A day on ice (sort of) for a rusty skater

On a crisp sunny Sunday morning in January, the Franklin Institute forecast said the temperature outside was 18 degrees Fahrenheit. On a day like this even a miserable klutz’s thoughts can turn to ice skating.

I’m a Michigan girl who grew up playing children’s games on the frozen ponds of the Great Lakes state. I idolized Carol Heiss and Peggy Fleming when women’s figure skating was definitely a minor sport. The only time I’d taken lessons, for the physical education requirement in college, I’d flunked. Flying through the air executing the perfect triple lutz was out for me.

Besides, I’d been here in the temperate Delaware Valley for many years. It had been a long time since I’d been skating. But Penn’s Class of 1923 Rink is legendary among generations of kids and their parents who learned there and compared to the great outdoors, it was warm-ish in there. Even though they had skates for rent, I’d come to look but not leap.

The kids learn how to skate

Sunday morning is reserved for lessons. Rogie Masangkay, the program coordinator, was on the ice. Parents were gathered in groups of two and threes as the littlest kids, ages five and six practiced the basics. Falling down was easy and a lot of fun. The snowplow stop was problematical.

Herb Wolfson C’85,L’88,Gr’91 was standing at the entrance to the ice watching his six-year-old son Quincy, who had progressed to level three. “He’s seen his 15-year-old cousin in competition,” said Wolfson of his precocious son, “and he wants to compete too.”

Masangkay skated over to explain that they teach the eight-level basic skating program authorized by the United States Figure Skating Association. “The colder it is outside, the busier we are,” said Masangkay on what seemed like a pretty busy day. “Of course, right after the Olympics, our enrollment doubles.”

I asked Masangkay if they taught hockey too. “Not really,” he replied. “We can get them started on the fundamentals, but after that it becomes too confusing to teach the open, erect style of figure skating and the compact, speed-oriented style of hockey skating in the same group. Our lessons concentrate on figure skating.”

Our hockey club’s doing just fine

Hockey happens at the Class of 1923 Rink when Penn’s club team takes the ice.

Penn hasn’t had a varsity hockey team for many years, but the club must be doing pretty well. A banner hung high on the back wall said Penn had finished first in the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association competition in 2002.

While we were talking, I noticed Wendy Lam lazily skating rings around everyone else.

She even managed a pretty impressive forward arabesque. While she waited for the upper level lessons to begin, she told me that she was an architecture graduate student in the School of Design. “I started taking lessons five years ago at the Wollman Rink in New York,” she said. For her, skating is therapeutic. “When I start skating, I forget that I’ve got a project due tomorrow. It really clears my head.”

The little kids came tumbling off the ice and the advanced classes took over—tracing the red circles under the ice, shifting from inside to outside edges and crossing over from one foot to the other in one continuous fluid motion. One future Tara Lipinski was in one corner taking a private lesson. With the fearlessness only an 11-year-old could muster, she practiced a simple jump, fell down, picked herself up and tried it again.

Vice President and Chief of Staff Pedro Ramos, who will be leaving the President’s Office shortly to become Philadelphia’s city solicitor, was there watching his two daughters, Catalina, age 12, and Isabel, age 9, take their lessons. They’ve been coming to the rink for two years, he reported. “Do you skate?” I asked. “No,” he said. “sometimes my wife skates with them, but I’m more risk averse when it comes to bone density.” Amen.

A steaming cup of hot cocoa is the traditional treat after skating, but at the Class of 1923 Rink, on Sunday morning, the snack bar was closed. I’ll have to come back. Maybe next time, I’ll even get on the ice.

Originally published on January 29, 2004