As I approached the building, I didn’t know the red sculpture I walked under held the cauldron of the 1988 Games. I was fixated on the words above the front doors: Olympic Oval.
Going to one of the public ice skating sessions here topped the list for my short time in Calgary. I paid the college sophomore behind the desk and continued into the facility, starry-eyed. I was amazed that this was part of their normal athletic facilities, that this was just her work-study job..
I walked down a set of steps to the skate shop, picked up my rental skates, and then wandered out into the stands. There were large barriers between the spectator area and the track that circled the oval and the ice itself. I couldn’t tell how to get out into the center of the ring.
I walked back toward the shop when a woman approached me and asked if I was Sarah. I said that as I was. She was in her fifties, salt-and-pepper hair, with a black fleece that had the university’s logo and Director embroidered on it. She said that she was here to give me the tour. I had no idea what she was talking about. It also dawned on me that I hadn’t told anyone my name.
I said that I thought she had the wrong Sarah. She apologized, we laughed, and I said “but while I have your attention, could you tell me how to get to the ice?” She directed me down another set of steps through a tunnel.
I had been amazed until this point, but it was now that my inner jock took the wheel and I was fully spellbound. Cue “Chariots of fire.” Cue “Eye of the tiger.” I was in a tunnel where Olympic athletes had walked! The dim lighting gave it a slightly apocalyptic feel, and it smelled like cold sweat. None of that mattered. I was ecstatic.
I emerged in the center of the oval. I was not prepared for the size of the track. It hadn’t really sunk in until now. The long track is large enough to hold two hockey rinks inside it and there were two games being played concurrently. A zamboni was rolling around the ice.
There were long bench seats on the interior of the oval. I sat down and brought out my unicorn suit. [Back story: A friend bought it for me for my birthday last year. On New Year’s Day, I thought about how crazy the world is. I resolved to wear the suit as much as possible, because the world needs more unicorns.]
I put the suit on, along with my skates, and stood up. A few other people were milling about, getting ready to skate. I asked a man if he would take my picture. [Note: No one has ever turned down this unicorn’s requests for photos.]
As I was approaching the ice, it dawned on me that this was only the second time I had ever ice-skated, the first being about 20 years ago. I had imagined the photo shoot part of this moment, but not the implementation part. I managed to get into a starting position, and he took a couple pictures there as well as on the university logo.
The session ran from 8:20 until 10. I skated nearly the entire time. I could feel fatigue creeping in at various points. I tried to make myself sit down and take breaks but was so giddy that I could not sit still. I ended up popping right back out.
Once the zamboni came out and crossed onto the interior to resurface the ice on one of the rinks. A member of the skate patrol had to go out onto the ice and make sure that skaters stopped while it was crossing. She had a flashing hand-held stop sign and looked very serious. It was so other-worldly that I would have fallen over laughing but was generally trying to focus on not falling over at all.
At about 9:50, I heard music. It had been playing the entire time but between the rancor from the hockey games, it was hard to make out the songs. One rink was now empty and the other one was between teams.
Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” came on. I hummed along and then started singing. This was the peak of my confidence on the ice. By this point, I was able to glide on one foot, then transition to the other, moving swiftly while still maintaining control.
Ice skating in another country, in a unicorn suit, singing along to Billy Joel, my body working in harmony with itself, It was beautiful and joyous and farcical. I was so elated, I could have taken flight.
The song ended, and then I did a final lap and stopped. Nothing could top that.