Local skater, Emi Vasnin, shares a cautionary tale that is 100% true and 100% the stuff of nightmares.
Emi sits cross-legged on the bench telling me a story that sounds familiar. She, like other adult skaters, returned to the sport years after they began and ended a competitive career as a child athlete. She tells me that she started skating as a little kid, seeing steady improvement with her custom skates.
“And then,” she says leaning forward. If this were at camp, this is the part where she would shine a flashlight under her chin. “I needed new skates and for some reason, that custom skate place went out of business.”
“So, what did you do?” I ask, my eyes wide. If working in a skate shop has taught me anything, it’s that this story was about to go sideways.
Emi went to a local pro-shop where she was measured with one of those department store measuring sticks you’d find in the shoe department. This was her first fitting that she was consciously involved in – she’d always received her skates from a tracing before this. She remembers that she wasn’t asked a lot of questions; nothing specific, only variants of “Does this feel right?” She walked out with a pair of skates in a size 7.5 – bigger than her street shoe size.
“No!” I can’t help but interject. That kind of a fitting is like going to buy sneakers and leaving with a big ol’ pair of clown shoes.
“I know, right? I had no idea back then.” Emi exhaled in annoyance, even remembering it.
She returned to the rink and tried to skate. Something was off. She couldn’t skate like she used to.
“I wasn’t improving anymore. I could technically do what I knew how to do – but I wasn’t getting better and I couldn’t do any of the new things I was supposed to be learning. It was really, really frustrating. So, I just kind of stopped for a while. I would try to go back to it every once in a while, but I literally couldn’t skate. It got to a point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I thought it was my fault I wasn’t getting it and I gave it up.”
Years passed. She finished high school, graduated college, opened her own performance business and enjoyed only the odd recreational turn around the ice. Emi thought of skating as something she used to do. Life had other plans.
She ended up contracted to play a storybook character on ice. She went looking for her old skates. There was this weird brownish black stuff on the leather upper that wouldn’t wash off. So, Emi brought her stained skates to the Houston Skate and Dance Shop hoping they might be able to clean them. No such luck. Her skates quite literally had mold on them.
“Ewwwwwww.” Again, I couldn’t help myself. It was so…yuck!
“Yeah, it was pretty gross.” Emi allowed the interjection. “New skates were in order.”
Emi told me that Patti (the owner and skate fitter extraordinaire of Houston Skate and Dance Shop) immediately knew the skates were way too big for her.
Emi was at Houston Skate and Dance Shop where Patti took her time selecting the right brand, style and size boot. She tried on five or six different brands of skates – this time, all in her size. She realized that the boot she had before was shaped entirely wrong for her foot. No wonder she couldn’t skate in her old ones! Not only were they the wrong size, they were totally the wrong shape. She and Patti finally settled on a boot in a size 4.5 – a full three sizes SMALLER than what she had been given as a child!
“And?” I smile, knowing we’ve finally gotten to the happy end of the story. It was a little dicey there for a bit.
“Oh, I love my skates. I started taking lessons again. I started improving super-fast. It’s ridiculous how fast. I’m not where I was back then, but now every day I can track progress. I notice myself getting better. So does my coach. It’s doesn’t feel like I’m beating a dead horse – like I did before. Now, I skate 4-6 hours a day and I love it like I did years ago. I’m competing again soon. It’s crazy. I wish I had these skates back then. I mean, just imagine!”
Emi tells me how easy it is to get the wrong fit and how much having the right equipment matters. “I always tell people to get fitted by someone who is a professional. Someone who deliberately checks fit – and multiple points of fit, not just the length. Something I really appreciated about Patti was that she didn’t sell me what was just good enough she said we’d keep going and keep trying on skates until it was perfect’”
“I bet that was refreshing.”
“Oh my gosh, yes.” Emi nods her head. “I could have saved myself so much agony if I went to a professional that didn’t cut corners. So now, I tell everyone how important it is to get the right skates and not cheap out of it or be deterred by long it takes. It takes as long as it takes. It matters.”
It really was the best of boots and the worst of boots, am I right?