PERSPECTIVE: Relating with figure eights: skating lessons exchanged for life lessons

By Alex Brown, Editor-in-Chief

Seth’s mom holds her son’s hand, steadying him as he slowly totters around. She describes in detail the surroundings they are navigating. She patiently, painstakingly guides him through an entrance and helps him get seated on a bench.

Seth, 4, is blind and suffers from cerebral palsy. He has joined his mom, his two older brothers and his uncle at the ice rink to try skating for the first time.

I first met Seth two weeks before my last day at the John and Dede Howard Ice Arena in St. Joseph, Mich., where I have worked for the past nine winters.

Over those two weeks, I got to skate with him almost every day, and even though I was teaching him to skate, he taught me far more.

When we take the ice for the first time, Seth holds onto a trainer — a kid-sized walker that slides on the ice — as I tow him around. His mom skates behind him, holding him up. After several adjustments, his unsteady legs cooperate and stay aligned underneath him. Seth giggles as he feels the sensation of gliding smoothly over the ice for the very first time.

After a while, weary of hunching over the trainer, I grab Seth under the arms and skate around for a bit. We do figure eights and tight spins until I am worn out.

“I wish you could see the smile on his face right now,” his mom says.

I am suddenly re-energized.

Over the next few days, we try new things, letting him slide in his snow pants on the freshly Zambonied ice and pushing him around on an upside-down, 5-gallon bucket. Seth loves his bucket rides, and he never hesitates to point which direction he wants to go.

His older brothers skate by, and we chase them as they call out teases. Soon Seth is telling me who he wants to chase, and he laughs as we pick up speed and I provide play-by-play. As we get close, he stretches out his hand, waiting for the familiar touch of the family member he is pursuing.

Seth will never be able to ice skate like other children, but he enjoys it far more than most people ever will. He loves the new experiences of the ice rink, from the sound of the bucket bouncing on the ice when it tips over to the feeling of crashing into the sideboards. He is constantly curious, asking questions about the rink and inquiring how to spell “ice skate” and “bucket” and “trainer.”

Although Seth’s ice-skating experience is constrained by his conditions, he enjoys it for what it is: A chance to try something new, play with his brothers and move more easily and quickly than he ever has before.

When Seth and his family left the rink for the last time before I went back to school, it was not easy to say goodbye. But it helped knowing he would be back to skate, even if I was not there. And the next time I skate, I will do so with a renewed appreciation for an activity I used to take for granted.

Seth may not be blessed with vision or physical strength, but like any child, he knows how to have fun, and he never takes for granted the opportunity of a new adventure. He is fascinated by the world around him and eager to learn more about it.

While it can be difficult to look past his disabilities, doing so is not a problem for Seth. He just knows what he feels and hears. He feels supporting hands guiding him wherever he goes. He hears reassurance and love constantly. To him, life is blessed. Why is that so hard for us to see?

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.