaghan helped Tara Lipinski become an Olympic gold medalist — but I was not impressed.
Sure, he can coach Tara, but who couldn't? She can skate. But what about coaching a 33-year old clod who has never been on figure skates before? If Callaghan really wanted to test his coaching skills, I would be his guinea pig.
I’ve skated since I was 3, but never on figure skates. So, as I stepped onto the ice at the Detroit Skating Club for my lesson, I had just one question: With no stick to hold, what should I do with my hands?
I got the answer one second later, when I tried to take my first stride on the ice, leaned too far forward, accidentally jammed those stupid toe-picks deep into the ice, and performed the first of many face-plants that day.
Seeing this pathetic display, Callaghan urged me not to skate too close to the boards. He said, "I don't want to see you crush your face.”
He then showed me the correct posture: your shoulders directly over your hips, knees, and skates, with your weight in the middle of your blades. Sounds easy, unless you've spent three decades doing just the opposite: leaning forward, on your toes. If you use a hockey posture on figure skates, the toe picks stick in the ice, and you’ll fall on your face, many times. I never realized how hard the ice is until I hit it without hockey pads.
Callaghan had me try three jumps, the salchow, the toe loop, and the waltz. He added some preliminary moves before each jump, which help you build momentum and rhythm, so you can jump higher.
But if you're a clod, trying all those pre-jump moves just gives you more chances to screw something up before the actual jump. By the time I got to jumping, I was so off-balance that my feet felt like they were glued to the ice. I could not break the earth's surly bonds.
This is why Callaghan termed my jump a "salchow-minus," and said my toe loop "looked good — technically." Which is like saying, "Your girlfriend is beautiful — in theory."
Our final jump, the waltz, proved to be my saving grace. When I actually got some air on this one, Callaghan could not conceal his surprise.
“Actually, that wasn't bad," he said. "It wasn't good, but it wasn't bad. Now we just need to get you to do it with a little less… violence." That meant landing better.
With just two minutes left before Callaghan had to coach some girl named Lipinski, I finally got through all the pre-jump pivots without screwing up, I got some air on the jump, and I landed on just one foot. Callaghan was as stunned as I was.
"That's really a lot better," Callaghan said, then caught himself. "I mean, compared to where you started."
I decided not to push it. I thanked him for his time, and let Lipinski try her luck. Turns out, she did even better.
John U. Bacon is a freelance sports commentator. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management, or its license holder, the University of Michigan.