It’s Saturday morning, and the cheerful echo of laughter fills the air. Below the bleachers, there’s a symphony of movement; enthusiastic young children and tentative adults glide over ice, chasing bubbles, gathering stuffed animals, and chasing hula hoops as supportive coaches guide and instruct. Despite the chilly environment, the atmosphere is warm. People giggle and grin, stumble and recover, and cheer each other on.
It’s just an ordinary day at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center’s indoor ice skating rink, a year-round winter playground that puts ice sports within reach for some 50,000 visitors per year. Since its opening in 2000, the regulation NHL-sized rink has made serving the community a priority. From the graceful twirl of a figure skater to the dynamic power of a hockey player to the quiet focus of curling, there are many ways to experience ice skating. GCCC offers an impressive cross sampling of these activities. Even though it lacks competition—it’s the only indoor ice rink in the state north of Albuquerque—it’s a model of an affordable, well-maintained and friendly experience.
The thrill of ice skating may seem like a distant dream to many people—especially kids—but through programs like Skating in School, the Chavez Center rink is inclusive of our entire community. The program allows access to Santa Fe students who may not otherwise have the opportunity to go ice skating. It’s funded by the city and private donors, and provides everything: four coaches, transportation to and from the Chavez Center, plus rink time once a week for four weeks. After a month of lessons, the students show off their new skills by performing in a show. The Chavez Center has included five schools so far, and is committed to doing even more in the coming years.
One of the Center’s broadest programs is Learn to Skate, which is open to everyone and follows a standard curriculum set by the United States Figure Skating Association. Learn to Skate is available to all ages and skill levels, from preschoolers to senior citizens, and it allows participants to choose from a five-class series or drop-in classes.
The coaches employ a variety of inventive instruction methods, using bubbles, rubber duckies, toys and games to make the experience fun and engage students in play. Contract skating coach and former Learn to Skate Coordinator Teri Moellenberg explains, “Fear is a definite factor, and games can help kids overcome the fear.”
When it comes to adults and fear, Teri takes a more serious and nurturing approach. She observes, “With fear, you have anxiety.” To help alleviate students’ anxiety, she makes sure they feel as supported and comfortable as possible, saying, “I use the security of the wall, and reassure them that I won’t let go.” Students are allowed to go as quickly or as slowly as they feel safe, and are nudged forward but not pushed.
Teri understands the difficulties facing adult learners, saying, “We as adults don’t allow ourselves to learn new things very often.” She knows it can be a vulnerable and frightening experience and she adjusts accordingly. “Our goal is to really give the attention,” she says, to help novice skaters reach their goals.
People choose to learn ice-skating for a variety of reasons. For many students, skating combines learning with an opportunity to socialize. There’s the joy of working together as a team or simply the camaraderie of a shared interest that bonds athletes together. With that in mind, GCCC has expanded its programming to offer a new program for Pre-K children, homeschooled students and parents. The program launched in February and is open to the public. It gives parents and students the chance to connect, learn and play together on the ice.
For other students, ice skating is an opportunity to try something new, or overcome a self-imposed challenge. It lets people engage in small acts of bravery that can lead to bigger acts of bravery. “People want to prove something to themselves,” Teri says, “They want to know, ‘I can do this. I can do things people said I never could—things I never thought I could.’”
One Learn to Skate student, Sharon Samuels, appears to share this motivation. She looks trepidatious but determined as she makes her way around the edge of the ice, aided by the a firm grip on the wall and a coach. Taking up skating later in life affirms her belief that life can remain full for seniors. “It’s just something I wanted to challenge myself to do,” she says, adding, “We can still get out and do things—at our own pace.” She looks forward to skating with her grandchildren in Boston in the future, and is undeterred by her nervousness. She praises the coaches for their patience and understanding as she learns.
The coaches truly are incredible. They literally hold your hand as you face your deepest fears: Fear of falling. Fear of injuring your body, or your pride. The fear that you aren’t good enough, or strong enough. Fear of failure. They inspire you to take a leap of faith and trust in yourself as you venture into the unknown. They gently push you to let go of your safety net and do something scary and daring.
Once that process begins, an entire world opens up. It might be figure-skating competition, hockey games or even something bigger. As Teri says, skating helps you “take something on and be successful—in whatever goal you have.”
Therein lies the beauty of the sport. It’s not just about the grace, or power, or the skill of learning to skate. There’s so much that ice skating can teach us: That life is experienced more fully when you step out of your comfort zone. That the rewards of daring to try outweigh the risk of failing. That you really are good enough, and strong enough, and you really can do anything.
Life is full of walls: some real, and some imaginary. Walls can seem to provide safety, but they actually hold us back. Ice skating teaches us that with time, gentle encouragement and a little inner courage, we can all learn to let go of our personal walls. When we do, we harness our inner strength, and in that moment, we are free.
The Genoveva Chavez Community Center is located at 3221 Rodeo Road in Santa Fe. 505.955.4000. chavezcenter.com.
Story by Melyssa Holik