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November 30, 2012

STAWAR: Southern Indiana on Ice

“I asked my old man if I could go ice skating on the lake. He said wait until it gets warmer.” — Rodney Dangerfield


According to Dave Barry, “The problem with winter sports is that — follow me closely here — they generally take place in winter.”

Well it seems that both winter and winter sports have descended upon Southern Indiana.

After a delay due to a malfunctioning chiller, the Jeffersonville Ice Rink opened for its second season last Friday. The city contracted with “Ice Rinks 2 Go” to set up the skating venue at the corner of Market and Spring streets in downtown Jeffersonville. The rink will be open until Jan. 27 for public skating and some special events. Among the scheduled activities are an abbreviated performance of the Nutcracker on Ice and an Ugly Christmas sweater night. You can get all the relevant details at the website.

The rink is small, but adorable, and we took the whole family there Saturday afternoon to enjoy the brisk 39 degree weather and snap out of our post-Thanksgiving stupor. My wife Diane and I were both sorely tempted to try our hand at skating but we contented ourselves with staying near the warming tent, plying the grandchildren with hot chocolate and taking lots of pictures.

I was still haunted by the memory of the last time I tried ice skating, when I barely made it around the rink and spent most of the time grousing about how bad my ankles hurt. Skating is great exercise from an aerobic perspective, but I’m afraid it’s a young person’s sport, unless you’re a former Olympian or performed in the Ice Capades.

Approximately 650,000 Americans formally participate in figure skating, ice hockey, or speed skating each year. Thousands more, however, take advantage of rinks and ponds for recreational skating. Growing up in Wisconsin, Diane is much more familiar with ice skating than I am. When she was girl, every winter they turned the square block of ball fields by her elementary school into an ice skating rink. They also fashioned a toboggan run in the back and opened the school hallways to serve as a warming house, where teachers were assigned to supervise the children. They even let the school children play on the ice during recess. Diane was once briefly knocked unconscious during a particularly fierce game of Red Rover on the ice. She awoke, mortified, to find the boy she secretly liked, picking her up and asking her if she was alright .

In Southern Illinois, where I grew up, it seldom stayed cold enough long enough for outdoor rinks, although one exceptionally cold winter the city fire department flooded the junior high school field so the children could skate there.

As a child I was fascinated by the Winter Olympics and was completely brainwashed by ABC’s Wide World of Sports with Jim McKay. Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers recently said, “The Winter Olympics is just 48 different kinds of sliding.” He may be right, but let’s face it, kids love to slide. Speed skating and ski jumping especially caught my imagination, since they seem awfully close to being able to fly.

It was at the makeshift rink at the junior high school where I first used real ice skates. Like most of my athletic endeavors, I quickly learned that I liked skating a lot, but that I wasn’t very good at it.

When I was in high school, a real ice skating rink opened in the neighboring town. Before then, most older kids and adults skated on local lakes. I remember one Saturday when I went to nearby Horseshoe Lake with some friends to try out the new skates I had gotten for Christmas. Unfortunately my parents had bought me figure skates instead of the more macho hockey skates I had requested. I had smeared mud on them to try to disguise them and avoid the inevitable teasing that was sure to follow if other boys got a good look at them. We were only there a short time when one of my friends, Dennis, skated too close to a hole in the ice and fell through. It was scary, but somehow not all that surprising, since it seemed like Dennis was always skating on thin ice of one sort or another. There was no rope or ladder to use to help him out. I remembered that the Boy Scout Handbook described how you could form a human chain from the shore across the ice. I would have volunteered to be the anchor person that stayed on the shore, but no one else seemed inclined to lay down on the cold thin ice, so everyone just stood there in shock and watched Dennis flounder for a moment. Fortunately, the water that Dennis fell into was only about three feet deep. He was able to crawl out fairly easily, make his way back to his car, and give the crowd of gawkers a piece of his mind on his way out.

Experts like Mathew Honan from Wired magazine say that if you ever fall through the ice when you are alone you should: 1. Break the fall by extending your arms to try to keep your midsection out of the water, to lessen the shock; 2. Control your breathing and try to keep from hyperventilating; 3. Orient yourself by facing the direction you came from, since the ice there was strong enough to hold you before; 4. Extend your arms over the ice and maneuver your body while kicking, so that most of your torso is out of the water and resting on the ledge. You usually only have a few minutes to do all this, so it is important to not panic; 5. When you have crawled completely out of the water, log roll to the shore, evenly distributing your weight across the ice; and 6. Finally, dry off and get treated for hypothermia as soon as possible.

My father told me about how he once skated across the Mississippi River when he was a young man. It was probably the winter of 1936, when the temperature in St. Louis was ten below zero for several weeks and the river froze solid for more than 20 days that February. During that time he said that people drove cars and trucks across the river instead of using the bridges. The Mississippi isn’t the only major river that has frozen over. According to Louisville Police Captain Morton O. Childress’ history of the Louisville Police, during the winter of 1868 the Ohio River froze from shore to shore. In keeping with Kentucky tradition, Childress writes, “A bar was set up in the middle of the frozen river for those who wanted a little refreshment before continuing their walk across the river.”

It’s been said that the hardest part of ice skating is the ice. And in general you are much more likely to get injured falling on the ice than through it. According to a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, ice skaters are much more prone to head injuries from falls, than roller skaters. Researchers at the Columbus Children’s Hospital recommended that children wear helmets when ice skating. Wrist guards, knee and elbow pads, and thick gloves also may help minimize injuries. Since ice skaters usually fall forward and the surface is so slippery, safety equipment has to be specially designed for the activity.

In 1991 two women from Michigan patented a “Protective Ice Skating Outfit” which is described as a suit to protect skaters against injuries caused by falling during skating. The suit, which seems to be made for children, has multiple interior pockets that hold padding inserts at “areas susceptible to falling injuries.” The outfit is lightweight, washable, and less bulky than traditional hockey gear and can be put on and taken off with “one quick movement.” I don’t think they’re commercially available, but maybe if I can find one of these in my size, I might have a go at ice skating the next time the grandchildren are in town.

— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at

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