Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ice Ice Baby

Me: "Although the quad lutz is more difficult than the quad loop or quad flip, the quad lutz has been performed in competition, while the quad loop and quad flip have not."
She: "Whaaa?"
Me:  "It's probably essential to get those twizzles out of the way early in the long program."
She: "Who are you, and what have you done with my husband?"
Like many avid watchers, my glassy-eyed commitment to TV coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics has transformed me from a mostly unassuming guy who freely admits to not knowing much about anything to an irritating, self-styled expert on all things slick, slippery and slidey.
But hey, while you might assume an unsophisticated rube like myself might struggle to determine the difference between, say, a cherry flip and a Russian split, you should know that my personal skating history involved one of the most popular, best-loved ice venues known to man.
Wiley Park.
The rink that sits in the big park across the street from my house has been there since 1960, when the local Rotary Club bought a big plastic sheet and flooded a low spot in the beautiful 2-square-block section that was once known as "College Park" in anticipation of the hoped-for arrival of what eventually became Augustana College in Rock Island.
Original plans called for the rink to be located in the south side park on the downtown square, but officials of the Burlington Railroad turned down requests for use of the property, citing safety issues and concerns that young skaters would attempt to cross the tracks going to and from the rink. It was finally placed on the east side of Wiley Park that year, and was also locared on the tennis courts at the Galva Park District on the south edge of the city for a couple of years.  But for the majority of its existence, the rink has been located in the southwest corner of Wiley Park, where it remains today.
Now, you might think having a skating rink requires little more than spilling some water in a low spot and waiting for it to freeze. But it's hardly that simple. For over 30 years, the rink was lovingly maintained by Galva resident Herb Rodgers, who became quite adept and inventive at filling and freezing the smooth skating surface with the help of special tools like his homemade "fantastic machine," a Zamboni-like contraption he used to push back and forth across the ice. Nowadays, it's another group of generous volunteers who sacrifice their time, talent and the feeling in the ends of their noses so that Wiley Park can continue to be a great place to skate.  It's where I fully developed the graceful, yet powerful skating style that has often seen me described as a "dynamic cross between Bobby Orr and Viktor Petrenko,"* though my very first tentative steps on the ice were taken on the nifty little rink my father installed in our backyard in an attempt to foil my brother in his repeated attempts to flood the whole gosh darn place with a garden hose every time my parents dared to leave him home alone.
We played skate tag, crack-the-whip, raced around in headlong glee, and scuffled through our own particular version of hockey, a hybrid sport that often as not involved no pads, no helmet, no mask, your sister's old white figure skates, a smashed-flat dog food can, and the taped-up stick your brother got for Christmas the year before.
But mostly, we just enjoyed it.
It was cold. Oftentimes, our toes and noses just about froze.
In fact, I'm pretty sure my nose actually fell off one time.
There were no international champions among us.
But hey, we were kids.
We were there to have fun.
And when it came to that, we were absolutely olympic class.
Oh yeah. One more thing.
Now that my grandsons have discovered it, I get to have the same fun all over again.

* My mother said this once. Really.

1 comment:

  1. John - another great example of your indepth coverage of your wisely spent youth. Thanks for reminding us of the best parts of small town living.