I spent my childhood in ice rinks learning to figure skate. Now, I'm channeling that nostalgia on my rollerblades in my local playground.

By Allie Strickler
July 28, 2020
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Every morning, the first thing I do—before I even have coffee— is look out the window at the playground across from my apartment building. If it isn’t already crowded with basketball players or toddlers riding their bicycles, I grab my rollerblades and head out the door.

I’ll admit, the playground’s jagged concrete isn’t quite the same as the buttery smooth ice I remember from my figure skating days. But during quarantine, it’ll do.

It was only a blip of time in my life, but from about age 10 to 13, I was a figure skater. I never stuck with it long enough to compete, but I spent hours upon hours at ice rinks growing up—not just for my figure skating lessons, but also for my older brother’s hockey games. When I wasn’t learning footwork, spins, and jumps on the ice, I did my homework in the bleachers. I sipped hot chocolate and gorged on French fries at the snack bar. My dad and I played silly made-up games with loose change to pass the time when my brother’s practices ran late (listen, it was before smartphones were a thing, okay?).

Ice rinks felt like home to me. I loved skating so much as a kid, I even cleared out the dusty boxes in my family's unfinished basement so I'd have room to rollerblade down there whenever I wanted.

As for the playground across from my apartment building? Well, I can’t quite practice all of the same jumps and spins I learned over a decade ago. I’m getting there, despite the deep cracks that run along the playground's pavement, threatening to trip me at any moment.

I don’t mind the challenge, though. Yes, I feel like a dweeb in my helmet, elbow pads, and knee pads (and face mask, don't worry!), and I kind of look like a bumbling Bambi on wheels. (Related: This Face Mask Is So Breathable During Workouts, My BF Keeps Stealing Mine to Go Running)

But whether I’m on the ice or the pavement, I feel at home when I’m skating.

To be clear, I didn't pick up skating again as a random quarantine hobby. About two months into the pandemic, I started feeling bored with my home workouts, and, much like the rest of the world, I wanted to find any excuse to be outside as much as possible.

Just as roller skating started to emerge as a retro quarantine trend, the playground across from my apartment opened back up (it'd been closed for a couple of months due to COVID-19 restrictions).

I went from spending lazy afternoons on my phone watching videos of roller skaters on Instagram, to gliding my way across the playground for hours at a time.

For me, skating is more than just a fun workout.

When I get to the playground, my mind (finally) gets quiet. Normally I’m overthinking a conversation with a friend, stressing about something at work, worrying about how the hell the COVID-19 pandemic is going to end—you know, the usual.

But when I’m skating, I’m there on the playground—and only there. I’m thinking about how to shift the weight of my body when I cross my left skate over my right. I’m thinking about the position of my arms as I transition from forward to backward skating. I’m gliding to the beat of Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Panic! At the Disco, the Hamilton soundtrack, whatever my music obsession is that week. There’s no room in my head to think about anything else. As Beau Burgau, C.S.C.S., strength coach and founder of GRIT Training, previously told Shape: “Skating requires a mind-body connection because it’s a learned skill. It keeps you present and in the moment, making it a great way to practice mindfulness.” (Related: The Workout Benefits of Roller Skating—Plus, Where to Shop the Best Skates)

Before I picked up rollerblading as an adult, my mornings were fraught with anxiety. I’ve always been one to feel anxious in the morning about what’s ahead for the day, but the pandemic has only exacerbated my tendency to worry about, well, everything. (Related: How My Lifelong Anxiety Has Actually Helped Me Deal with the Coronavirus Panic)

Rolling out of bed and going straight to the playground to rollerblade allows me to release that anxiety.

Not only am I so deeply immersed in the present moment that the stress just melts away, but skating—even on a dilapidated playground—floods me with such a powerful sense of nostalgia, I can’t help but feel pure joy.

Truth is, as undeniably shitty as the pandemic has been, I probably wouldn’t have rediscovered my love of skating without it. Sure, pre-COVID, I still ice skated with friends in the winter from time to time. But I hadn’t rollerbladed since childhood, and I’d pretty much abandoned the idea of pursuing any type of skating on my own time. I always made excuses about why I couldn't get back into the sport: It's too expensive, I don't have enough time, my 26-year-old body can't handle it anymore. I'd forgotten how genuinely happy I feel when I skate—and I'm not sure I would've ever remembered that feeling, let alone appreciated it, had I not been in quarantine. (Related: Why It’s Okay to Enjoy Quarantine—and How to Stop Feeling Guilty for It)

While I’ll admit that I bought my rollerblades on a bit of a whim, they’re easily the best purchase I’ve made all year. Skating makes me feel strong, graceful, confident, composed—everything I haven’t been feeling since the start of the pandemic.

Who knows whether I’ll continue skating after COVID-19 (whenever that time might come). I hope I do. Because, honestly, I can’t picture my life without it anymore.

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