‘Outclassed’ skater urged on by parents

From our July 2017 issue

By Dale Huston – Nanaimo, B.C.

I came into the world kicking with two feet seriously clubbed and dislocated. Because of this, every morning and evening of my first four years, my mother would twist my feet into shape. She would then bind them into a splint apparatus consisting of two adjustable metal channels separated by a bar.

Rudimentary and painful though they were, those splints did force my feet to grow more or less straight. By my fifth birthday, the splints and bar between my legs had done as much as could be expected. They were discontinued and I began to wear shoes. Ice skates were another matter, however, because my ankles remained weak.

To give me at least some ability to skate with other kids, mom and dad found some bob skates. They looked like miniature bobsleds. The skates consisted of a rectangular metal base with small blades at each corner. They were fastened to my snow boots with leather straps.

I was beyond excited when dad took my sister and me to the rink in Eston, Sask., for my first-ever skate, but the supervisor that day refused to let me on the ice. The reason was I was not wearing ‘proper’ skates. We were an unhappy trio going home. Dad was furiously indignant, I was brokenhearted, and my sister mad because on account of me, she didn’t get to skate either.

Five minutes of real skating

That day, dad decided to right a wrong. For the next week, he spent his evenings scraping the frozen ground clear of snow and lugging buckets of water from a well several blocks away. When he was finished, we had a private rink in our own backyard. The patch of ice was small, perhaps 15 feet square, so I had to learn to skate in circles.

Throughout the winter my ankles grew stronger. My parents decided to try ‘real’ skates again. My ankles held out for only five minutes or so before turning to the inside, but at least those blades gave me access to the rink. As an added bonus, the other kids no longer tormented me about my  ‘baby’ skates.

One of the last events at the rink that winter was a Family Fun Day. Dad entered me in the five-year-old boys’ race. As 15 or so other little boys assembled on the ice, I stood among them with a sense of deep foreboding.

I could see how outclassed I was among those good skaters. I knew I was about to be humiliated, but against my will, I lined up with the other boys and heard the ‘GO’ command.

As expected, the pack quickly left me behind. I struggled forward, my heart sinking as I saw their lead increasing steadily. Because I was behind the pack, I witnessed what happened at the first corner. It was a comical spectacle of little boys windmilling their arms backwards in a futile attempt to stop.

“I heard thunk, thunk, thunks behind me”

One after another, they went careening into the corner boards and formed a pile. I reached the corner and skated expertly around it as the others struggled to untangle themselves and get under way again.

Most of the boys passed me before I’d reached the second corner, so I witnessed their self-destruction again. As I started down the back stretch, I heard the thunk, thunk, thunks behind me as the stragglers joined the second heap. I was well past the centre line before the faster boys caught up and passed me again.

They came to grief once more as I rounded the third turn and I never saw them again. I could hear the cries of distress behind me as I negotiated the final turn and saw the finish line up ahead.

As I laboured along on my inside ankles, I heard mom and dad urging me on. The other boys regrouped and set out again in hot pursuit, but I crossed the finish line alone.

Mom hugged me and wept as I stepped off the ice, my blue ribbon in hand, while dad stood proud. Recalling The Great Race now, I realize it is the only athletic competition I have ever won in my life.

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