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Are we skating on thin ice?

The past few weeks of Olympic coverage had me glued to the TV, but also had me reflecting on the state of fitness in Canada (and my own household). There’s something about the winter Olympics that speaks to my soul more than the summer games.

I guess growing up and living in a predominantly cold climate explains my fascination. After all, most of us who grew up in Canada have donned a pair of skates at some point, or used the local hill to careen dangerously down the incline (the more out of control, the bigger the thrill), or taken to the slopes to try our hand at skiing, or thrown a few rocks at the local curling bonspiel.

But it was one story during the Olympic coverage which immediately caught my attention and led me to my ponderings. It was a story not about the athletes but about regular folks in South Korea who have embraced the sport of speed skating. There they were – all ages (even 80 year olds) gracefully gliding about the oval ice surface like so many Hans Brinkers. They weren’t hiding away from winter but having some fun and getting exercise at the same time.

I think the Koreans are on to something. Skating is a low impact activity which is great for the joints while improving balance and coordination. It helps strengthen the small muscles around the hips, knees, and ankles which often are neglected by other activities. Skating improves blood flow, thereby ensuring better oxygen levels throughout the body. And it burns calories. It’s the perfect activity for cold-weather climates.

So, why then, in a country which abounds with both indoor and outdoor facilities (including a $5.6 million outdoor rink in Ottawa to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary), are we not embracing ice skating as enthusiastically as the South Koreans? When I say “we”, I am referring to the average Canadian, of which I am as guilty as the next person.

When I was growing up in small town Saskatchewan, skating was my regular evening’s entertainment. Shortly after supper I would layer up my clothing, sling my skates over my shoulder, and make the trek down to the local arena. There sitting on roughly-hewn wooden benches around a pot-bellied stove, I and my friends would eagerly strap on our blades. As we skated round and round that ice surface, we would visit and laugh. Sometimes we would play crack the whip or tag until some adult put an end to our fun. And as we watched the graceful maneuvres of one older married couple (I’m sure they must have been only in their 40’s, but old to us), we dared to dream of our own skating prowess on an Olympic stage.

Maybe we spent so much time skating because our options for social engagement were rather limited. But in an age when TV was just making its debut into many homes, I find it interesting that the local rink had far more appeal.

It just might be time to rediscover that joy of gliding on a smooth surface, listening to the blades cut through the ice, letting cares slip away, and getting some much-needed exercise in the process. See at you at the local rink.

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