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Rated: E · Non-fiction · Family · #1433061
A father tries to instill his love of the rink in his daughter.
Having grown up in upstate New York, learning to skate was a rite of passage.

In the mid-1970s, I was living in Youngstown, N.Y., about 30 miles north of Buffalo. The Sabres made it to their first Stanley Cup finals in 1975, and hockey fever was gripping the Niagara Frontier.

As an 11-year-old, I knew I wanted to play hockey. Of course, I didn't know how to skate, so it was time to learn how.

I went to a hockey school over the summer and hoped my skating skills would be good enough to play hockey. A couple of Sabres were instructors at the camp.

Compared to a lot of the others on the ice, I really struggled. I had a heck of a time skating with all of that equipment on. One of the instructors, Steve Atkinson, was a real jerk. I don't think he liked me too much.

Needless to say, my hockey career never took off, but I still went to the rinks and skated. We moved way upstate to Plattsburgh, where the only two seasons are winter and July 4. Later, we moved to Greensburg, Pa., east of Pittsburgh. I remember spending many Friday nights at Nevin Arena.

Once I got to college, the skating pretty much ended. Maybe once in a blue moon, I'd get on the ice, but those occasions were few and far between.

I moved to Hagerstown, Md., and a rink opened there in the late 1990s. I still didn't get out too often, but by this point, I had a daughter, and I started thinking maybe someday she'd be a figure skating champion.

So a few years ago, I took Kielen to the rink and signed her up for lessons. She really took to the ice, and earned her badges and moved up to the next levels.

We also would go to the rink a couple of other times a week for free skating. It was a chance for Kielen to work on her skills, but also a chance just to have fun.

Kielen had a lot of talent. The problem with her was nerves. The ice rink hosted a Christmas skating show every year and also had another show during Winterfest, which was held every January. It would have been great to see her get on the ice and perform, but she wanted nothing to do with skating in front of crowds.

But that was fine with me. I wanted for Kielen to be happy, and if that meant no performances, that was OK. I wasn't going to push her to do something she didn't want to do.

Over the years, things changed at the rink. For some reason I still don't know to this day, Erin, the best instructor the rink ever had, was fired. That was a devastating blow to the rink. I know a lot of people were up in arms over it.

Some people never went back, but I kept bringing Kielen over. There were still some good instructors there, but no one like Erin. Kielen still wanted to take lessons, and she kept getting better. But the joy wasn't there like it used to be.

Eventually, Kielen didn't want to take lessons any more. She just wanted to skate for fun, but didn't want anybody telling her what to do.

The trips to the rink became less frequent and the rink hired an assistant manager who ranks as one of the rudest human beings I've ever encountered. The rink has always struggled to stay afloat considering that hockey and ice skating pale in comparison to NASCAR and football in this town just south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The last thing it needed was someone who didn't have a clue how to deal with people.

The rink eventually ran into some serious financial difficulties, and only a deal with the local youth hockey association kept it from turning it into an indoor flea market or something else that would attract more people.

In the last year, we've only been to the rink a couple of times. I miss it sometimes, and I miss seeing Kielen on the ice. It was always a joy to me to watch her. It makes me sad that we don't go there too often.

But I don't think Kielen has the same feelings about this that I do. She's 12 years old now, and she has moved on to the guitar and piano lessons. I hope she keeps pursuing her interests because she has a gift for playing music.

As for ice skating, I can think of what might have been, but will remember the happy times Kielen and I had on the rink, gliding on the ice without a care in the world.

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