Adult skating is seldom taken seriously. People who started skating in their twenties, thirties or later are often looked down on. The most common words used to describe adult skaters are slow and tentative. However, Alan Emerick, a member of the Body Zone Figure Skating Club, defies the old mindset. When you look at him executing double jumps and flying camels, you may think that the guy skated competitively as a child. That’s not the case. Alan took up skating only seven years ago, when he was forty three. From a beginner, who struggled with basic moves, he has grown into a gold-level skater – a man who medaled several times at Adult Nationals.
Alan skates six days a week for a minimum of an hour and a half. He also practices pairs skating with Heather Hilgar, a member of University of Delaware figure Skating Club. Last April, they competed at Adult Nationals.
“Of course,” a skeptic might say. “He is a former high-level gymnast. It’s much easier for him to do jumps and spins than for someone who isn’t athletic. ” In his youth, Alan seriously pursued gymnastics and even competed internationally. While it would be natural to assume that his flexibility and overall athleticism contributed to his success as a skater, things are not that simple.
“Actually, gymnastics both helped and hindered me,” Alan says. “Of course, any new sport is easier for somebody whose muscles are strong and limber. Yet the technique used in figure skating is completely different from what I was used to as a gymnast. For example, in gymnastics your body moves as a single unit. A figure skater, however, always skates over one side – either the right or the left. The two sports are also different in the way you approach jumps. When you do multi-revolution jumps on ice, crossing your legs is an absolute must. Gymnasts, however, never cross their legs in jumps. Actually, it is easier to initiate a jump on ice because you always approach it from an edge. Gymnasts, on the other hand, never rotate early. If they do, they may easily get injured. Because of these differences, old muscle memory often gets in the way of learning new skills.”
In addition to skating practices, Alan does weight conditioning, yoga and flexibility training. “While a strong limber body is essential for both sports, you need a different kind of flexibility for skating,” Alan says. “For example, in men’s gymnastics you don’t really need open hips, yet in skating it’s a big plus.”
Figure skating is also a family sport for the Emericks. Alan’s wife Jill is a serious skater too. Though she took up the sport later than her husband, her progress is also impressive. Jill recently competed at Adult Nationals as a silver-level skater and she came in fourth. In the future, Alan and Jill may take up ice dancing as a couple.
What advice would Alan give to other adults who are equally passionate about figure skating? “Definitely give it a try,” he says. “There is something very special and appreciable about skating. The whole feeling of gliding freely across the ice gives you tremendous satisfaction. You don’t really need to do difficult jumps or spins to enjoy the sport; skating is a good exercise in itself.
“Figure skating is sometimes considered a dangerous sport. Yet USFSA has a very structured program for adults, which allows you to move gradually from one skill to another. Adults are often afraid of falling down and getting injured. Let it not keep you away from getting involved in your favorite sport. You can slip and fall anywhere: on the snow – even on a hard floor. Actually, falling on the ice is less painful, for the smooth surface breaks your fall. The most dangerous thing in skating is…” Alan smiles, “…keeping your eyes open for other skaters.”
Thank you, Alan, for being an inspiration to other adults! I wish you many more victories.