Originally created 02/22/06

Never too old



Renate Wall moves with smooth certainty. Shifting her weight from foot to foot, from gleaming steel edge to edge, she glides across the ice, leaving even, half-moon grooves, an almost imperceptible record of her progress across the Augusta Ice Sports Center rink and, more important, as a skater.

More than twice the age of the average Olympic competitor, Ms. Wall is the first to admit she harbors no gold-medal dreams. For her, the ritual of coming to the rink, bundling up and practicing her skills is less about measuring herself against others as it is measuring herself against her own abilities and expectations.

"You are proving to yourself that you can do this," she said. "Particularly for me, someone near 60."

Ms. Wall is not alone in her enthusiasm for finding physical health and creative wealth gliding across a glistening sheet of ice.

The motivations, (and subsequent rewards) vary for the adults who have taken up the sport. Some skate for the competition, competing in meets tailored to age and amateur status. Others skate for health, finding the act of propelling oneself across the ice more physically taxing than it might appear.

Andrew Austin, the skating director at the Augusta Ice Sports Center, said he has found the challenge of skating to be a common theme.

"It's funny, because half the adults that take up skating start saying 'You know what, I just want to be able to skate around the rink safely,'" he said. "I tell them that in the classes we cover one-foot glides, backwards and always, they say that's not important. But soon, they are all asking how that one-foot glide works."

Jeff Davis admits that he began ice skating for slightly selfish reasons when he met his wife, Yvonne, already a serious skater.

"It was a way to woo her," he said with a laugh. "But you know, after getting on the ice, I really fell in love with it. I loved the challenge of it and I loved the exercise."

Erreca White, who takes ice dancing classes with the Davises, said part of the appeal of figure skating is its ability to cut through social, economic and generational lines.

"It's always amazing to me when you see new people come," she said. "It may be someone who skated as a kid, is a mom now, or a grandmother, and wants to give it another shot. It can be anyone. Skating is something that seems to bring a lot of very different people together."

Still somewhat awkward on the ice, Elizabeth Burgess and Jeremy Rogers make their way toward Mr. Austin, who is instructing them. Skates shaking slightly, they manage to reproduce, with some grace, the steps he has laid out for them. Stopping in front of him, Ms. Burgess smiles broadly. The couple, who have just begun skating together, are still finding victories in the small stuff. Ms. Burgess admitted she'll consider it a victory when she can skate backward with speed.

The techniques aren't all that bring them to the rink.

"It's more than that," Ms. Burgess said. "When we're out here, working together on the ice, we really are building a sense of togetherness."

Skating often becomes a family affair, Mr. Austin said. Parents are prone to take it up after their children become involved. Ironically, it's often the parents, and not the kids, who stick with it.

So far, that has not been the case with Jeanne Clavel, whose 13-year-old daughter, Solene, preceded her.

"She's into it," Ms. Clavel said. "It's something she really wants to do. So I decided that, instead of watching her, I should join her."

She said the experience has brought them closer.

"Of course, it helps that she's been doing it longer and is better than me."

Mr. Austin said it's the artistry, rather than the athleticism, of skating that allows both mother and daughter to participate on relatively equal footing.

"It's what I believe is most intriguing to adults," he said. "They can learn those spins and jumps knowing that nobody ever perfects them. That's the art. How well someone executes a little half-turn jump is never based on just how high or long it is, but also how it looks."

Before gliding back onto the ice, Ms. Wall admitted that there are times, particularly during the Olympics, when she feels the odd pang of regret.

"Sometimes I wish that I was 4-years-old again so I could be the next Michelle Kwan," she said with a sigh. "Maybe in the next lifetime."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.