My 5-year-old had been asking to go ice skating for weeks. She told me her preschool classmates put paper plates on their shoes and skated around the classroom. She wanted to skate, too, she said. With real skates.
As I lifted Lila’s 35-pound body from her 300-pound wheelchair, I smiled and said, “Sure, honey, we can do that.”
Throughout the next week, we’d pretend to skate around the living room — me dragging her across the smooth hardwood floors in her socks, singing Taylor Swift songs and tossing her into the air as my back would allow.
We took breaks to watch the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on TV and I’d think back to my childhood when I idolized Kristi Yamaguchi.
In true Minnesota fashion, I had a pair of skates on my feet shortly after I learned to walk. Growing up in northern Minnesota, I played hockey on the backyard rink with my older brother and taught my little sister how to do “shoot the ducks” and sit spins. Before figure skating lessons, I would buff the black hockey puck scuff marks from my white skates. They never stayed white for long, thanks to my brother’s ability to talk me into always being the goalie.
Skating is part of the fabric of growing up in a state where outdoor ice is endless and indoor rinks are a dime a dozen. When you grow up loving something so much, you want your children to experience the same rite of passage.
I racked my brain trying to figure out how I would give my daughter this experience. Lila can’t walk, let alone skate. Did I promise her the impossible?
Adaptive skating options
Lila was born prematurely after a complicated pregnancy that resulted in 13 weeks of bed rest. She was deprived of oxygen for seven minutes. By the time a team of doctors was able to secure a breathing tube into her tiny chest, the damage was done.
After her head ultrasound a few days later, her doctor delivered the news. Lila would likely develop cerebral palsy. He also told me something I cling to every day: “Regardless of what she’s able to do, she is here to teach us something.”
When the living room ice capades were no longer satisfying Lila’s desire to wear real skates, I searched Google for adaptive skating lessons and came up short. The walkers offered at some local ice facilities would not provide adequate support. And a push chair wouldn’t allow her to feel the ice beneath her feet. Regrettably, however, that was looking like our best option.
And then by some small fate of the insurance gods, Lila’s new walker arrived. I spent the next two days watching her navigate the house independently while her power wheelchair sat nearby, untouched. She asked to FaceTime everyone we knew so that she could perform a dance. She coasted across the room, pumping her fists in the air and used the walker’s giant wheels to twirl. I had never seen this level of independence from her before.
As she demanded applause and yet another encore, a light bulb went off.
Could Lila skate with the help of her walker? I had never seen a walker like Lila’s used on the ice before. I had my doubts, but we had to try.
Bending the rules
We pulled into the parking lot of the Central Park Ice Skating Loop in Maple Grove and I left the family waiting in the car while I went inside to make sure it was OK for Lila to skate. After getting the green light, we made our way inside to the skate rental counter.
“I’m so excited!” Lila said.
Then a woman in a bright yellow security vest approached and said Lila’s walker wasn’t allowed on the ice after all. My heart sank. I tried to keep it together as I pressed for answers. “Only equipment made for ice is allowed on the ice,” she said.
I pleaded with her to let us try.
“OK,” she said. “Just this one time, though.”
I strapped a pair of hockey skates — three times bigger than Lila’s shoe size — over the purple braces on her feet. As I laced them, memories flooded my mind. I remembered my dad lacing my skates. I remembered the calluses on my hands when, finally, I grew old enough to lace my own skates.
That’s when it hit me: Good or bad, this would be another day for the memory book.
We stepped onto the ice and I strapped Lila into her walker. I held my breath as she took her first step onto the ice. I half expected her to flop like newborn Bambi, but she didn’t.
Lila felt the ice under her feet as she put one foot in front of the other. Her head lowered to watch the quick movements of her feet and her Minnesota Wild hat slid over her eyes. Around and around she went, high-fiving other skaters who passed.
Lila’s skating might not look like everyone else’s, but it’s skating nonetheless. All I needed to do was give her the chance to prove she could do it.
Move over Kristi Yamaguchi. I have a new skating idol.
ABOUT 10,000 Takes: 10,000 Takes is a new digital section featuring first-person essays about life in the North Star State. We publish narratives about love, family, work, community and culture in Minnesota.